Ruggero Cecchi is an Italian actor from Florence with more than eight years’ experience onstage and in front of the camera. One of his latest full-length films is Cenere. And one of his favourite places to take to the stage is the Shakespeare theatre in Rome. Now he finds himself in a new role as a member of Krakow’s expat community…
KP: You’ve acted in 700 scenes, right?
RC: I’ve been on stage more than 700 times, in different plays of course, but I’ve calculated that I’ve been in front of the public on more than 700 hundred occasions in my career.
Which do you prefer? Theatre or cinema?
Why is that? I am sure they pay more for performing in movies, don’t they?
Yeah, from a strictly economic point of view, cinema is much better. But in shooting a film, I don’t like the fact that you can say: “Oh, can we do that again?” In theatre, you have no way to make a mistake, you can’t say to the public: “Sorry guys, I made a mistake. I will repeat that.” If you make a mistake, you have to be able to fix it while you are on the stage. Imagine if you forgot the words, you have to improvise.
Also, I will not lie, I like to feel the eyes of the people upon me. In the theatre, this is what happens. People listen to you. You are the focal point at that moment. It’s intriguing and extremely scary. I cannot remember a single occasion where I didn’t have a stomach ache before going onto the stage. Every time, my stomach aches and every time I’ve no appetite at all. Always a few seconds just before going on stage, the breathing gets faster, and then ‘Boom!’ you take a step on stage, and then you wake up, and people are clapping.
Is there no way to fight this fear?
No, it’s something that makes you feel alive. I mean in the theatre, every day you die because every day is different. Every day you start with your character but your character as it is that day will die. It will never be the same again.
Let’s talk about getting into the role, the character you have to play. How do you do this?
Well, building a character is an extremely complicated procedure, because you must truly fake something.
But how do you dress in the skin of the character?
The art of playing someone that isn’t you? It’s quite difficult to explain it in just a few words. For example, for me, it is very important before doing the play, to choose the clothes. What is my character wearing? So, my body is moving according to what I am wearing. Then when comes to creating the character… Honestly, I am doing personal rehearsals in front of the mirror or when I am in the shower. When I am alone I start to repeat the script, my words and listen to myself. Then I start to try different facial expressions. So, every free second that you have must be dedicated to creating the character. Next comes the work of the director. The part of the actor is to know how to dress, how to suit up but to create the skin there must be a good director who has a clear picture in his mind how he wants this character to be, so it’s always about taking orders.
But what if you have a different opinion, different view on how this character should be?
You can discuss it. It depends on the director and it depends on the actor. Creating the character is the most challenging part of course of being an actor. But it’s something you cannot do alone. You must accept the fact that someone else will step into you and move your body from the inside. This is why we work on building trust from the beginning. The director is someone who is putting his hands inside of you, inside your belly, inside your mind and he is twisting it, destroying it to rebuild the character. And you must let him do it. It’s also painful because sometimes they push you to the absolute limit. Imagine yourself, sitting here so elegantly, being a violent boxer from Million Dollar Baby. Imagine being that kind of character, rude, spitting on the ground, smashing the face of someone. You have to kill that person. Imagine yourself, doing this.
When I start to imagine this, it feels like you have to betray yourself and forget who you are.
Exactly. Remember about the ‘safe zone?’ There is no safe zone at the theatre. Maybe at a corporation, they say you must to step out from your safe zone but always stay a little inside because you have to find the right equilibrium. But in the theatre, you just jump in the dark. It can be fluffy ground that’s waiting for you, you bounce on it, and nothing happens, it can be a 30-minute fall of panic and gasping for air. You never know.
I also want to ask you about the influence this job has on you, how this job is changing you as a person? I heard about your colleague who had a tic disorder…
Yes, this guy is a lovely person, but he has this neurological illness, called Tourette syndrome. So, basically, he can’t control his movements. Yet, when he is on the stage all of the symptoms completely disappear. It’s like his brain is so concentrated on acting that he forgets about his Tourette syndrome. He’s totally focused on acting.
Yes, it is. But at the same time theatre is used as a therapy for many different syndromes. Because being onstage requires not only concentring on what you have to say but also on how you say it, when, you have to wait for the right moment. So, your brain at this moment is concentrating on so many things, that it’s unable to concentrate on anything else and let your problems come out. Theatre is a form of therapy. Theatre is more than just telling stories, sending a message or entertaining. It’s, I will use this word strongly, but it is a religion. It’s something that comes from inside of you, it’s a vocation and it’s something that’s always calling for you. Every time I take a step on stage I kiss the stage, I kiss my hand, and I give a kiss to the stage. In Japan, imagine the actors before the play, they take mops and clean the stage, slowly, they take care of it, because it’s like a church.
Do you have a dream as an actor?
I think about that every night. When I go to bed, I imagine my, you know, my award speech at the Oscars. Every night is a different movie, but… yeah, this is the dream, the dream is there. And you cannot take it away. Life goes in unusual ways and who knows what will happen in the future, but the dream is there. It’s like you know, the fire under the ashes. It looks like it’s gone out, but if you start to add more wood, blow on it, it will start again. It’s there, it’s never turned off.
So why did you decide to come to Poland?
Well, it was a mix of several reasons that brought me here. Firstly, and most importantly, my daughter. In Italy I was unable to guarantee her the future that she deserves, I was jumping from one underpaid contract to another, without the possibility of building something more stable. My girlfriend is Polish, and she just told me that here, being able to speak both Italian and English, I would have no issue in finding a job. And she was totally right (like always). It was hard to renounce theatre, but I had to choose between my family and my career and to me nothing is more important than my family, not even myself.
How did you find adjusting to a new life?
Not bad. We found a small flat in Bronowice, with a small garden for our dog, and all that we need close to us. In the beginning I was a little lost, but in a few days, I got to know how the city works, and I was able to go alone anywhere I needed. Websites, information, everything is also in English, so the language was not such a big wall to climb. Also, many people here speak English – something that in Italy is still a big issue. It is a pity because we are a touristy country, but we still do not understand the importance of knowing at least a second language.
What do you think about Polish cinema and theatre?
In the last years we have seen an increase in the worldwide consideration of Poland as a movie producing country, especially after Ida’s Academy Award. But Poland has always been a very important country for this. I studied Kieślowski (Three Colours, Bez Końca) a lot, Agnieszka Holland, and of course Roman Polański, even if I find his style more ‘American’ than the others. Anyway, I consider How I Unleashed World War II (Jak rozpętałem drugą wojnę światową, 1970), a real masterpiece. I really love that movie! I also see that there is a very active theatrical life. People go to the theatre, they like and enjoy it. Most of all, here there is respect for directors and actors; these are recognized as real jobs, something that we lost in Italy.
Could the topics that you studied be popular in Poland?
Yes, totally. Art is an international language, constantly evolving and developing and I am sure that styles like commedia dell’arte would be really popular here. Even because everything is connected, and the origins of different styles are always common. There is a little bit of everything in everything. Sorry for the tricky sentence.
As for you, what’s the difference between Italian and Polish culture for cinema and theatre?
As I said, in Italy we have lost respect for artists. People consider them rich or spoiled kids who do not want to do anything, so they want to be artists. Sometimes it is like that, but many colleagues of mine are struggling every day to find a contract, even a small one. The union is weak, and when you do an audition, you find people who did not study and have no experience at all, but they are considered the same as you. They have more possibilities than you, because they are ready to work for free just to say, “Hey, I am an actor”, while you, with your studies and CV, cannot accept to work for free. In Poland I see more respect for the people who decide to start this career. This is a career made up of study, tears, late nights, no food, no money and a lot of sacrifices.
What were the hardest things to get used to compared to Italy?
The weather and the language! Luckily not the food, because I cook. But I love pierogi and borsch!
What reminds you of Italy in Krakow?
Sincerely, nothing. It’s different architecture, a different culture, but this does not mean that I do not feel at home. I am happy here, for some things more than in Italy. I miss my parents, my friends, but here I found a really great atmosphere and situation, allowing me to provide for my family and build my life.
And the best place to visit in Italy?
Of course, the most beautiful place in the world, my hometown, Firenze.
Florence. Okay. But do you have a specific favorite place there?
Hm… Heh… It would be totally banal, but it’s Piazzale Michelangelo, this is the big square up on the hill. You have a perfect view of Florence from there. Another place I have in the heart is an island called Stromboli. It is in Sicily. Stromboli is a volcano. It’s an active volcano, where the shores and the sand are totally black, and the houses are totally white. So, there is this big contrast. When you are there for 15 minutes, you can hear this ‘brmb-brmb’ It is the volcano whispering. All the time.