Twenty-five years ago, I was a young drama graduate attending a Shakespeare summer school at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. After school on the first day, I went to a local pub with a bunch of other international students and there I met fellow classmate, Marco Quaglia.
With a year to go before graduating from Accademia Silvio D’amico (Italy’s national drama school), like me, Marco was attending RADA to hone his Shakespeare acting skills. Over a mutual love of iambic pentameter, filmmaking, and Rome (his birth place), we became instant friends. What began on that day has evolved into a long, long distance friendship that has seen us catch up over the years, somewhere in the world. Without a doubt for me, the best times I have spent with Marco have been in Rome; there is something very special experiencing a city with a local. Recently I was back in the Eternal City, to spend a day with Marco, where he took me on a journey through his creative Rome.
It was noon, and we arranged to meet in front of the famous il forno (bread shop) on Campo dei Fiori; this used to be a regular lunchtime pit-stop for a piece of their mouth-watering pizza when we were younger. Soon Marco came striding towards me, dark sunglasses, scarf flapping in the breeze, like Marcello Mastroianni. We hugged, linked arms, and started to promenade around the pretty square.
Marco: Remember I told you about the time we were filming The Talented Mr Ripley? They offered Matt Damon an apartment on the top floor of that building (Marco points up to a gorgeous old palazzo with shutters and a heavy beamed ceiling). Apparently he turned it down in favour of the Hilton, as he needed a gym; so a mate of mine who was an AD (Assistant Director) got the apartment for the duration of the shoot! For us Italian actors in the film, that apartment became our party pad. At first I thought Matt was nuts not take the apartment, until I saw how buffed he looked in the film!
With an English-born mother, and Italian father, Marco is in the fortunate position of being able to act in either language. In recent years, he has gained further work as an acting coach.
Marco: With so many international productions coming here (to Italy), especially films, it is important that Italian actors learn to act well in English. Whilst the creative process for an actor is obviously the same no matter what language they are working in, it’s a matter of finding the thought process in that language in order to give a truthful performance. Italians, with their tradition of Commedia dell’arte where gestures and emotions are big and often exaggerated, are now incorporating a more subtle art when it comes to playing characters on an international stage, and it is important to stay competitive.
After a stroll through the markets, the smells from the formaggi and prosciutti make us hungry. We take Via Del Pellergino, just off Campo dei Fiori, and arrive at Number 85, an adorable little zupperia (soup restaurant), called Orto di Maramao.
Marco: Often before a show, I don’t want a heavy meal, but I want to eat something nourishing. I love soups, and Dino (the owner) offers about half a dozen different soups and salad. The soups really taste like the kind of food my mum made for me when I was a kid. They’re delicious!
The tiny restaurant is decorated with timber boxes filled with fresh herbs, and Dino, with his bright orange spectacles, passionately discusses with us where he sources the freshest of ingredients. Over a bowl of Zuppa Toscana, and a glass of crisp Pinot Grigio, Marco talks me through his creative process when preparing for a role.
Marco: No matter what the project, film, television or theatre, my preparation is the same. I like to do a lot of homework, a lot of reading, so I turn up on the first day with plenty of ideas. As much as possible I try to find moments from my real life… feelings and experiences… that I can bring to the role so there are these elements of truth that you can weave into the tapestry.
Time for us to jump on Marco’s Vespa and whizz across town to an interesting, and up-and-coming part of Rome called Testaccio, beyond the more well known arty Trastevere. Marco has a meeting with the owners of a theatre space called Carrozzerie N.O.T, (Via Panfilo Castaldi 28) who specialise in the production of new Italian works. Apparently, this is THE place to be seen. He and some colleagues staged a play there recently and they are back discussing plans for the future. While they are in the meeting, I decide to take a stroll around Testaccio and immediately like the feel of the area; the bars, trees, and interesting shops – it’s a part of Rome I think I could live in.
I meet Marco, and Stefano Patti, the director of their play, and we wander nearby to an unpretentious, former butcher shop, now ristorante, called Ristorante Angelina a Testaccio (Via Galvani, 24A). Over the biggest bowl of Spaghetti Carbonara I have ever seen, we reminisce about a trip I took to visit Marco in New York some years earlier. He was there performing in a production of Bartelby the Scrivener, where he played Bartleby, opposite the wonderful Broadway actor, Gerry Bamman. After receiving rave reviews in the New York Times, a bunch of us went out to celebrate – art, life and other things – much like tonight.
As our evening draws to a close, I feel myself getting teary – I always get a lump in my throat when it’s time to say goodbye to Marco. It’s hard to beat old friendships. Fortunately I had already thrown some coins into the Trevi Fountain earlier in the day, so that guarantees I’ll be back in Rome, one day!
Photos by Francesca Marino.
Shot on location at Ristorante Angelina a Testaccio, Via Galvani, 24A Roma