John Turturro doesn’t speak Italian. He didn’t really have to for the movie “Mia Madre,” despite it being an Italian film. The latest from acclaimed filmmaker Nanni Moretti (“The Son’s Room,” “Caro Diario”) concerns a film director (Margherita Buy) dealing with the fact that her mom is about to die while shooting her latest picture. Making things worse is Turturro's Barry, an obnoxious American actor who terrorizes the crew and especially her. It’s a movie that splits its time between on-set antics and the grieving process, though the latter can be funny, too. That mix is how Turturro likes it.
How do you tend to work with actors when you don’t share the same language?
When you work with people in different languages, if you get the sensibility, then that’s the main thing. I’ve worked with people who speak English, and I have nothing in common with them. The language may be a challenge, acting-wise. But it becomes almost secondary.
On top of that, you’re improvising here and there.
I don’t normally do that. Sometimes you do that with scripts that aren’t so well-written. With “Mia Madre,” the first time he was still doing revisions. Even when he was done I was surprised he wanted to me to add things. It was interesting to riff on something that was good. [Laughs]
I don’t want to stereotype Italian humor, but it’s often very big, very loud. Moretti is unusual because his sense of humor is very dry and deadpan, quiet.
That’s right. He’s very smart. If you’ve seen the movie more than once you can see how well-written it is, without being sentimental. He said he didn’t want to make a “significant film.” [Laughs] Those films can be torturous. And he didn’t do that. There’s an almost radical gentleness to it. There’s a scene where Margherita’s on set and she takes a long pause and asks, “What’s going to happen to all these books [her mother had]? Where are they going to go?” And she’s saying it on set and to Barry. It’s a fantastic thought, because that is a thought you have when you’re going through these things.