Interview: Valeria Golino on going from actor to director with ‘Honey’
In the 1980s and ’90s, Valeria Golino was the latest European import to Hollywood. She played the Italian beauty who dated Tom Cruise (“Rain Man”), Charlie Sheen (“Hot Shots!” and its sequel, “Part Deux”) and Pee-wee Herman (“Big Top Pee-wee”). But the American movie biz is fickle, especially with women, and she soon found herself returning home to find the real challenging roles.
Now Golino has another career shift: She’s a director, too. With “Honey,” which premiered in the “Un Certain Regard” section of last year’s Cannes Film Festival, she establishes herself as a visual stylist unafraid to tackle big issues without taking sides. In the film, a loner nicknamed Honey (Jasmine Trinca) works at helping sick people euthanize.
As the cliche goes, Golino always wanted to direct. “But I didn’t want to talk about it, because it doesn’t mean anything unless you do it,” Golino says. “Acting is definitely my nature, but I love the aesthetics of movies — images, lighting. I wanted to be able to make them myself, to have a point of view.”
Golino doesn’t act in “Honey,” just as she didn’t act in her 2010 short, “Armandino e il Madre.” “I can’t even imagine doing that,” she says. “A lot of actors make movies just to put themselves in them. I understand that — to get a part that someone else won’t give them.” That would also require a certain narcissism that she doesn’t have. “I like other people wanting to film me. But my own presence doesn’t give me satisfaction. My own look at myself doesn’t satisfy me, so I choose to pick somebody else.”
For “Honey,” she chose Trinca, who has appeared in “The Son’s Room,” “The Best of Youth” and “House of Tolerance.” Trinca is in nearly every frame of the film. “I choose actors I like to watch. I like to watch her. I like to film her and see her reactions.” Golino said that her brother, a musician, remarked that Trinca eventually started acting like her. “Good actors do that,” she says. “Good actors start looking like their directors. It’s a symbiotic experience.”
Even as far as director-star relationships go, the one in “Honey” is unusually close. Part of that was Golino’s long experience in front of the camera. “You try to protect their vanity or bashfulness. You want an actor to trust you. [Trinca] trusted me with her nakedness, her feelings, her fears. I was happy to be able to grab it — and at the same time to protect it. When actors expose themselves, it’s a present they give you. It’s not something to take for granted.”
The film also deals very non-judgmentally with euthanasia, which also means it takes a refreshingly frank look at death. Golino was shocked that the subject could be so controversial. After all, it’s everywhere in films. “Why is it so easy to accept death in movies the way we see it constantly, which is violent death, of humans dying in every possible way — from being killed with guns to exploding to falling from planes to being eaten by sharks? But the idea of death when it’s simple, like in my movie — nobody wanted to finance it because they thought I was going to make a movie about death,” she says. “Mercy killing is obscene to our eyes, but killing for hatred it not?”
Her star’s take:
“Honey”‘s lead, Jasmine Trinca, said that she never felt like she was working with a first-time feature filmmaker. “I’ve never felt so directed — and at the same time to free,” Trinca says. “I’m a strange actress. I don’t have a method. Working with Valeria has been a deep experience. We were the same person.” She says Golino even made her less self-conscious. “I wasn’t worried, like I usually am. I don’t like myself, my body. But I wasn’t afraid to show myself. She has a perspective I’ve never seen before. She’s revolutionary.”