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BBC sounds, music, radio, podcasts. Hello, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the Desert Island Discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them if they were castaway to a desert island. And for right reasons, the music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening.
My castaway this week is Sophia Loren, an icon of the big screen and of Italy itself, she was the first woman to win a best actress Oscar for a foreign language film and another for her outstanding contribution to world cinema, and has won Italy's highest film prize six times more than anyone in history. Her illustrious career includes some 100 films and a list of collaborators. That's a who's who of cinema itself. She was directed by Charlie Chaplin. Her co-stars include Clark Gable, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando and Richard Burton.
And she enjoyed a 40 year working relationship with her best loved screen partner, Marcello Mastroianni. She is synonymous with the very best of her home country, though growing up, she endured the worst of it, facing fear and hunger during her childhood in the shadow of World War Two. In the beginning, she fell in love with cinema because it provided an escape from everyday suffering. Then it fell in love with her and changed her life. Still working up to 70 years in the spotlight, she says.
Today, I can say I am aware of having lived a very full life and lived very intensely. I don't think I could have lived with any more passion than I have. Sophia Loren, welcome to Desert Island Discs. Thank you. Thank you.
So, Sophia, living with passion is important to you. Where do you find that passion today?
It's something that I think that you have it within you if you have something in life that it really you want to do, because it's important for you, for your life or for your children or for your family if you have it strongly inside of you. I think that no matter what happens, I would do it when it's worth it. I like to dare. Yes.
In your new film, The Life Ahead, you play a Holocaust survivor, Madame Rosa. The film is based on a novel by Ramon Gary and it's directed by your son, Eduardo. What made you want to take on the part?
It was very you know, it's very difficult sometimes when you make movies to read a book and then you really think that this is the story of your all of that you've always wanted to do.
And that was my reaction when I read the book. So a story like this, maybe I will never find another one again. And I said, yes, Eduardo, let's try.
Let's go, let's go like a mother. Let's go, let's go. Let's do it. Yeah.
The film, as you say, directed by your son, Edoardo Ponti. And it explores some big themes aging, loss, love, mortality, big subjects for any actor and director to approach. Did your relationship as mother and son help you get to the heart of the issues in the film?
Absolutely. Absolutely. We work together really in a very, very deep way.
It was it was not a normal film.
It's an emotional film to watch.
Was it emotional to make when you feel emotions in the right way, you don't even feel that you are making an effort because you feel so much inside of yourself that you become the subject that you are you doing.
You don't see anything else. But what are you doing?
Sophia, it's time to make a start with your music today. What's your first disc and why have you chosen it?
The first selection is Ella Fitzgerald singing I've Got You Under My Skin.
It was a song that I that I heard for the first time in particularly after the war. Of course, Ella's voice represented America to me and to me. America was so far away still at that time because I didn't even knew that there was America somewhere in the world because it was incredible.
And Ella Fitzgerald really gave me gave me a sense of life. Got you under my skin. I've got you deep in the heart of me, so deep in my heart, you're really a part of me. I've got you under my skin. I tried I think I know it by heart, singing every word. Yeah. Oh yeah.
Ella Fitzgerald and I've got you under my skin. So that track takes you home. Sophia Loren, you were born Sophia Ciccolo in Rome in a hospital ward for unmarried mothers. And you describe your mother as a restless beauty with great dreams. Tell me more about her. My mother, my mother never knew. Who she was, she was a lost soul with a great, great way of wanting to do things, but really not enough strength, not enough flame inside to be able to overcome all this negative thinking and to join what she really wanted in her life.
But she was a good person, a good person, a tender person. She was a good mother and she was a good pianist.
But she never, never really took care of it and become a really subsample professional pianist and have a kind of success that she could have had.
What about your father? How would you describe him? Well, I cannot, because I don't know. I mean, I've seen him in my life maybe twice, three times.
He was he was handsome. He was OK. But, uh, I don't think that he was in love with her because if you love somebody, you take care. You are you are with the person, especially if you have children. Oh, my God. It's it's a miracle to have a child. It's wonderful to have a family.
Raising a baby alone was understandably a struggle for your mother. And she went back to the family home in Pottsville where your grandparents were able to help out with you and your younger sister when she came along. You were very close to your grandmother, I think. Oh, she.
No, no, no, no, no, no. She was my mother. She was my father. She was my grandfather.
She was everything for us. She was the head of the family. I mean, we were a family of nine, ten people, cousin, aunt. And we were many, many in all in one house.
And your mother was very beautiful, wasn't she? She looked exactly like a great guy. Yes. My my mother. So of course.
And she knew when she she started to know that she would get the make up like a little Garbo, the blond haired, like Greta Garbo, everything. I grew up, but she was not the Greta Garbo.
And the people in the street would would really go around her. They wanted Otto Graff. They would. But it was all a joke. It was all a joke. Now now I know that it was all a joke by then. I thought she was a good like everybody thought she she my mother, her name is was a great example, but it was not true.
But she did win a Garbo lookalike competition organized by the MGM film studio. What happened?
They wanted her in America. But my grandmother, the Nona Renana, she said, What are you doing?
You have to Chelsea, you cannot go because people from a little town then they were afraid of everything. You know, they just wanted to stay where they were born in Botswana. And what do you do? You pursue it. I know because I've been in football.
It's time for this number to tell us what we're going to hear next and why you've chosen it today.
The second piece is declared the you see, my mother was a concert pianist and would play this piece whenever she could find a piano to play on.
When I think of my mother, I get this feeling inside that is bittersweet. Sweet because she was a wonderful woman and loved her daughter so much and beat her because she was. Often sad and unfulfilled. Debussy's Claire de Lune, played by Tomasz Vacherie, Sophia Loren, you were five when World War Two broke out and you said it was the major theme of my childhood, understandably so. What do you remember about that time?
We were always in a battle with something. I didn't know what it was about bombing and the drama and the falling houses and no food at all.
And, you know, it's incredible because now that I'm talking to you, I'm talking about many, many years ago.
And I still I still think about this kind of things like it was yesterday. It is very, very much alive.
Very much terrible. Yeah.
So it was a fight for survival. And until the war was over. Really. Oh, yes.
Yes. When the Americans came in. My God, it was beautiful. Beautiful.
So that relief was obviously followed by picture houses reopening and you were able to go to the movies. What were you watching? Were they American films, Fred Astaire?
I figured if I said I was sorry, there was Ginger Rogers.
We loved American movies because they were beautiful houses and dancing.
So it was all about escape and glamour. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. And when you were 15, your mother entered you in a local beauty pageant and you were one of the winners. How did you feel about your looks at that age?
Well, I was they called me Steketee.
You know what it means to get a little stick because to think I think we say, well, because I was so skinny, I was not at all the beauty of today.
Italian beauty. Nice. And, you know, round.
No, not at all.
Not at all. In your late teens, you left home and you moved to Rome where you found work starring in photo romance stories for popular magazines. And I think you had a bit of a flair for that kind of work.
I became a kind of not not the queen, but I was very well done. Bolero. Bolero. Yeah.
You had a following. Si, si, si, si, si.
And I was going there all alone.
I was about, you know, but it was like a grown up, a grown up because I knew that my mother could not be there for what I really needed.
I really needed the things that she didn't think that I could, but I was OK because I know I started to have fun.
So if you have fun, there is always something extra that comes out and it happened.
Time for some music. What's your next disc today and why have you chosen it?
Laura says goodbye to Yuri. From my husband film Doctor Zhivago, this is the film that my husband, Carlo, was the most proud of.
He fought for this music to be in the film. He had great instinct and was a great artist. I miss him every day of my life. Laura says goodbye to you, part of Laura's theme from the soundtrack to the film Doctor Zhivago for your husband, Carlo Ponti, Sophia Loren.
So, Sophia, by the early 1950s, you had gone from working as an extra year, an extra interwove artist starring Robert Taylor and Deborah Carr to your first leading role in an adaptation of the Italian opera Aida. Did you feel like you were on the cusp of something great? I thought that it was very good for me to try because I knew that I had a good year for the music.
What was it like being on set? Were you nervous as the star?
No, no, not at all. I adored every moment of it. So that's how I started really wanting to be in that place many times. Yeah. Yeah.
So you were getting noticed, but at the same time and this is very hard to believe, but it did happen. Some cameramen said you were difficult to photograph.
I didn't have the most normal face to be able to look good in any kind of lighting because my my nose was too big, my mouth was too big, everything was too big for them.
So really, they didn't they didn't want me because maybe the cameramen I had that other girl that he wanted to put in my place, it was terrible. It was a war.
It was a war. So I mean and I, I but I understood that. So I said, it's OK, it's OK.
And I don't have a big face that you change with this and then you put it something else. No, I had a little face and and I liked my face, I, I liked the way I was.
I like to look at myself in the, in the mirror when I when I was growing, you know, it was I owned my face and I wanted to keep it.
In 1951, you met the film producer Carlo Ponti, who was the great love of your life, but you weren't able to marry until 1966. Why not? He was married a senior to see what you're saying, but eventually, luckily you got married to the satisfaction of all the parties involved, marriage clearly meant a lot to you. And you were prepared to wait. Oh, yeah, always.
Yeah, sure. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
When you love somebody, I think you have to wait.
Also all your life, time for desk number for Sophia Loren. What have you chosen for us and why are you taking it with you today?
Fly Me to the Moon by Frank Sinatra. This piece reminds me of my arrival in Hollywood in my 20s.
And Frank Sinatra was your co-star in The Pride and The Passion. What was he like to work with?
He loved is going this obviously this a trailer trailer. OK, yeah. He was to stay in the trailer very often.
He never sang on the set because many people and even music we can't direct them to but for not even for you.
Na na na na na na.
We are shooting. We are shooting. OK, ok.
Just fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars in other words.
Hold my hand. In other words, baby, kiss me, fly me to the moon, Frank Sinatra. So by 1953, you had a new name, Sophia Loren, and the following year you were cast in Vittorio the Seekers, The Gold of Naples. How much did that film change things for you?
Because the role was perfect for me. It was a role of a girl of 16 years old, Neapolitan. No money, no food. The street was her home. And this was the character of the film.
And the director was we the this.
But I didn't know what it was acting. I didn't know what it was. Nothing. Nothing, nothing.
So for me, the CEQA, I really have him in my heart because with this simplicity I really owed to him a lot of what I, I, I got from lines from what I had to do.
It was really it was really incredible because he did this like a teacher about with a lot of a simplicity, a wonderful person.
I know you said he taught you to believe in yourself. When I was working with him, I didn't have to believe in myself, I was myself. In 1957, you starred in your first English language film, The Pride in The Passion. Your co-stars were Frank Sinatra. We've just heard. And Cary Grant, who later proposed to you. You turned him down, though.
Why? Why? Because I was already engaged with the Rove, I think. Oh, yes.
And also, you know this when these kinds of things happen on the on on a set, I think that I was I've always been very careful about it because a set is something the world is something else.
You know, you don't want to wake up and say, I've made really something that I shouldn't have.
I've done. It's terrible. No, no, no, no. I never I never went into that.
Sophia, I know that you were also an incredible Scrabble player and would often play on set with your co-stars.
I think you'd be everyone that I heard about, not because I was a nerd, because I was a teacher, I was cheating.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I like to cheat because I have fun.
You beat everyone.
You were cheating. OK, it's fun. It's fun. Yeah. So who who did you play? Who gave you the most trouble. Richard Burton. Yes. And you beat him.
I was cheating him a lot. And then when he when he found out he said, I'm not going to play with you again.
Let's see your next piece of music. It's disc number five. What can you tell us about it?
The fish species are noisy by Mina.
She represents so many chapters of my life. She also connects me to my lover, bitterly cold.
I've traveled all over the world, but Italy is my home.
So liberal have posted on the music. But is when I go home and go, oh, they need to talk to you, my.
McKewon, appointed by the trackwork, also came to block gnarliest could it could come as they go mistype concrete Pantalone in medical mistyping and what you call a normal regathering my money or G Sondrio.
Today it's me by my mother and me, my mommy Cabra brother Sophia Loren.
We've talked about some of your co-stars, but I would love to know a little bit more about some of your directors, especially Charlie Chaplin, who directed you in a Countess from Hong Kong. What are your memories of working with him?
I was always with him and trying to to to to have always the answer to what I had to do.
And if I was wrong in something, I wanted a lesson from him because, you know, you don't do a picture with a with with this person every day.
I mean, this is was his last film. I know. It was incredible.
One of the greatest moments of my my my working life is the thing with Charlie Chaplin.
And when he was directing you, did you get the chance to kind of see him act, you know, when he was talking about scenes?
I don't think that he you when you were acting like to everything that you were doing because he has his own acting.
So if you if you couldn't do or you didn't think of doing the scene as it was, he was the actor he would do he would say, no, no, no, that's not true.
Then he will do it himself.
And then you have to repeat what he did.
And it was nice because then there was no known and no quarrel, no nothing in the scene for you.
Just look carefully and just do what I did. It was very difficult to to do the scene like like like him because you're rather rather physique and other kind of acting, much more modern, our acting.
But but he was always very convincing when he was doing it and you had to repeat it. And when you did, then he was happy. And he was right. He was right.
Time for desk number six. Sophia, what have you chosen? The sixth piece of music is the Marketplace Atley Moseby Busalacchi, which is conducted by my son, Carlo.
The marketplace at Lemieux's from Mizuki's Pictures at an exhibition orchestrated by Ravell, performed by the Russian National Orchestra, conducted Sophia Loren by your son Carlo Ponti in 1960. You were back in Italy where you starred in Two Women. It was again directed by Vittorio DiCicco, and it's about a mother and daughter who are trying to survive the brutal fallout of the war. You once said of that film before two women, I was a performer. Afterwards I was an actress.
What did you mean by that?
Because you grow. Because you grow and by by being directed always three or four times, by the same director that, you know, by heart, then you realize how much you learned. And when you realized that, then you're really happy because it means that you have reached something that you could have never reached before by yourself.
The film features some powerful scenes. I'm, of course, thinking of one in particular in which your character and her daughter are assaulted by a group of soldiers in a church. What was it like shooting that?
I don't know.
It's just a terrible sin to to to cope with from from the mother and from the daughter. And then also went on the street.
She she realizes that that the the soldiers have done with this girl something that, you know, very bad.
And she starts to scream after after the car and then kneeling down.
And she said terrible things to these soldiers that that is the most incredible scene. Very, very, very difficult to do. But I did want the one kneeling down.
I did it once, the seeker. You just stood up and they was going away. And I said, Vittoria, let's do it again. Why? Why? Because I thought that I did the bad thing. I did a bad scene. I did. And I said, no, no, no, let's do it again, please. Let's do it again.
I said, no, because you did it so well that you will never do it as well as you did.
It was incredible. I will never forget we told you this sicko telling me that the one scene of the most incredible and difficult scene of the script once and he made the right call.
I mean, that role changed history. 1962, you won the best actress Oscar for that part. The very first time that the award had gone to a non English speaking performance. You beat Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood, who were also nominated. But you didn't go to the ceremony.
Why not, though? Because the Oscar for us in Italy was far away. It's for an Italian film. I don't know. You did not feel that it was possible. The yes. You are going to win it now.
How did you spend that night?
I was with the friends because we were doing a little party, just, you know, just to be together pretending that we were not thinking that there was a in Hollywood, the Oscar pretending.
And then this week I was there with me and the phone rang and said, hi, hi.
It's Kerry. Yeah. Yeah, you're one.
I almost fainted.
I was waiting in the car for the Cary Grant and wonderful lovers.
I mean, I really I mean, really I mean, this kind of prizes, it's you cannot say words are you feel it's impossible because it's unique.
It's wonderful. It's great. It's it's great. It's great.
It's time for your next desk.
Sophia Loren, what are we going to hear and why the service piece of music is EOC performed by Lower supposedly and composed by the great Diane Warren from my latest film, The Life Ahead Quando to Finish.
She led by Raleigh. Stokley. Stokley. For Saturday night, Salvano doing so solid. Star queen. Gwendoline Fire Soppressata. It's a deal impossible EEOC idea performed by Larry from the soundtrack to the film The Life Ahead. Sophia Loren, I'm about to send you off to our island. Do you like spending time by yourself?
Oh, no, no, no. Because I want company. I want to be with people. I like people.
I would feel bad because I would feel like a like a prison, like something that I don't deserve. Na na. And I'm sure, Sophia, that you'd be thinking of home, as we've heard, you were born in Rome, but you've said that it's very important to you that you are a Neapolitan, first and foremost. What does that mean to you?
It's because I was born in Rome by chance, but my heart and myself and my physique, its I am from Naples, I am from these people that that I've always I've always been with them.
Rome, yes. Beautiful.
But my, my life is was in Portugal, in Naples all my childhood, which I think that if you, if you are in a place during your childhood, it's a place that you will remember forever.
Forever. You can have one more desk before I send you away today. Sophia Loren is your final choice. What's it going to be?
The eight piece of music is Caruso sung by Lucia Darla. This song reminds me of what it means to be Neapolitan.
We don't know for. So I get that a lot of your goals for this. Bratunac. Was he scary, Slavoj shotgunned. Caruso by Lutcher, Darla, Sophia Loren, it's time to cast you away. I can give you the Bible, the complete works of Shakespeare to take with you and you can take another book of your choice as well. What would you like.
Letters from a young father by my son or daughter. It is a poetry book that he wrote for his daughter before she was born. It's beautiful when you see your son turn into a father.
I'll also give you a luxury item to take with you to the island. What would you like to take?
I would bring on the island a pizza oven. I cannot live without a pizza. I'm a Neapolitans invented pizza. So if there was a pizza oven on the island, I would turn it into a little corner of Naples and it would make me feel at home and I would eat very well.
And what is the secret to great pizza dough? I mean, in your breakthrough role, we watched you make pizza. You played a pizza girl.
You have to really have the right moment for it.
It's like writing a poem, but cooking a pizza, let's face it.
So if you don't feel like it, don't do it. But if you like it, then you have the time of your life.
Now, Sofia, within the rules, I'm not supposed to give you a luxury that has a practical application technically, but because these pizzas are poetic, I'm going to allow it on the basis that you are going to use them to create works of art. We're going to do a Sophia Loren playing Scrabble bend of the rules for you at this point.
OK, I've got one more question for you, Sophia, which is perhaps the hardest question of all. If you had to save just one of these disks that you shared with us today, which would it be and why the last one?
Because I cried my heart out. It's not wonderful. Singer And the beauty was beautiful words for a song.
So it's Caruso, Lutcher Dallah, Sophia Loren, thank you so much for sharing your Desert Island Discs with us.
Why? Because it's just finished it. Oh, my God. So that's about you. But you da da da da.
I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Sophia, I'm sure her little corner of Naples will allow her to stay connected with home and family while she's on the island. You can also conjure up some delicious pizza toppings while she's there. Over the years, we've cast many actors away, including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Rupert Everett and Helen McCrorie. You can hear their programs on the Desert Island Discs website and on BBC Sound.
Next time, my guest will be Claire Horton, former chief executive at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. I do hope you'll join us.
A new podcast series from BBC Radio four in the first stage of a poltergeist haunting the entity will confine itself to making noise as if its testing its victims.
The Battersea Poltergeist. My name's Shirley Hitchens. I'm 15 years old. I live with my mum, dad, brother Gran. And Donald. Subscribe to the Battersea Poltergeist on BBC Sound.