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Criminal Mind: Angels Of Evil Kim Rossi Stuart Interviewed
Ian Johnston , May 30th, 2011 05:04

Italy's answer to Mesrine and Carlos, Angels Of Evil charts the rise of one of Milan's most notorious criminals. Rising Italian star Kim Rossi Stuart discusses his interactions with the real life Vallanzasca, inhabiting the criminal mind and working in Italy

Italian director Michele Placido’s Angels Of Evil, released in the UK on 27th May, is the latest in a series of hard-hitting, epic criminal biopics, such as Jean–Francois Richet’s Mesrine and Olivier Assayas’ Carlos. Co-written by Placido, Antoio Leotti, Toni Trupia, Andres Leanza and its charismatic star, Kim Rossi Stuart, Angels Of Evil charts the violent ‘career’, life and corrupt times of the notorious Italian gang leader Renato Vallanzasca.

Though relatively unknown in the UK, Vallanzasca, born in Milan in 1950, is infamous throughout Italy for leading a succession of robberies, kidnappings and successful prison breaks during the 1970s. Loosely based upon Vallanzasca’s own book Il Fiore Del Male and extensive research by Placido and Kim Rossi Stuart, Angels Of Evil illustrates how his life of crime began at the age of nine, freeing a tiger from a local circus in Milan with other kids in his gang. Arrested and fed into the juvenile correction system, Vallanzasca’s course in life was set from that moment on. Always refusing to yield to authority figures of any description, Vallanzasca perpetrated as many petty crimes as he could as soon as he was released from the institution. As he became an adult, Vallanzasca’s criminal activities rapidly escalated to planning and executing armed robberies, kidnapping and murder.

By the early 70’s, Vallanzasca and his highly successful gang of bandits were enjoying the champagne high life of women, drugs, swanky clubs and restaurants in Milan. Inexorably a big feud would develop with another notorious Milan underworld figure, Francis ‘Angel Face’ Turatello (played by Francesco Scianna) and Vallanzasca would be arrested, on faked evidence, for a crime that he did commit - robbing an armoured car truck. After four and a half years into his sentence, Vallanzasca escaped from San Vittore prison. Determined to take back his territory and commit even bigger heists, Vallanzasca expanded his crew of desperados and continued to fight Turatello. As a result Vallanzasca became to be viewed as one of the most dangerous criminals in post-War Italy.

After the bloodshed increased to unprecedented levels, Vallanzasca, and eventually Turatello, would become more adept at manipulating the media for their own ends. By 1977, when Vallanzasca was arrested once again, there was a real focus of national interest upon him, which Kim Rossi Stuart perceives as serving “his own needs to appear as someone attractive, stylish and seductive.” Recent appeals for clemency having been refused, Renato Vallanzasca currently still languishes within the walls of the Opera maximum-security prison in Milan.

Placido, who previously directed Kim Rossi Stuart in Romanzo Criminale, neither condemns nor absolves Vallanzasca but graphically illustrates the consequences of his actions. Yet it is Kim Rossi Stuart’s towering performance as Vallanzasca that really offers the viewer a long hard look into the depths of the criminal mind. Stuart brilliantly portrays Vallanzasca as teetering on a high wire between accepting some kind of normality in life before plunging back into deviant activity, until there are no other options left. It is the kind of performance that rivals the intensity of Vincent Cassel as Mesrine, or Edgar Ramirez’s Carlos, and will define the rest of Kim Rossi Stuart’s career.

Sitting in the movie’s Soho publicity company offices one bright, sunny, early March afternoon, Kim Rossi Stuart looks handsome, relaxed and tanned – every inch the film star in a cool pair of shades; very much removed from the troubled, pale and frightening character makes such an indelible mark on screen. Partly speaking through an interpreter, the blonde, affable 41 year-old Italian actor is eager to discuss a project into which he has so obviously invested much time and effort.

Did you meet with Vallanzasca?

Kim Rossi Stuart: Yeah. Many times. We are almost friends today. We became quite intimate, close at one stage. He told me about events, things that had happened in his life, which were very confessional, very intimate confidences. As a very young person he had chosen a path that I would have never have taken myself, because I’m very different, I’m not violent, I would never on principle pursue the things that he did. In spite of the fact that our choices were so far apart, I still see him as someone who is essentially a good person, who never the less out of self destructive events, rebellious self destructive need, ended up leading himself to the more negative aspects of life.

The film takes a very balanced view of Vallanzasca. Was that important for you?

KRS: “One always has to be careful of the message that one can transmit. At the same time I think that one should not approach any type of story with prejudices, not to judge. I like to put myself in a position, a secular position, as regards to any subject matter and allow things to emerge in the process of exploration and discovery.”

I wondered if you had any make-up work done to make you look like Vallanzasca in the film? You look so much like him…

KRS: Now or in the film?

In the film!

KRS: I didn’t have any plastic surgery… (laughs) I didn’t do any special sort of make-up. There was a little bit of the moustache that was particularly characteristic. Apart from that it was a way of drawing his expressions, his face. As he has always felt himself to be a good-looking guy, in order to take on the aspect of the gangster, he would use his face, he had a particular way of looking up from looking down and ways of grimacing. I copied the use of his facial muscles to make himself look more tough, more gangster. If I ever had any feelings about my appearance, it’s to overcome or counter-act the tendency for people when I was very young to say, ‘Oh, what a cute kid.’ So this gave me an opportunity, to work against it. The same as him, yes.

You worked with Michele Placido on Romanzo Criminale. You obviously work very well together. Is this the start of an actor-director partnership?

KRS: One movie and a half is not enough to say that there is a partnership. I say one and a half because this [Angels Of Evil] is definitely one because it has taken years to put together, cheek to cheek, but Romaine Criminale was a movie with many other actors so there was much less close working together.

The film doesn’t give any clichéd reasons for why he turns to a life of crime. He has two parents, a loving family; he’s not an orphan…

KRS: In truth, he is. The movie passes very fast through his history, to tell the story of his childhood. It just sketches it. He came from a very dysfunctional family. The Italian economic boom started in the late 50’s, he was born in 1950, and so he started to do his crazy life of champagne when he was 18. He started to see a lot of people with money and it was like, ‘Why not us too?’ It was a crazy time; political corruption, terrorism in Italy and the rest of Europe too.

Violence on the streets…

KRS: Yeah. The problem is that he starts this war with the police and the judicial system and he states that he never regrets anything. Basically these institutions had it in for him because he, throughout all this, stood up and never allowed himself to be browbeaten, or asked to be pardoned. He really maintained his way of seeing things and the institutions didn’t particularly take it out on him but they maintained the same sort of feeling towards the film and effectively boycotted it.

You come from a background in the theatre. At what age did you realise acting was what you wanted to do as a career?

KRS: I was 13. I was hitchhiking in the street and someone gave me a lift. It was a casting director who asked me if I wanted to take a screen test and I said, ‘Yes’. All my life in acting starts from there. I decided that would be my job, profession at that moment. I thought, ‘do I go to school until 20-25?’, if I start working now I’ll get a head start.”

A wise move. How much did you take the script from Vallanzasca’s book?

KRS: A lot of the movie is taken from there, straight from the book. His book (ill Fiore Del Male) is very rich. You could make five movies from this book. It is so full of interesting episodes and so we had to pick out the best of them and make a structure and sow it together.

Did you cross check what he said in the book with other sources?

KRS: Well we did research work, a lot of it. Not only by studying a lot of press from the period but also from the legal documentation that exists.

Forming a balance between Vallanzasca’s accounts in the book?

KRS: They actually correspond, they do tally. So it’s not as if there was any balancing out, it was actually conformation of the same thing. That doesn’t preclude the fact that there might be flaws in the legal documentation. You can’t guarantee anything there.

Yes, he was also convicted for crimes he didn’t commit, crimes committed by others…

KRS: There has never been actual proof in the legal documentation. So, it’s a minefield, basically.

Do you still see Vallanzasca not that the film has finished?

KRS: I was living in Milan because I was preparing for the movie and he was in jail in Milan and it was easy to be in touch with him. Now I’m back in Rome so it’s not so often.

He is let out, isn’t he?

KRS: He’s got permission to go out to go to work outside during the day.

He’s never going to be released is he?

KRS: Yes. With the movie out now I think it’s even less likely that he’ll ever be released. But that’s his decision. You can see how narcissistic he is and how that has been such a strong force in his self-destructive life. It prevails over his self-interest.

Finally, what’s coming up next for you? Are you content to stay in Italy or do you want to work in America?

KRS: [For the first time during the interview he briefly adopts the menacing manner of Vallanzasca] I would prefer to work in Korea. [Smiles] No, I think I’ll stay in my country, fighting somehow for my country’s cultural life. My roots are there and the dream, the important thing is to always do good movies. Able to go abroad, if some good movie comes along, sure. But to go abroad just to start or restart again or being a small part of a big American movie, it’s not my cup of tea.