Cool Actor of the Week: Franco Nero

In Cool Actor of the Week by Tanzi1 Comment

First of all, let me apologize for the lack of new content around here. ScottP and I have been slacking off big time and it’s got to stop. Huge thanks to JohnJosMiller for keeping the fires burning while we were shirking our blogly duties.

In 1996 Franco Nero was a moderately popular Italian actor when director Sergio Corbucci cast him in the title role of Django, the mysterious gunslinger who dragged around his own coffin. Django was one of the earliest spaghetti westerns, debuting months after Fistful of Dollars and was even more popular than Leone’s film in many countries.

Djanog was such a huge hit that in many countries for years after, every Nero movie was retitled to add Django to the title. A mafia drama became Django in Sicily, a non-Django Western became Django… his hymnal was a Colt!. Even more confusingly, there was a slew of Django “sequels” and outright ripoffs starring every actor in Italy except Franco Nero. Quentin Tarantino is paying tribute to this tradition with his next film, Django Unchained, a film that has nothing whatsoever to do with the original Django.

Nero became a huge star and seemed poised to follow Clint Eastwood’s blueprint for stardom by moving to big budget Hollywood movies. There was only one problem: Nero didn’t speak English. That didn’t stop John Huston from tapping Nero to play Abel in Huston’s adaptation of the Bible. While they were filming in England Huston worked with Nero, giving him Shakespeare texts to study and spending hours in conversation with the young actor. Nero learned enough to gain the role of Lancelot in 1967’s Camelot alongside Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave. This was more than just a professional triumph as Nero and Redgrave became involved, eventually having a son and separating for many years before reuniting in marriage in 2006.

Nero made several other British movies, including Force Ten From Navarrone but his heavy accent relegated him to portraying villains or minor ethnic roles. He continued working in all genres of Italian cinema, including classics like Companeros (with Tomas Milian and Jack Palance) and Enzo G. Castellari’s affectionate farewell to the dying genre, Keoma.

One of my favorite Nero films is 1971’s The Fifth Cord (Italian title: Giornata nera per l’ariete), a stylish giallo featuring music by Ennio Morricone and cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. Nero plays a hard drinking (he hits that bottle of J&B like it’s Gatorade) reporter on the trail of a murderer until he becomes a suspect himself. Of course the visuals and soundtrack are outstanding but the story actually hangs together, unlike most giallo and Nero gives a great performance, only slightly marred by his heavy accent but at least we know he dubbed his own lines.

Happily, Franco is still busy acting and even doing some voiceover work in Cars 2 as Uncle Topolino, the Fiat 500. This month he celebrates his 70th birthday and he’s still a handsome son of a bitch.

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