Betty Wood talks with the Grand Prix award-winning director of Gomorra about his new film and unorthodox casting
Exploring the extreme lengths some people will go in their pursuit of fame, Reality follows the story of Neopolitan fishmonger (and casual con-man) Luciano as he tries to win a place on a Big Brother type reality tv show. Urged by his family and customers to try out, as the auditions get underway Luciano finds his perception of reality begins to slip as he indulges in a delusional-fantasy that sees him risk his business, his family and his sanity in an all-out pursuit of fame.
Written and directed by Matteo Garrone – whose previous film, (2008’s mult-award winning Gomorra), focused on the entrenchment of organised crime in Neopolitan life – Reality likewise uses Naples as the backdrop against which Luciano’s story, plays out. A “modern-day Pinocchio”, Luciano is played by Italian actor Aniello Arena, who is currently serving a life sentence without parole for his part in a five-man mafia hit squad in 1991 that killed three rival members of a drug-dealing clan in Naples. Arena, was nominated for the Best Actor Award at Cannes 2012 for his role and was granted special permission to star in Gerrone’s film.
Betty Wood sat down with the director to talk about his controversial casting, his interest in prison theatre and the inspiration behind Reality.
Betty Wood: There’s been a lot of interest surrounding your casting of Aniello, who you discovered through a prison theatre programme. How did you first become interested in prison theatre?
Matteo Garrone: My father was a theatre critic, so I used to go to the theatre a lot with him and the company Teatro Fortezza Volterra was one of our favourite companies.
There, a long time ago I started to see the performances of Aniello Arena. When I started to work on the casting of Gomorra, I went to see another company, (the company of Fabio Cavalli), and I started to follow both companies.
Betty: Did you have Aniello in mind when writing the script?
Matteo: Yes, but I was not sure at the time, as there were others I was considering. But, in the end I thought Aniello could do something much more surprising with the role. It was a big challenge for us, because it was his first movie, so we didn’t know how he would react.
Fortunately he made an incredible piece of work. It was not easy to get permission , but in the end we got it…
Betty: Were your interest in prison theatre and your decision to film in the Big Brother house correlated?
Matteo: No, it’s a coincidence. Reality starts from a true story – the guy wants to go inside because he wants to escape from his reality: that a guy with a family, who lives quite well (with a house and job) wants to escape from his daily life for a fake artificial paradise… That is tragic, but not a metaphor.
Our approach was very simple and direct emotionally; we didn’t want to critique television. Reality is the journey of a guy who loses himself trying to follow the dreams of everyone around him – people who push him to reach for this sort of paradise. Then he loses himself and his sense of identity. For him, to arrive in television means that you exist; it’s a validation of his existence.
Betty: Critics focus on how religion and celebrity are inherently linked. Should we read the film as a message about creating or reaching for false idols?
Matteo: It’s not false [to be famous]. In show business, you can become popular and it is real, like when you buy a lottery ticket – it’s real that someone wins. Show business is a system that is connected to the consumer; it seduces them into desiring this fake paradise. I feel weak, maybe on a different level – I lose myself by following other desires. Reality is a movie that apparently talks about someone that is far , but (I think) is someone who is not so far [as we’d think]. That was our approach. I disagree with critics that say [I should have] made it 10 years ago as Big Brother is no longer so popular. That isn’t important; the film is not about a single programme. It is about mentality and the loss of identity and something that is connected with other things.
Betty: Was it very scripted , or largely improvised?
Matteo: It was scripted, but we always work in a chronological way so that the actor can live the journey of the character, and they can also tell us what they feel during the process, which is a very important relationship. It’s a very theatrical way of working, which helped Aniello as it is close to his theatrical background. That’s how we work. Most of the scenes are scripted, but we allow the actors to find their own way to tell it, without changing the meaning.
Betty: What is your dynamic with Massimo Gaudioso like, and how did the two of you work together on Reality?
Matteo: We are very close friends. We write our screenplays together, and he comes to see the edits, and sometimes to the sets. After the first edit, we sit with the other screenwriter and do a test run with an audience. re-write things that maybe aren’t understandable, or very good, then we go and shoot again. It’s a very long process…
Photography Barbara Anastacio
Reality is out in cinemas UK wide from 22 March. You can find out more about the film here