You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy fairy tales.
“I love fairy tales because I think that behind fairy tales, there is always a meaning,” says Monica Bellucci.
In director Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm,” Bellucci plays a legendary evil queen whose vanity causes a crisis in a German village. Brothers Will (Matt Damon) and Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger), portrayed in the story as con men who make a living off gullible people’s faith in fairy tales, face a real threat as they try to thwart the queen.
“I think the film is a metaphor that touches anyone who believes in their image, anyone who believes that their image is who they are, and when the image or the myth is destroyed, the person gets destroyed along with it,” says the Italian-born actress. “So it’s a perfect film for all of us, especially for actors because we are the first victims of vanity,” she adds, chuckling.
Best known as the curvaceous Persephone in “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” and the bereft Mary Magdalene in “The Passion of the Christ,” Bellucci welcomed the chance to play another icon in “The Brothers Grimm,” which was filmed in Prague.
“I loved the script because there are so many references in this movie to all of the Grimm fairy tales, like ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ ” the 40-year-old says. “All these fairy tales came together to make a new tale, which is a combination of fantasy and fear. Because of that we can recognize the Terry Gilliam trademark, a bit like ‘Baron Munchausen’ and ‘Brazil,’ which are my favorite movies.”
Although her scenes are full of special-effects movie magic, Bellucci says she wasn’t working alone, with other actors filled in later.
“There was a lot of special effects, of course,” she says. “But for me it was great. . . . I loved to work with Matt and Heath. They were very nice and very generous.”
Bellucci, who has homes in London, Rome and Paris, was hyped as the new international superstar when her 2000 film, “Malena,” bowed in the United States. While she has since added such American titles as “Tears of the Sun,” “She Hate Me,” the “Matrix” films, “Passion” and “Grimm” to her resume, she says she feels no pressure to move to Hollywood.
“I come here just when I have to do interviews,” says Bellucci, married since 1999 to French actor Vincent Cassel. “I’m a European, and I live there. I work in European films, and then once in a while I make an American movie.
“I’ve been working with good directors — the Wachowski brothers, Spike Lee, Terry Gilliam, Mel Gibson. . . . I love American movies, but I love European movies, too, and I want to do both.”
One problem with U.S. movies is their target demographic, Bellucci says.
“Now, all the movies are for teenagers,” she says. “It’s very difficult for an actress to find really deep, beautiful characters to play. Can you imagine all the characters Bette Davis played?”
The situation is different in Europe, she says.
“In Europe we have many actresses like Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant and Nathalie Baye,” she says. “All those actresses between 45 and 60, they work a lot. So I think this is more an American problem that actresses after 35 don’t work anymore.”
The Hollywood landscape isn’t hopeless, she says.
“You make incredible movies: big blockbusters like ‘Matrix’ and more intimate films like ‘Magnolia’ and ‘American Beauty.’ “
Bellucci went against prevailing wisdom by signing on for Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
“When I did ‘The Passion,’ nobody believed in the movie,” she recalls. “Everybody was telling me, ‘You shouldn’t do this movie. . . . But I wanted to play Mary Magdalene. I thought that I could do something strong and deep with this character.”
Bellucci stirred up controversy herself last year when she posed pregnant (with daughter Deva, born last September) and in the buff for the cover of Italian Vanity Fair to protest Italy’s new laws against in vitro fertilization.
“I had to,” she says of her naked protest. “In Italy, there are just horrible things going on. . . . All the rich women, they can go out and have insemination outside of Italy, and all the poor Italians . . . they can just go to the church and hope for a miracle, which is ridiculous. . . . The priests decide what is the law. Isn’t it crazy? . . . I respect every religion, but . . . a priest doesn’t know anything about a woman.”