Carla Gugino.Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution — Author: Gaga Skidmore License:
Hollywood is a bizarre place. Having an Italian last name, one that is not so easy to pronounce, can be a blessing when you are De Niro or Pacino, but when you are an actor starting out it may become a burden. The first thing that an actor doesn’t want is being typecast or pigeonholed into a character. And yet casting agencies often start labeling people already by the last name.
When Carla Gugino came to Los Angeles at age sixteen looking to start an acting career under the advice of her auntie Carol Merrill of Let’s Make a Deal fame, she learned immediately what that meant.
Hollywood producers wanted her to change her name into something easier to pronounce, that would masquerade her ethnicity and pave an easier way into landing roles. Gugino couldn’t do that to her father, she had to stay true to her Italian-American heritage, “I thought of my Italian father and how sad he would be. He would have died if I did that”.
She recalled the story five years ago when she received the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) Achievement Award in Entertainment. “My father used to say there are two types of people in the world:  Italians, and those who wished they were Italian,” she continued. In 2008 she came to work with both Robert De Niro and Al Pacino on Righteous Kill and seeing the three chairs with all three Italian names inscribed next to each other seemed like a small victory.
Carla grew very close to her father. Her parents separated when she was only two and she split her time between Northern California, which was where her mother moved to, and Saratoga, Florida where her father kept the house and where she was born. “I feel like I lived two childhoods”, she says. Following her father around, she spent all summer vacations in Europe, often visiting Italy, which resulted in broadening her view of different cultures and raising a curiosity for people.
That curiosity built up her wide range into playing different characters. It’s ironic how without changing her name she managed to be as far as possible from being typecast. She has played everything from spy mom in the successful Spy Kids movies to sensual femme fatale in Sin City, from a sweet and brainy docent in Night at the Museum to pregnant porn star in Elektra Luxx.
She has also been quite active on tv and theatre, effortlessly moving from one to the other. Throughout the late eighties and early nineties she worked tirelessly on tv, in fact it was on teen soap Saved by the bell that I first came across her. For those of my generation who grew up watching teen shows, Carla’s magnetic green eyes couldn’t go unnoticed.
Appearing later in the iconic music video to Bon Jovi’s 1994 song “Always”, confirmed the first impression. She finally reached a wider audience in 1996, when she played Michael J. Fox’s love interest on the sitcom Spin City. On that show Gugino met actress Connie Britton and they have been best friends ever since. It was Britton who presented her with the NIAF award and made Cugino’s night even more special.
“It’s truly an honor and surprisingly emotional to receive this award from my best friend,” she said. On the big screen her name raised to popularity in 1998, when she starred in Brian de Palma’s Snake Eyes, a noir that paired her with Nicolas Cage. Although she never reached that level where her name alone would be enough to sell tickets, she has proved to have a long-standing career and she got rave reviews for her stage performances in Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under The Elms and Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer. 
Being an Italian is also seen by the actress as one of the reasons for her curvy body that her fans can’t get enough of. That natural sex appeal has been a true asset to many of her characters, such as smoking hot agent Amanda on Entourage, Madam Gorski in Sucker Punch or the provocative parole officer Lucille in Sin City.
Gugino never shied away from her seductive figure, she indeed embraced it and often praised it in a playful manner, like in a recent interview with Women’s Health magazine where she proclaimed, “I’m an Italian, and the Italian perspective is, love your curves.”
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