Interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice

This week I had the extreme honour of interviewing actor, writer and star of some of my favourite films, Giovanni Lombardo Radice!

Giovanni’s career began at a young age and has worked extensively in both the film and theatre industry. Giovanni has starred in many cult classics of Italian horror genre including: Ruggero Deodato’s “House On The Edge Of The Park”, Lucio Fulci’s “City Of The Living Dead”, Umberto Lenzi’s “Cannibal Ferox”, Antonio Margheriti’s “Cannibal Apocalypse” and also Michele Soavi’s “Stage Fright”, “The Church” and “The Sect”.

In short, Giovanni is a legend and an incredibly kind and gentle soul and it was a dream come true to talk to him, so without further ado, let’s get stuck into the interview…

Si: Giovanni, thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, I really appreciate it. I realise you have discussed your career extensively in other interviews and in your fantastic book, “A Zombie’s Life”, so please accept my apologies if you have answered these questions many times before.

You have worked extensively in theatre as well as the film industry, but how do the two compare and do you prefer one over the other?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: No, actually I love both and I miss both if I’m not doing one or the other. As a matter of acting, I would say it’s basically the same thing, like getting into character and studying the character. The difference is in concentration because when you are on stage, you just concentrate, get into the stuff; it’s two hours or whatever and it’s done. You stay in character the time needed whilst on set. Working hours are generally 10-12 hours, so when I was very young I wanted to stay in character all that time, but it was exhausting, so you must learn to be in and out, in and out, which is a learnt technique. Also, you don’t have close ups on stage and I like to be very emotional in a performance but emotions show more on screen.

Giovanni on stage performing in “Enigma” – 2016

Si: You bring a great physicality to the roles that you play. Do you think your background in ballet has helped with that at all?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: A lot. Ballet gave me a knowing of my body and it also solved, at times, some very difficult technical problems on set. In the famous drilling scene in “City Of The Living Dead”, people always wonder about the special effect which was really quite simple. The table was too low, so I had to arch my back to be on the table in a way only ballet study could make possible.

Giovanni as Bob in Lucio Fulci’s “City Of The Living Dead”

Also, another time, in “Deadly Impact”, with Larry Ludman, Larry wanted me to hide behind two chimney tops which were really small. I had to put myself in a second ballet position, like an (laughs) Egyptian, and hide, to then jump from that position. Apart from that, yes, ballet gave me a great knowledge of my body and great training on how to use it. I am very physical in my approach to characters because I practice a theory, a line of study, called “zoomorphia”. This is based on the study of animals, so I generally decide what animal the character is and then study the physical behaviour of that animal.

Si: Is that in both film and theatre that you have applied zoomorphia?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: Yes, absolutely. I have spent a lot of time at the zoo (laughs).

Si: I get the impression you are an animal lover.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: Yes, absolutely, I am an animal lover.

Giovanni as Brett in Michele Soavi’s “Stage Fright”

Si: I would like to talk a little about “Stage Fright”. Was your interpretation of your character Brett, in “Stage Fright”, based on anyone from your experiences in theatre or ballet, or was he written like that?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: As a matter of fact, I did collaborate on the dialogue for that movie. Michele [Soavi] wanted me to have some stage experience, so some of the bitching between me and the girl is from my pen, because I had so many anecdotes and memories of things happening behind the scenes. It was a collection of memories and, if you like, a kind of stereotype of a gay dancer but I tried to put some humour in. Brett is a character I love, because on stage, I am reputed as a comic actor. I have a lot of comedies, English comedies, so I have a good reputation as a comic actor. Due to my face, strong bones, blue eyes and whatever in movies, I very rarely use this talent. “Stage Fright” was an occasion to show I could be comic.

Giovanni as Brett in Michele Soavi’s “Stage Fright”

Si: “Stage Fright” was produced by Joe D’Amato; did you meet him?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: I had met him before because Michele and myself were great buddies and previous to “Stage Fright”, we did write some stuff together, because he wanted to make a movie. Michele was friends with Massaccesi [D’Amato] and we would take him the stuff we had written but nothing happened until he decided to produce “Stage Fright”. He was constantly on set and in the last two weeks of shooting, he did substitute one of the cameramen, so he was personally behind the camera. He was very technically skilled.

Giovanni and Michele Soavi – 2013

Si: Speaking of Michele Soavi, I understand that when he was still acting, you replaced him in two roles. Ricky, in “House on the Edge of the Park” and Bob in “City of the Living Dead”. What was it like then being directed by him?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: He didn’t care a shit about acting, which is a shame, because he is a great actor with a great face, but he couldn’t care less. It was just a way to be on set and to practice. He always wanted to be a director. When we first met, at makeup in “City of the Living Dead”, he actually said “so you were the son of a bitch who stole all of my roles?”, but he was joking. We got along famously and we were really great pals. Being directed by him was a great pleasure, because he had a real passion for horror. I said many a time I worked with very good directors, and they were all very good artists and craftsmen. They didn’t have the same passion, they just did what the market wanted them to do. If Westerns were fashionable they would do Westerns, if sexy comedies were fashionable they would do sexy comedies, if Ancient Rome was fashionable they would do Ancient Rome and so on. Then, when horror became fashionable, they turned to horror, whereas Michele had a personal real great passion for horror. He was a lover of Lovecraft and of Poe, so he had something more to relate to horror. He had very great technical skill. I have seen “Stage Fright” quite recently at a festival and it is a very good movie.

Giovanni as a reverend in Michele Soavi’s “The Church”

Si: Yes, it is a very good film. Thinking of Soavi’s next directed film, “The Church”, which is probably one of my favourite films, what was it like working on that film and what are your feelings about it?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: In my opinion, “The Church” was a bit more confused, maybe because of the screenplay. There were too many things, and there wasn’t time to develop a character. My character was supposed to be gay. There was a sequence at the beginning which was showing his interest in a young man, which was cut as the movie was too long. It is beautiful from a visual point of view, it is like a Bosch fresco coming to life, but a lot more confused in terms of characters, story, plot and the rest. I loved doing it and I loved being in Budapest. It was also at the beginning of my love story with my then wife, now ex-wife, as my son was conceived in Budapest, so I have very fond memories.

Si: I understand you have recently become a grandfather. Congratulations!

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: Yes! Thank you!

Giovanni in Michele Soavi’s “The Church”

Si: You have played a few religious figures throughout your career. Why do you think that is? Were you ever worried about being typecast?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: You know, I have had a prestigious church career, because I was a priest many a time, and then I was a cardinal. Previously to that, on stage, I had been Jesus Christ, in theatre. Finally, I was offered the role of the All Mighty – in a British movie called “The Reverend”, where I had a cameo in the beginning scene, with dear Rutger Hauer, who passed away just a few weeks ago. From priest to God, I did everything.

Giovanni as Martin Romero in Michele Soavi’s “The Sect”

Si: After “The Church”, you worked with Michele Soavi again on “The Sect”. Your character in “The Sect”, I think, is one of your scariest roles. What was it like running through the subway with a heart in your hand?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: (Laughs) It was nightmarish! We had a very short time to shoot and could only film at night, because the subway was working during the daytime. This meant we had the subway only from 11 at night until 6 in the morning. There were a lot of extras and they were confusing things a lot! Also, it was my first use of the steadycam. These first steadycams were not light, in fact they were very heavy, so you needed to have special big guys, as only big guys could support the weight. It wasn’t easy to move smoothly, so we had a nightmare because I was running with the steadycam in front of me. We had to have the same rhythm but the extras were in the way. The first cameraman fell, injuring himself, and then another cameraman arrived for the steadycam. It was very hot in the subway. In the final shots, I was jumping on a [escalator] stair and Michele wanted me to really jump hard on the stair. Each time I jumped, onto the stair, which was dead, there was a technician from the subway who was complaining and shouting “you can’t jump on that; you will ruin that!”. We said “okay, talk to the director”. Michele had disappeared for a moment and so I was jumping and jumping and finally made it [the shot] but from then on the staircase never worked. I have been to that subway station many a time, because we had a rehearsal space there for theatre, and I can testify that it never recovered from the jumps (laughs)!

Giovanni in Umberto Lenzi’s “Cannibal Ferox”

Si: Moving on now to a film which I know you have strong feelings about: “Cannibal Ferox”. I know you didn’t have a good time working on the film, but what was it like being reunited with Lorraine De Selle again after “The House On The Edge Of The Park”?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: That was the only pleasurable thing about it. Lorraine and myself were great friends, we were both French educated, so we would speak French to one another, saying the most terrible things about Lenzi and the movie with nobody understanding us. Lorraine was a good thing about it but, I must say, the only one.

Si: Before we talk about “House On The Edge Of The Park”, I noticed you were credited as co-writing a film called “Daughter Of The Jungle”, which was directed by Umberto Lenzi.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: (Laughs) By Lenzi himself – yes. Mino Loy, who was the producer of “Cannibal Ferox”, was in the Amazonia with us and we became friends. He was a very nice man, a gentleman who had classic style and was always well-dressed. A gentleman of the 19th Century. We were friends and I had started writing for T.V. already and so Mino asked Marina Garroni, who was my co-writer, and me to write a soft sexy comedy called “Daughter Of The Jungle”. It was very light, a stupid thing, but fun.

Si: Are you still writing at the moment?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: No, because in 2001, I strongly supported the political campaign against Berlusconi, being really frontline. It was a big mistake because from that moment on I didn’t write a line again for T.V..

Si: Moving on now to “House On The Edge Of The Park”, which I think is fantastic. When I was at school, I had a friend who would get me to do things and if I wouldn’t, he would say our friendship was over. I saw some of this dynamic in Ricky and Alex, although the acts in the film are far worse than what I was asked to do. What is your interpretation of Ricky and Alex’s relationship, and as Ricky as a whole?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: It was my first movie, so I was a bit scared about it as a new thing. Thankfully, the script was very theatrical. If you think about it, you can make a play out of it. It’s mostly in the same room, so this helped a lot, along with David Hess, who was very nice and helpful. It was great to have him as a partner for my first movie.

Giovanni with David Hess in Ruggero Deodato’s “House On The Edge Of The Park”

I put a lot of myself into Ricky, in terms of the insecurities I had as a teenager, and Ricky was obviously dependent on Alex. It happened to me in life, to be dependent on strong male figures, although not as wicked as Alex (laughs). It was a feeling I knew very well. A lot of times I was asked the question if there was something of a homosexual hint in their relationship. I would say yes and no. I think every strong friendship has a hint of sexuality in it. From that, to then say did sex actually happen, then I would say no, I don’t think so.

For this film, as an animal, I studied a prairie dog; the little animals like squirrels which stand up, are very nervous and do strange things like commit suicide but nobody knows why – the moment they all jump from a rock – so it was very interesting. It was a very interesting character.

Giovanni as Ricky in “House On The Edge of The Park”

Si: I read that you were trying to emulate some of John Travolta from “Saturday Night Fever”.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: Yes, because John Travolta was hot, still hot from “Saturday Night Fever”, from a couple of years before. I think he was someone Ricky would imitate.

Si: Did you play him with a learning difficulty, or did you see him as being a bit dim-witted?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: In a way, yes, surely a virgin, complex in not being sure of himself, so yes.

Giovanni with Lorraine De Selle in “House On The Edge Of The Park”

Si: There seems to be great chemistry between you and David A. Hess. Is that the case, or is it just the magic of acting?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: No, there was a great chemistry. We became friends and we had been friends for the all too short time he lived. There was a great chemistry in life too.

Si: Were you going to be in another film together?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: There was talk about a sequel to “The House On The Edge Of The Park”, years ago, but now it is too late and I am too old, but ten years ago we were offered to make a sequel. The screenplay they sent to Ruggero [Deodato] and myself, which we didn’t like at all. We said the idea was good but asked to write the subject ourselves. We did and it was a very good treatment in my opinion, then we wrote the screenplay as well, but unfortunately we never found a producer.

The idea was that Ricky had been to jail for much longer than needed because he had become a sex toy of the warden in prison. He was released at last, on medical drugs and abusing drugs, so he was starting to see Alex as a ghost. We wanted David to be in it but Alex had died at the end of the first movie, so he had to appear in another way. Then, Ricky was meeting a young guy, pretty much like Alex. We also thought of giving David’s son a role.

Si: I would have loved to have seen that. It is a shame that it didn’t happen.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: Yes, it is a shame.

Giovanni and Tomas Arana in Lamberto Bava’s “Body Puzzle”

Si: What was it like working with Lamberto Bava on “Body Puzzle”? This reunited you with Tomas Arana from “The Church”.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: I must say, I never saw the movie, I just saw my scenes of dubbing. I have a very confused memory of it. It was at the time I was doing a lot of theatre and I was very much concentrating on stage work. I don’t remember much of the movie. I was on a horse, I was gay, but yes, Tomas was in it and Lamberto was very good.

Giovanni in Antonio Margheriti’s “Cannibal Apocalypse”

Si: Thinking of your career so far, what are you most proud of?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: As for horror movies, my favourite roles, where I think I was best, were firstly, “Cannibal Apocalypse” and secondly, “House On The Edge Of The Park”, and then the others. I am very proud of my Shakespeare translations in Italian because it is done respecting the verse and the rhymes, which is not easy. I am proud of a few things I did for T.V., which were not horror at all, like playing King Herod in the “St Paul” mini-series. I am proud of my comedy career as a stage actor.

Si: Is theatre work something which you hope to do more of in the future?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: I hope so, if I am offered theatre. I am more choosy for stage work than I am for movies. In movies I must say that I always have fun, even if the script is not very good. The fun is being there on set, I like the set atmosphere, the gypsy sensation of moving in different locations and so I tend to say, quite easily, yes to films. With stage, it is a long term engagement, a long time for rehearsals. If I don’t like the role and if I don’t like the play, I say no.

Si: Going back to film acting, congratulations on winning “Best Supporting Actor” at the Romford Film Festival this year for your role in “Beyond Fury”. What projects do you have in the pipeline?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: Thank you. Unfortunately, nothing sure. They keep offering me this and that, but they are ideas rather than projects at the moment.

Si: Finally, going off topic, I know you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock. Which is your favourite film?

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: I like many of his movies. I like “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. Also, I like “Rear Window”. I love movies from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s too. I like “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane” a lot, “All About Eve”, and many other movies of that age.

Si: Giovanni, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for your time with speaking to me.

Giovanni Lombardo Radice: Thanks a lot.

Giovanni on stage

Giovanni’s book “A Zombie’s Life” is available to buy on Amazon. Please also go to Giovanni’s Facebook page for the amazing rare opportunity to purchase personally signed pictures from his films.

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