Sophia Loren 86 Come Back on the Netflix drama The Life Ahead

Sophia Loren returns to film: 'I'm Perfectionist'

The star, now 86, was searching for a personal link. Then came her son controller and "Life Ahead" Netflix drama.

Sophia Loren photographed her son Edoardo Ponti, who helmed her latest movie.
Sophia Loren photographed her son Edoardo Ponti, who helmed her latest movie.

What happened to Sophia Loren?

The query is inspired by The Life Ahead," the Netflix drama that premiered on Friday, starring the great Italian who once characterized foreign glamour. His first movie since a 10-year-old TV film blends her love for film with the other great passion of her life, her family. Loren, now 86, has long prioritized her acting work, but she blends all loves with the new drama: the film's co-writer and director is Edoardo Ponti, the younger of her two sons.

She plays an Italian Holocaust survivor known as Madame Rosa, who takes in and ultimately bonds with a Senegalese orphan, Momo (Ibrahima Gueye).

Tolerance message from the film drew her back to acting, but the need for a personal connection to her work still helped her select projects, she said, speaking in rusty English. And though Loren, a recipient of the Academy Award, managed to affect popular pop culture ("Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo," her take on the pop song "Zou Bisou" was covered in "Crazy Men," a performance she hadn't seen), she said she wasn't forced to chase any theme.

In a phone interview from her Geneva home, Loren talked graciously about aging, taking direction from her son and some of her favorite roles. Here are edited dialogue fragments.

You began making fewer movies by 1980, seven years after Edoardo's birth and 12 years after Carlo Jr.'s birth. Why slowed down?

I asked myself What do you want from life, Sophia? "I said, "I want a good family," I had. "I want two girls," I had. "But I never see them." So I thought to myself From now on, maybe I'll slow down a bit." But I didn't slow down a bit: I just didn't work anymore. Not because I didn't like working; I wanted to know more about my family, because I always lived in the studio. I always shocked myself by thinking, "Sophia, it's best you stop acting for now and catch up later." I stopped shooting for a long time but was really pleased because I saw my kids grow up, get married and have their own kids. [Fifty-year-old Carlo Ponti died in 2007].

Whose scripts are you sending now?

I still receive several scripts, but none talked to me like "Life Ahead." That's why I haven't worked almost 10 years. I tried to find a function that really inspired me. Madame Rosa was that character, not just for her distinct and often conflicting feelings, but also for the theme of the film's tolerance, love and inclusion.

You often describe yourself as "perfectionist," and because The Life Ahead" is your third collaboration with Edoardo, has it become simpler to take your son's direction?

I'm a perfectionist, he's. Edoardo gives me protection. He never gives up unless I give him my utmost. He settles for nothing less than that because he knows just what buttons to press to get something out of me. When Edoardo says "This is it" after recording a scene, I know my performance is just what he planned. For an actor, that's a great experience, because you're exactly what you're doing.

What did directors like Vittorio De Sica teach?

De Sica taught me to be true to myself and obey my intuition. Easier said, but that's significant. I was 17 when I met De Sica. [She later collaborated with him in "The Gold of Naples," 1954, the first of many collaborations.] To meet De Sica—he was my saint, the world's greatest director. And he needed me: "Ah, you're from Naples. That's how my career in film began, with Vittorio De Sica.

How important it collaborating with filmmakers who you had a personal connection with either in real life or watching their films?

Oh, it wasn't likely when I began filming in America. Acting with great American actors was great for me, but it was also a truly different experience. When I was 22, I collaborated with Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra [on "Pride and Passion," 1957]. At the time, I saw the possibilities of working in English, even rotten English, though it wasn't my language. But I love the sound of talking and songs, and I learned English instantly. I had a great time producing American films first. "Desire Under the Elms," "Houseboat," I didn't remember them all.

And so now?

A position must feel intimate, because when you feel the role in your bones, you do your best.

Loren as a Holocaust survivor, a Senegalese orphan played by Ibrahima Gueye
Loren as a Holocaust survivor, a Senegalese orphan played by Ibrahima Gueye

Do you follow contemporary film or TV?

I mostly watch television news, but I particularly liked "Crown."

In your book Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," you describe your acting career as a remarkable season of Italian cinema that I had the pleasure and honor to witness first-hand." Don't you like contemporary Italian films and filmmakers?

I don't watch many movies or shows anymore, but I have to admit Matteo Garrone's and Paolo Sorrentino's job is a joy to watch, and they're both Neapolitan!

You did some voice acting in 2011, voicing Mama Topolino's voice for "Cars 2"'s Italian dub.

I hadn't seen many animated movies, so I didn't know what to expect from that role, but I must say "Cars 2" is one of my grandchildren's favorite movies.

Can you think yourself religious or spiritual?

Of course, I am. I don't go to church, but I believe in God.

Can age graciously affect you?

If you accept the ageing process and live the moment, you age gracefully.

You said you love Daniel Day-Lewis, with whom you acted in "Nine." Now that he's gone, who's your favourite contemporary actors or actresses?

He's a wonderful actor and really admirable. I love Meryl Streep too! She's a great actress. I love Meryl Streep too!

Loren began her career in the 1980s when she knew she never saw her children
Loren began her career in the 1980s when she knew she never saw her children

What advice would you give an actress?

There's nothing you can tell. Once you wish to be an actor, and it's what you enjoy, so you have to do everything the subconscious teaches you, and place yourself in a position that you're just worrying of your life as an actress. Then you'll see whether you're married or not. Life isn't only one thing; it's too many things, and often too many items.

Rewatch the movies?

I like to judge myself very critically, so it's best if I don't watch my films right away. Sometimes out of curiosity, whether one of my films is on TV, or maybe for my kids, because maybe they haven't seen films I made long before. And sometimes, so many years have gone by that seeing myself is like meeting a completely new person.

You're especially proud of performances?

My role in "Two Mothers" means a lot to me [she received an Oscar in 1962 for this De Sica film in which she played a poor single mother during World War II], but also the role I played in A Special Day as a homemaker who becomes more caring when she discovers that her neighbor is gay].

Want to resume acting?

If I like to behave, why should I stop?

Still, seeing one of her old videos, "seeing myself is like finding a completely new person."
Still, seeing one of her old videos, "seeing myself is like finding a completely new person."