Life is a full of pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Someone said; turbulence is life force. It`s an opportunity to use it for change.
In “Fasten Your Seatbelts”, we drop into the life of Elena (Kasia Smutniak) and Antonio (Francesco Arco) who are certainly not made for each other. She – an intelligent girl from a good family, he – a cad, an illiterate mechanic. They are completely different – their nature, their life priorities. Nevertheless, they feel an irresistible, mutual attraction; both try hard not to acknowledge this. But on the airplane ride of life there’s always bound to be some turbulence, enough to make both Elena and Antonio wonder if this journey together will take both of them where they need to go.
During Canadian premiere of “Fasten Your Seatbelts” at the European Union Film Festival, I had the pleasure to sit down with star Francesco Arca to discuss his new film, where he provides very important details of life-changing moments, that makes Antonio understand that without Elena his life would be nothing
MMM: Francesco, we, as an audience sees Antonio differently than you might see him. Who is Antonio for you?
Francesco Arca: When I was asked to play the role of Antonio, I noticed that the script had only a few lines for the character to deliver. It is very difficult for an actor when you don’t have lines to deliver since most of the time you express everything through feelings. So it was a challenging for me to play a character like Antonio because he was a very silent character. The only thing Antonio and I have in common is the instinctual side of him. He is totally opposite from me. Antonio is very negative; he is racist, homophobic. But, thanks to love, he gets closer to his wife. The character evolves with the story. In the beginning, he was different, but after talking with Ferzan Ozpetek and with my contributions, Antonio changes day after day.
MMM: Fasten your seatbelts refers to everything in life that affects us turbulently. How did that fact have an impact on Antonio’s feelings for Elena?
Francesco Arca: In our lives certain things cause turbulence, such as love, or losing a job, or getting severely sick. But what is important is to defeat the turbulence. In the first part of “Fasten Your Seatbelts” the turbulence happens when I arrive in Elena`s life; she has a job, her life is quiet, she has a family, and boyfriend. My character was opposite of her, This is why my appearance in her life changes everything for Elena. In the second part of the film we get the second turbulence – Elena`s sickness, which was one of the more difficult turbulences to defeat. But Ferzan Ozpetek said that all these turbulences can be defeated by love. If a love exists in one person`s life, I mean love in general: a love of family, of a sister, child or boyfriend- if you have all of these, you can defeat anything.
MMM: There are over ten year’s difference between the first and the second part of the film where you look much older. What kind of work did you do to transform yourself into Antonio fifteen years later?
Francesco Arca: (laughing) It was so difficult to change myself within twenty days – from July to August. I had to change my body, my mind, in one word – everything. I obviously started with my body, because it was the easiest one. Because by changing your body, you can easily change your mind and your character. But let me tell you something, in Italy, we never stop filming, or take a break, because it`s very expensive for producers. But when something like this happens, they allow filming to stop to allow the character to change. And for me, it was my first time. Even my actor friends told me that I was very lucky. So I had only twenty days to gain twenty kilos. But once I did, my character took shape automatically. Like magic.
MMM: During one of the flashbacks we see Antonio’s feelings change towards Elena. She even was thinking of divorcing him. What do you think happened to Antonio?
Francesco Arca: I think what happened to him is the same thing that happens in many relationships – he gets used to the way things are and starts taking things for granted. And after 15 years of marriage, Antonio has a child, work, and a wonderful wife. But meantime, he has many other women. He simply loses interest, but gains it back in the darkest moments, when his wife is suddenly sick. In the beginning, he runs away, because he cannot face it. But that`s when he comes back, grown up, and much stronger. Because he understands that his life is nothing without Elena. Ferzan wanted to deliver a message that women are much stronger than men, especially during difficult moments. Most of time men just run away, but women stay and fight.
MMM: Especially the scene in the hospital… By that time Elena loses her hair, her attractiveness. But, because of her condition, and the uncertainty of whether she will live or not, Antonio starts to appreciate her existence and shows her his endless love for her.
Francesco Arca: That scene was one of the most important in the film. That was a moment when he accepts Elena, not like when she was healthy and beautiful, but when she is hairless, sick, and in a terminal stage. That moment Antonio accepts the love, and the life itself. And more importantly, he accepts Elena at her sickest moment, not when she looks beautiful, and attractive. Ferzan wanted to show how realistic this can be in real life. This is why we did research and talked with the Oncologic doctor, who told us that very often terminally sick patients use love making as a cure.
MMM: Ferzan Ozpetek is one of the more gifted filmmakers. And, he never comes up with a simple story. He certainly explained to you your part in the film. How did you react when you heard that your character is a rough, but also a very lovable and caring person?
Francesco Arca: (laugh) It was an enormous problem with Antonio – he was too complicated to understand. When I read the script, I came to realize that Antonio is a different kind of character. In the beginning, I play one character, as I have mentioned; he was racist, and very negative. But later my character changes becoming someone else. This is the magic done by Ferzan Ozpetek. Ferzan has created a family environment. We all stayed at his house, had lunch together, studying the script, scene after scene. Ferzan also watches the actors all the time, to create something new. It was fantastic.
MMM: How many candidates you left behind to play Antonio?
Francesco Arco: (laugh) It was very painful. I had five auditions in order to become Antonio. And the other actors who I saw on the list were much better and more experienced than me. And knowing that, I told myself, there is not a chance I will get this role. But when you have that feeling, you keep trying and fighting instinctively for what you want, because you have nothing to lose. But I am glad that I was given a second chance.
MMM: Can you share your experience working with Kasia Smutniak?
Francesco Arca: Incredible. It was difficult at the beginning. Kasia is a very strong and introverted woman. Our communication during the first twenty days on the set was only “Hi Kasia, how are you doing”. This was the beginning and the end of our communication. But, during the process of filming, something changed in us, which helped our relationship on the set and, and as a result we developed a good friendship.
MMM: Were there any scenes that you found difficult to play emotionally?
Francesco Arca: The first part of the film was very difficult to play, because my character did not have many lines. It was challenging for me to get through it. But in the second one, he is either mean or good. There were a wider range of emotions I could play with. The second part was much easier for me.
MMM: What do you think Antonio could teach the male part of the audience?
Francesco Arca: They can learn so much, from the beginning to the end. Antonio is like a bible for a man. It`s useless for a man to abuse a woman physically, verbally or emotionally just to show their strength. They can learn how to communicate with a woman and to accept her instead.