This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ugo Tognazzi, the Cremonese actor protagonist of numerous successful films, some of which belong to the collective memory. But did the actor Tognazzi look different from the man? And what was it like working with the artist who died in 1990 at age 68? We asked Milena Vukotic, film, theater and TV actress whose artistic path has often crossed that of Ugo Tognazzi. Who doesn’t remember her as Alice, the submissive wife of Count Raffaello “Lello” Mascetti from “Amici My”?
Before the premiere of Monicelli’s “Amici mie” in 1975, had you already worked with Ugo Tognazzi?
Yes, we had already worked together on “Come take coffee with us”, directed by Alberto Lattuada in 1970 and based on the novel the partition by Piero Chiara. That’s where we met. That work seemed written especially for us, for it told the story of a man who enters the lives of three spinsters. Neither I nor the other two actors in the film, Francesca Romana Coluzzi and Angela Goodwin, knew Tognazzi. But despite that, we immediately entered a familiar dimension, because the film continually led to situations connected with the house where the three spinsters lived.
And how was your relationship with Ugo?
It was a fun encounter from the start. And little by little he developed into a very human and joyful relationship, until the end of the film’s making.
So we broke up and after a few years we gave birth to a… movie wedding on the set of Mario Monicelli’s “Amici mia”. I was the wife of Count Lello Mascetti in the first two films of the trilogy.
From Lattuada to Monicelli: you’ve always worked with great directors…
Oh yeah. But the films were very different from each other, as were the personal commitments. In “My Friends” I was the unfortunate wife and we didn’t have many scenes together. In “Come and have a coffee with us” there was more possibility of dialogue, of common occasions. In “My friends” our communication was reduced because “My friends” was.. “My friends” and the family of the character who played Tognazzi were his friends. However, there was always a lot of respect and affection between us, so much so that when we finished shooting the movie I called him to ask him to help me with a business matter and he was very affectionate, very encouraging to me.
Why, what happened?
Sometimes it happens that sometimes you don’t know what to do, i.e. how to behave with the show’s agents, so I called him for advice and he was very attentive, he tried to help me. But I can’t say that I’ve been there more. While Paolo Villaggio was more of a friend with whom we met often, with Tognazzi it was a very friendly relationship, but not so much, because at work we had more opportunities for sporadic meetings.
But do you have any personal memories of Tognazzi off set?
The first that comes to my mind refers to a chance meeting between us in Florence, several years after the second “My Friends” film. We were in the same hotel, we crossed paths and there he said to me: ‘Oh, blessed are you who make movies’ because at that moment he was doing theater and he wasn’t very happy. On that occasion we talked about several things. Many years have passed since we last met and from his speeches it was clear that he missed cinema a lot.
Let’s go back to the actor Tognazzi. Did he respect the script or did he use his own?
He was quite disciplined when it came to dialogue, but he would make things up every now and then, always in the name of comedy. I also remember moments of general hilarity during which we had to stop because we could no longer go on. We all laugh. And then he was very interested in his cooking: at the end of the film he organized a very sophisticated dinner, which he immediately showed that he cared a lot. And that was a bit of a habit of his. Then there would be other good things…
Do you remember any of them?
During the making of a movie, I don’t remember which one, we were shooting outdoor scenes. From the end of the street appeared Maria Sole, daughter of Ugo, who at the time must have been 6-7 years old. At that moment her face lit up, although the scene demanded a serious attitude. And that situation stayed with me. I also have another memory, linked to the film “La Terrazza” by Ettore Scola.
You can tell me?
In that film I played the wife of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Ugo was the husband of Ombretta Colli. On this terrace where we were filming there were long pauses and I remember a terrible joke that Tognazzi made, as a very bad boy. Since we were all there waiting for our turn to shoot scenes, he was holding a small plastic spray bottle with water in it. He walked up behind an actress, who was ready to film, and while she was talking to someone, he walked up to her, gave her a big fake sneeze, and let the spray into her neck. And this poor thing suddenly turned around and he was behind it… Here he was making these bad boy jokes because he felt the need to release the tension.
But do you have fond memories of Ugo Tognazzi?
Yes a lot. Because it is linked to happy moments of work. And then I have these little anecdotes that leave me in my memory in a serene way. Although the enormous skill of Ugo must be emphasized, a gigantic actor who was able to transform himself in a few moments, because he had his own unique originality. He wasn’t just a comedian, he was a complete actor.