It?s been three years since Roberto Benigni?s triumphant appearance at the Oscars, but time hasn?t dulled the ”Life Is Beautiful” maestro?s spirits. ”I am so in love with this movie!” he exclaims of his live-action, nonmusical (and English-dubbed) take on Carlo Collodi?s tale of a puppet who longs to be real.
After ”Beautiful,” Benigni was a commodity in Hollywood, but he opted to stay in Europe and portray the wooden boy he?s identified with since age 5. Of course, he?s 49, so he cast other adults in every child?s role to keep things consistent: ”After 30 seconds, you forget. I tried it with real boys, and it was very sad to see me very big [next to them].” The effects-heavy production was shot entirely in Italy and reunited him with his ”Beautiful” team, including real-life principessa Braschi, cowriter Cerami, and veteran production designer Danilo Donati (who died shortly after completing his work on ”Pinocchio”). The film, however, sports a very Hollywood-size price tag: $50 million, which, Benigni says, makes it Italy?s costliest ever (Miramax cofinanced with an Italian production company). But what good is $50 million (and a Happy Meal tie-in) when Americans may have forgotten him? Benigni laughs. ”Before ‘Life Is Beautiful,’ nobody knew me!” Besides, ”I still want to make love with everyone!”
THE LOWDOWN We can?t tell a lie: The fairy tale hasn?t had much live-action success in the past. Anyone remember Francis Ford Coppola?s ill-fated adaptation?