Massi Furlan.Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution — Author:Toglenn -- License:

Italian actors look up to their American colleagues and dream to be one of them. The competition is brutal, but it is possible to succeed, having perseverance and most importantly the right attitude towards the craft. This is the case of Massi Furlan, who was born in Treviso and grew up watching Alberto Sordi’s films, hoping one day to bring joy to people with laughter, just like his hero. In America he gets to play the villain, like in The Dark Knight Rises, the biggest production he has been part of so far. We recently sat down for a candid talk about his beginnings, his rising career and what it means to be an authentic Italian in Hollywood.

You first moved from Italy to Miami, where your brother was a successful chef.

I moved to Miami Beach in 1998. I worked in the restaurant industry, opening six pizzeria, teaching my own personal recipe for pizza dough. Eventually I got tired of it and I went back to my real passion, being an entertainer. I shot my most lucrative commercial with Maria Sharapova for Canon, did a couple of small films and immediately realized Miami couldn’t offer much for an actor. So I moved to Hollywood in late 2007″.

In Italy you started out as a comedian, doing mostly impersonations. Who are the famous people you can do an impersonation of?

I can do Mike Bongiorno, The Pope, Vasco, Beppe Grillo, Roberto Benigni. The good thing, and I always say this, what makes me the happiest is to make people laugh, being able to see the smile on their faces. Bad was meeting Gigi Sabani and being verbally abused by him”.

How did you land the role in The Dark Knight Rises?

By auditioning, like everybody else. Which is different from Italy where you are taken in consideration only if you were on Big Brother. It was listed as a generic role of a Russian mercenary. In big budget movies like that, a coded title is usually used so not to leak any information. For the audition the title was Fox Hill Green, but I did my research, I knew it was the new Batman movie. It was still a secret three months later when my manager called to tell me I got the part. It’s always nice to book a job three months after you auditioned because you forget all about it and that’s the secret for this job, fuggedaboutit”.

In the film you are a janitor who turns criminal in the Wall Street sequence. How was the first day on set?

It was great; having Chris Nolan call my name and pronounce it correctly. I even had the chance to make a suggestion that made it into the movie. After mopping the floor, I had to take the machine gun out of a zip lock inside a water bucket, and then start walking up the stairs. There was an issue with the zip lock because it would get wet and it was taking too long to open. So I told Nolan my idea of walking up the stairs and opening it at the same time. He said, ‘Let’s give it a shot’. It worked, we did one more take and he said, ‘Thanks Massi’. “

You’re often cast as the bad guy, how somebody funny and who normally talks a lot makes the transition to a taciturn antagonist?

Who says I talk a lot? No, you’re right, you got me there. It is easy to be stereotyped as the bad guy when you have a face and an accent like mine. They don’t have to use their imagination to see you as something different”.

And then you are asked to play Russian, which, I must say, you do so well, as in NCIS-LA.

My last seven roles have been Russian or Eastern European, maybe I’ll do like Gerard Depardieu and I will ask for a Russian passport. I did have to learn the language for a movie, though. I was the main villain alongside Lauren Holly. Two days before shooting the producer asked me if I could speak fluent Russian and I said no. Next thing I know they rewrote my scenes in Russian”.

How do you perceive your heritage in your career?

Italians have been masters of Cinema, there is admiration for what we did and what we have to offer. The best cinematographers and composers working in the US are Italians. What makes me sad is seeing Italians in the industry not helping each other as opposed to, for example, Latinos who have a strong sense of community. We don’t fight as much for what should be ours. The Borgias, The Vatican are tv series with not a single Italian actor in it. To add insult to injury Italian characters speak with a British accent. It makes no sense to me.”

What’s “Italians Do It Best”? I saw it on your resume.

Where? Really? Never heard of that. Ok, I admit it, it was a reality show I shot in Miami. It was about the lifestyle of Italians in America, I had cameras following me for 48 hours everywhere, and when I say everywhere I mean literally everywhere”.

Next we are going to see you on the popular show True Blood and the new Michael Bay series.

I can’t disclose what I play on True Blood as it would be a spoiler, but I promise this final season will be amazing, with a huge surprise. The Last Ship, Michael Bay’s new tv series, was fun to shoot even though I got injured on set. I did my own stunts and I hurt both my arms. I think I still have bruises…”

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