by HFPA May 3, 2011

On the eve of her tribute by the Academy

By Silvia Bizio

Sophia  Loren set many standards  throughout her long film career, while showing a unique ability to combine her Mediterranean beauty and sex-appeal with a humorous and sympathetic approach to all her roles. Glamorous though she was, "La Loren" was always able to provide a high degree of credibility to her portraits of real women. It's no coincidence that she grew up as an actress in the Italian neo-realistic film movement in the '50s and '60s.

Sophia Loren - photo by Gianfilippo De Rossi

Ms. Loren has won many acting awards in her long career, including five Golden Globes. An appearance at the last Golden Globes garnered her a standing ovation, testament to the warmth she still inspires in Hollywood.  She won her Best Actress Academy Award for Vittorio De Sica's Two Women, in 1962, the first time in Oscar’s history for a foreign actress playing  a foreign language role.  The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences is honoring her again Wednesday, May 4, 2011, an event that sold out in a few minutes, this time to celebrate her life and career with a special tribute. The gala evening, hosted by Mrs. Loren's good friend Billy Crystal and organized together with Italian actress Jo Champa, will include clips from many of Loren's past films and personal remarks by her friends and colleagues in Hollywood and from abroad.

"A tribute like the one the Academy is dedicating to me is exciting, overwhelming," she says. "I think people see me as a normal person, not as a movie star or an icon, but as their friend.  Even when I meet people on the street, I can perceive a familiar attachment; they give me a smile, a handshake."  She believes that people's affection for her comes from the leading roles she played in Hollywood productions. "Many of my most successful American movies I did are comedies, such as Houseboat, It started in Naples, Man of La Mancha, a quite dramatic movie about Don Quixote, but with some musical scenes. When I first came here, I could not play any other role because, speaking English with an Italian accent, I was always seen as an Italian-in-America. Actually it was not effortful at all because I barely knew English. But maybe it was Desire Under the Elms, my first important dramatic role, to put me to the test as an actress. I was 22 years old."

"My love story with the American film industry, and Hollywood in particular, has been wonderful," continues Ms. Loren, who has lived for many years in a large villa north of Los Angeles with her husband Carlo Ponti.  He was the legendary Italian producer who discovered young Sophia and launched her film and TV career, and with whom she eventually had two children -- Carlo, now an orchestra conductor, and Edoardo, a film director.  She presently lives in Geneva, Switzerland. Ponti passed away four years ago.

Star of dozens of Italian films, Ms. Loren's relationship with Hollywood dates back to 1957, when she worked in Stanley’s Kramer’s The Pride and the Passion; with Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant in Eugene O’Neil’s Desire Under the Elms in 1958. “The moment I arrived in Hollywood, I felt like I was in a fairytale,” she says. “But I was also coming from a cinema which was very strong at the time, with directors like De Sica, Rossellini, Antonioni.  It was not difficult to develop many friendships here, even though I never really left Italy – or better yet, Naples – in my heart.”  Among the many friends, she still cherishes the memory of at least three: "Cary Grant, of course. Then Charlie Chaplin, an extraordinary friend of mine, he was always very close to me. And also George Cukor."

"I owe my shape and good health to the spaghetti," says the down-to-earth Neapolitan star, whose real name is Sofia Scicolone.  She chose the name Sophia Loren, suggested by her then-"sponsor" Carlo Ponti, as her stage name. Her surname is too often mispronounced: it's Loren with the  accent on the "o", not on the "e"...

"Every woman should be a mother, because every woman is a mother, and being a mother is the most beautiful thing a woman could aspire to."  Still a working mom, Ms. Loren was recently seen on the big screen in Nine, Rob Marshall's musical inspired by Fellini's 8 1/2, and in the Italian made-for-TV movie My House is Full of Mirrors.  In 1994, she famously parodied herself in Robert Altman's Ready to Wear, re-enacting with her frequent co-star Marcello Mastroianni the hilarious bedroom scene they played in 1963  in  De Sica's comedy Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  Ms. Loren also appeared along with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in "Grumpier Old Men (1995).

About Italian contemporary cinema she says, "Nowadays, I think Italian cinema is good. There are many young and very talented directors who made great comedies, young and talented comic actors too.  I am Love has been more successful here than it has in Italy. Great! This means that Italian movies can be exported."

Ms. Loren is considered an icon and an inspiration to many younger actresses. Monica Bellucci, another Italian beauty "gone global" has often credited Sophia Loren for her motivation to start acting.  "My dream of becoming an actress was born when I saw La Loren in films such as Two Women and A Special Day, says Ms. Bellucci. "Sophia's beauty never shadowed the humanity of her characters nor the depth she gave to her  roles; the glamour she often played with has never put aside the real woman she is, nor  the real women she portrays in such a believable way and in everything she does." Sophia Loren echoes her: “I consider myself a wife and a mother first and foremost, then an actress."