December 19, 2016 Interview – Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. Often a concept that falls by the wayside in modern society, Italian Actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice takes a great deal of pride in all his work. Often recognized by Italian Horror cinema lovers as John Morghen, Radice has starred in his share of memorable films including 1980’s City of the Living Dead, 1980’s The House on the Edge of the Park, 1981’s Cannibal Ferox, as well as 1987’s Stage Fright, just to name a few. A classically trained actor, with an affection for the history of the arts, Radice is a vastly different man in real life opposed to what gorehounds see on the big screen. Recently we sat down the compelling and well-versed individual to talk his career in film, his approach to acting, future projects, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in acting in film and television for nearly four decades now. Tell us, what first inspired you to get involved in the arts?
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – It was something that was inside me since childhood. It was in my DNA I guess, because my family was not artistic at all. I was just transfixed. When I was maybe 5 years old we were living in Palermo in Sicily and my mother used to take me to the puppet show. Sicilians have these special warrior puppets that do the saga of Orlando and King Charles of France. It is an old tradition with big puppets. She took me to the puppet theater and I fell in love with it. Since then, I knew I wanted to do something connected with the stage.
What happened next was I wanted to be a dancer. I had the right physique, so I studied ballet for many years. I injured my back so I had a difficult time deciding what to do. In the meanwhile, I took a diploma in Physical Therapy, which I still use from time to time because it is something I like doing. Then, I was in Amsterdam, then I got back to Italy and decided, no I am not a good enough dancer to try it as a career. I then switched to theater, working on the stage, so I became an actor, did many experiences, worked with many directors, I was very young at the time, 18 or 19 at the time. Then I started my own company in honor of Shakespeare, called The Swan Company, because of The Swan Theatre in London. I have always been more than a fanatic when it comes to Shakespeare.
I was doing theater for some years very successful in terms of audience and reviews, but very unsuccessfully in terms of money because I am a terrible administrator of myself (laughs). At the point, I was struggling with financial problems and I casually met a woman, Annamaria Spasiano. At that time, she was Ruggero Deodato’s mother in-law. She was a movie agent and she asked, “Have you ever been in a movie?” I told her, “No.” She said, “Would you like to?” I said, “Lady, if there is money in it, I will walk on my hands with a red nose on (laughs).” She asked if I spoke English and I told her yes, I was born trilingual with English, French, and Italian. Within a week I had an appointment with Ruggero Deodato and he cast me, that was the beginning of my movie career. I stole the role without knowing from Michele Soavi, who was suppose to play Ricky in 1980’s The House on the Edge of the Park.
CrypticRock.com – That is quite an incredible journey. You had mentioned in the past that you are in fact not a fan of the Horror genre. You have been in quite a few memorable Italian Horror films over the years.
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – Yes, a carpenter doesn’t like all the furniture he makes, does he? (laughs) It is craftsmanship, if the client wants a horrid thing read, you do it.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. Of these Horror films you have been in, whether they be a small or large character, they are all memorable. Since you are not a fan of the genre, how did you remain involved in it all? Was it a typecasting thing?
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – Absolutely. First of all, I always try and be very professional with whatever I do. If I do something, I commit myself to what I am doing. That is a lesson I learned from my father, who was an intellectual of many skills. He was always committed to what he was doing, whether it was Mathematics, Politics, Philosophy, or Translating. Always commit yourself 100%, that was the lesson I learned from my family.
So, whatever I do, I do it at my best. So I did with Horror, I did those movies with the same concentration if it had been Hamlet. One can’t say about one’s self one is a good actor, and in some of those movies, I think I am not a good actor. Other actors often weren’t actors doing those movies lazily, thinking, “Let’s make this piece of shit, take the money and run.” I was always very serious about it so they kept calling me and calling me.
I did many different things Anglo-Saxons don’t know about. It is thanks to European or Italian TV I kept doing the stage work. You know me as a Horror actor, but in the meanwhile, I was doing many other things. I didn’t have the sensation at the time that I was a Horror movie actor. I had the impression I was an actor doing what the market was offering and from a stage point of view what I wanted to do.
CrypticRock.com – Right, so you have had a diverse career. As you said, the American audience may not know about.
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – Absolutely. That is why I made my website divided into sections. I made the side for Horror fans because I realized around 2000, very late in my life when I got on the internet, I realize how huge my fame was. I honestly did not imagine it, how could I know? In those times, without the internet, I was receiving from time to time requests for interviews, and John Martin’s book, John Morghen: The Nastiest Man in the World. I thought honestly that Horror fans in Italy and around the world were a little section, like the worshippers of Stalin’s mustache or something like that. Because not being a fan myself, I couldn’t care less. As soon as I realized how huge it was, as for that, I have to thank Mike Baronas. He is a great friend and I met in those years, he made me realize. I didn’t know a thing about conventions, I didn’t know anything.
At that point, I made a website, it is divided into two sections, the bad one and the good one. The good one is the theater and other stuff I made for films/TV; the bad site is just Horror. I am divided in two, in fact, I am divided in ten, I am utterly mad (laughs). Joking apart, it is a side of my career I finally got to accept. To accept in terms in saying, I did those movies, people like them, so I have to care about those movies. I have to do interviews and do other movies if they keep offering. It is work and I am thankful and grateful because that side of my career was successful.
CrypticRock.com – You have also worked some really fantastic directors from Ruggero Deodato, to Lucio Fulci, to Antonio Margheriti. What was it like working with these directors?
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – My favorite ones were Margheriti and Deodato surely. They were both good directors from a technical point of view. I became friends with both of them. Margheriti was like an uncle to me. I loved him as a person, he was such a gentleman with such a sense of humor. Always not thinking of himself like a genius. He would say for example, “I’m not a director, I am a butcher, I sell the movies by the kilo.” I have a sense of humor and don’t take myself seriously, so I got along with him. He was fantastic. I did two things with him, Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and years later, for TV, Treasure Island in Outer Space (1987). I stayed friends with him until the day he died. I spoke with him 10 days before he died.
As for Ruggero, he is a great friend. Even now, he is a great friend. We call each other, I help him with English because he doesn’t speak it well. We meet, we chat, he is a great friend. Then, with Fulci, I had a great relationship. He had a terrible fame of shouting, being violent, and kicking actors in the ass. He was at times, but always for a reason. He respected me a lot and he had a great respect for culture. He was a very cultivated man himself. We went to dinner and spoke about music, theater, movies, and such. He was always very respectful to me and always very respectful that I was a stage person. Yes, he had a bad temper, that is for sure. Everyone has his temper (laughs), it is not a problem with the director’s temper if it is not against me.
CrypticRock.com – It is wonderful that you have built these relationships. You have a vast experience in theater and film. What are some of the more important things you have learned from being on the set of a film?
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – It took some time, and a lot of stress, to learn to not be in character twelve hours a day on set. At the very beginning, when I was very young, I was totally in character from beginning to end. With the long times you have on set, that was exhausting. I slowly learned how to get in and out of character. That is not always easy, it takes time, it depends on what character you are playing. Some characters need a larger concentration, some are easier to switch on and off. That is the main difference with theater.
With theater, you are in your dressing room, you put makeup on if you have to, you get dressed, you inspire, and go on stage. For two hours you have concentration, and it is done, it is fantastic. In the movies, it is different, you start, you have to wait for the lights and this and that, you have to learn to transition in and out of character. That is the main difference.
Then, of course, I would say mostly through directors, I learned some technical stuff. The way to have a relationship with the camera, the way to emphasize. Sergio Salvati, who was Fulci’s director of photography, taught me that. I am very grateful for that. Apart from that, it is acting.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. It seems, from what you are saying, acting in film and on stage is different.
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – Yes and no. One thing is to have one month at least of rehearsal, which happens in theater. You have time to study the character, be with others, know the other actors, and such. Then you will get into a routine that in two hours you do things. The fact of being the character on stage and in the movies, the technique is different. A day’s work in the movies is general ten or twelve hours. So you have to be in character when you are in front of the camera, and switch off when you aren’t. The acting in itself is not very different.
The concentration and being believable. As for that, I am very grateful to Horror. Even with the theater work I did after, because to be believable in some Horror movies is hard. You are put in front of things you have never experienced in your life, if you experienced them you would be dead. When do I know about being castrated or having my head drilled? It didn’t happen in my life, otherwise I wouldn’t be here talking with you.
At a point, you say it is a terrible pain so you shout and that is it. To identify, have an actor studio approach to that is not possible. You can think of the pain you had at the dentist, but I guess that is quite different (laughs). It is very extreme, lines are often stupid and badly written, situations are idiotic, so you have to be believable under those conditions. If you succeed, then you can play Shakespeare, it’s child’s play (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Right. You bring up some interesting points there. As consumers of these films, many do not think about the fact that these are unbelievable situations. How can one know how to react when these are situations no one has really felt to live to tell. Very interesting point.
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – It is a strong point. Every “real” actor must think about this when in a Horror movie. By Horror, I don’t mean Thriller, to name one, I had no problem in Stage Fright (1987). I had no problems there because it was absolutely believable. The character was believable; it was a gay dancer, an extremely gay dancer who at a point was afraid of a killer. That is something I can imagine, I have feared them in my life. In that case, it was just an actor’s job. When you have your hand cut off or head drilled, or see the ghost of Father Thomas, it is more extreme. I think I did my best and it is to others to say if I was good or not.
As for myself, I know I was awful in Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (1981). In that movie, I was horrid. I always say that, in an acting school, there should be a room called “Don’t do it.” In that room, they should, 24 hours a day, project Cannibal Ferox with me in it. The class should be called “Don’t do it,” look at that guy, and don’t do it. He was bombastic, overacting, horrible. The thing was, poor me had nothing to grab onto. The character was as flat as a sheet, there was just nothing there. He was just a bad guy, he had no motivation, no background, just bad.
Shakespeare wrote some great bad guys, I think of Iago in Otello. You never get to understand why he is really such a villain. It is a look that Shakespeare does in the mind of a serial killer that you cannot really understand. That is what is terrible about Iago. But the dialogue was by Shakespeare, not Lenzi. One thing is to say, “O beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” And the other says, “Shut up cunt.” See the difference?
CrypticRock.com – There is a night and day difference in the quality of dialogue. There are challenges you face as an actor. It sounds like it can be difficult.
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t. With the Lenzi movie, I even refuse to name it, I hate it so much. I didn’t succeed. In Italy, they say when an actor is horrible they are a dog. I was horrible.
CrypticRock.com – It is wonderful to hear you really take your craft seriously. What are some of your pending future projects?
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – Well, you know times change. They have already changed. Now a days, it is very difficult. I mostly work for Indie productions either in the United States or United Kingdom. I recently changed my agent and he seems young and factive. I am involved with Darren Ward in England in his Indie movie, Beyond Fury.
I worked with Darren in 2010’s A Day of Violence, but now I have a much bigger role. I already shot two or three scenes and I am waiting for the second one. I am involved with Matthan Harris with his film Baphomet. He is a young director that I worked with on 2012’s The Inflicted. He was born in Texas and is now in LA. He is preparing Baphomet, and I have a big role in it.
I continuously receive scripts and say yes, yes, yes, knowing that 80% of the stuff will never be done. I receive scripts, I receive mail, I receive Facebook messages. If each of films were realized, I would be in Malibu smoking a cigar with a hooker right now (laughs). You don’t know people just from a message, they may be fakes or clever people who just don’t have the money. So I always say yes and I learn, which is very different from what happened when I was young, that I can’t say I am in a movie until before I am on set. Then I am in a movie, before, I am not.
In my times, when you signed a contract, months before doing the movies, you knew you were going to be in this movie. Things have changed entirely. Apart from these real projects with Matthan and Darren, I can’t say. I have a desk full of scripts and I don’t know what will happen. I am involved with theater and a couple of things. I translate continuously, I teach English, I am a Physical Therapist. I earn my bread and butter in all the ways I can.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like you keep yourself very busy.
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – Now my autobiography is coming out. I wrote the book in English, but the American publisher, which is Midnight Marquee, they do very beautiful books with a lot of illustrations, but it is a family thing. It is just him and his wife, so they work slowly. In the meantime, I found an Italian publisher. I broke my balls translating from English to Italian what I had already written.
I did it and now it is coming out in Italy before the USA and the rest of the English speaking world. In the next few months, I hope I will be promoting the book on TV for interviews and going across Italy to present the book. Midnight Marquee swore that the American book will be ready by the latest of March of 2017. From there on, if I am alive, which is always a doubt, I guess I will be promoting the book in the United States.
CrypticRock.com – It will be great to see the book released in the USA. Let us hope it comes out on time.
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – It is a funny book. I talk a lot about Horror movies of course because it is called A Zombie Life. It is dedicated to Horror fans. The education I received from my upbringing in my family it was rude to even say “I,” can you imagine I would ever write an autobiography? Horror fans were pushing me to do it, so I did. Also, considering you only write an autobiography once in your life, I talk about everything. I even talk about personal life to a very deep and honest level.
CrypticRock.com – It will be extremely interesting to read. It will be something to look forward to. My last question is pertaining to film. We understand you are not a fan of Horror, but could you tell us what are some of your favorite Thrillers?
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – I love Thrillers and ghost movies. Seven (1995), The Sixth Sense (1999), The Others (2001), all of Hitchcock’s work, What Happened to Baby Jane (1962), I could go on for hours. That kind of stuff, that is my cup of tea. Along with classics such as Gone With the Wind (1939). I think I am the number one Gone With the Wind fan in the world. I know it by heart, every line in the book and every minute of the movie. I like Comedies as well. I like to laugh, I like a million of different kinds of films. I like history and biopics.
CrypticRock.com – There are a lot of wonderful modern historic style films. What did you think of 2002’s Gangs of New York?
Giovanni Lombardo Radice – It was very beautiful. It was extremely gory, but with a sense, and I liked it a lot. Both Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio were great. Day-Lewis to me is the best leading actor. It is him and Jeremy Irons. They are best leading actors in my opinion. What is incredible about Day-Lewis is how he can change. I saw him in With A Room With a View (1985), he wasn’t very famous at the time, he was doing a funny character. A couple of years ago, I saw My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), and it was a wonderful film. After forty-five minutes, I realized it was the same actor. He played a punk, totally different. I said this is an actor, actors are those who change.
Actors who do themselves can be very good. I like Arnold Schwarzenegger, he is funny. I loved Kindergarten Cop (1990), but he is not an actor; he is Arnold Schwarzenegger doing Arnold Schwarzenegger. That is ok. An actor changes. Even Mr. Bean is wonderful, I love him to tears, but would you call him an actor? It is not despising him. If I am a carpenter, I am a carpenter. If I am a plumber, I am a plumber. They are both respectful professions. Acting is a profession that implies changing yourself.
For more on Giovanni Lombardo Radice: giovannilombardoradice.com