For three decades, Valeria Golino, 47, has enjoyed a career of unusual variety, alternating in the past 25 years between Hollywood movies and films in her native Italy. Best known to English-speaking audiences as Topper Harley’s sexy, exotic girlfriend in the popular Hot Shots! and for her role in Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, Valeria, born to a Greek mother and Italian father in Naples, began her career as a model. She started working as an actress during the 1980s, after she was discovered by Italian film icon Lina Wertmüller, who cast her in A Joke of Destiny (1983) when she was still in high school. Three years later she won the Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival for Storia d’Amore.
One of her first appearances was in the film Blind Date alongside Greek-Brit Marina Sirtis. This description might be a reductive summation of her talents, because this year, at the Cannes Film Festival, she presented her directorial debut, Miele (the story of a young Italian woman who devotes her life to alleviating the pain of others, even when they make dramatic decisions).
“This little film has brought me to Cannes, I love it,” Golino stated. “I’m very nervous and I can’t quite enjoy this moment,” she said on the red carpet. “I can’t describe my state of mind, I’d like to be calmer, but it’s just the way I am. I’ll be happy in a month’s time,” she admits, “I always wanted to go to Cannes and I always thought of the Certain Regard for this film. The idea of going there and getting dressed up fills me with joy. In actual fact, you have less fun than you expect to but the idea of participating gives you a sense of belonging to global cinema. It makes me proud.” She chose to tell this story because she read the book A nome tuo by Mauro Covacich three years ago.
“I found it to be a striking book. Very contemporary, painful and provoking, with a type of female character Italian literature and cinema hadn’t yet seen. I talked about it with Viola Prestieri and Riccardo Scamarcio [who produced the film for Buena Onda] and I put a request in to buy the book’s rights. Initially, we were frightened. We weren’t sure whether it might be too difficult for me to take on as a first film,” she explains. “I also didn’t want to star in my first film, I was more curious to film someone else. I am not saying it won’t happen in the future… If I don’t start surprising myself a little,” says Golino. In between American projects, she maintains her status as one of the few Hollywood actresses who regularly work in another language, as well as being one of the few who can handle her own dubbing duties. Ironically, when she first began working in American films, her voice was greeted with a muted reaction back home. Her choices aren’t always obvious. Valeria likes both the bigger Hollywood movies as well as the independent films. The common denominator in her attraction to the roles she’s taken is the filmmaking process itself, particularly the talent and the ideas involved in the story.
“I just care to work with people that I’d like to spend a couple of months with and won’t get bored and not listen to what they have to say,” she explains.
While away from the movie set, Golino enjoys travel, photography, reading, and going to the movies: “You know, normal things.”
Barbara Zorzoli is a Columnist for the Italian Journal