Franco Nero was in London recently for the three-day cult film festival Cine-Excess. Matt Mueller reports.
While in town, Franco Nero headed over to the Italian Cultural Institute to be bestowed along with wife Vanessa Redgrave with honorary degrees from Brunel University. Decked out in graduation gowns and caps, Nero answered a few questions about his career and, in particular, the enduring popularity of Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western Django and his title role as the coffin-dragging gunslinger. “It never dies,” said Nero. “I just got back from shooting a movie in Brazil and everybody was, ‘Django! Django!’ the whole time.”
Quentin Tarantino had a similarly effusive response when he finally got the chance to meet his idol in Rome a couple of years back. “The first time I hear of Tarantino was when I was doing a movie in Spain with Penelope Cruz [1998’s Talk Of Angels] and she went one day to the San Sebastian Film Festival and came back the next day saying, ‘You know Franco, there is a young director called Tarantino, when he heard that I was working with you… Jesus, he went crazy!’” said the Italian actor, still looking fit as a fiddle at 69. More than a decade later, while in Italy for the opening of Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino tracked Nero down and arranged for the two to meet over lunch in the Villa Borghese. Recalls Nero: “When he sees me he says, ‘You are the cause of me being in the movies. When I was 14, I started watching your westerns on video.’ Then he started to say lines from my movies, I couldn’t believe it! And doing the music too! I didn’t know what to say.”
They met again in LA shortly before the 2010 Oscars, where Nero asked Tarantino if he would cameo in a Western project he was trying to get off the ground. “He said, ‘What do I have to do?’ I said, ‘You have to be killed by me.’ He said, ‘Killed by you?!? Oh, that’s my dream!’” laughed Nero. “Then this year I was in LA again before the Oscars and all the newspapers wanted to talk to me because Tarantino announced Django Unchained with Franco Nero and Christoph Waltz. But I don’t know anything. The only thing I know is that when I was in Berlin in February with Vanessa for the opening of Coriolanus, there was a little party for the film and Harvey Weinstein looked at me and said, ‘Franco, you’re going to be in Tarantino’s movie, eh?’ But I can really say that I don’t know anything.” With his own western still seeking financing, Nero adds, “All I know is I still want Tarantino to play a cameo…”
Having rekindled his storied romance with Redgrave, marrying the actress in December 2006, Nero also recounted the tale of their first ever meeting when Camelot director Joshua Logan introduced them on the Warner Bros. backlot. “I wanted to see who he had cast as Guinevere and there she was, coming towards us. I see this young girl-woman in blue jeans with holes, glasses, freckles on her face, no make-up, uncombed hair. For an Italian at the time, it was strange! When we left her, I said to Joshua, ‘Are you sure you made the right choice? She’s so ugly!’” Let’s just say Redgrave’s smile was a little tight at that particular recollection.