Exclusive: Monica Bellucci Knows ‘You Never Mess with Mamma,’ especially in her new movie about the family business

Toni Collette as Kristin and Monica Bellucci as Bianca are standing in a courtyard, stomping grapes.
Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci star in the new movie Mafia Mamma. Pic credit: Bleeker Street

The new movie Mafia Mamma focuses on an eager-to-please suburban mom Kristin Balbano Jordan (Toni Collette), who discovers she has inherited an Italian winery from her recently deceased grandfather. Soon she is packing her bags and saying a quick goodbye to her cheating husband, college-bound son, best friend, and clueless bosses in order to head for Italy to settle her grandfather’s affairs.

The call comes from her grandfather Giuseppe Balbano’s trusted general and consiglieri, Bianca (Monica Bellucci). So reluctantly, Kristin heads to Rome – her dream city and the country where she was born – looking for a respite from her life. But all is not what meets the eye when Kristin discovers that the “family business” is organized crime and rivals are gunning for her family.

Now as the new Mafia Don, this rather timid suburban wife and mother is embracing the upsides of her new life — a killer wardrobe, some girl-bonding and mentorship from her new pal Bianca, and a badly needed break from endless work-related Zoom calls where her colleagues literally put her on mute.

But the movie is about so much more. It is about putting women at the center of a typical male-focused genre of Mafia movies and showing that through humor and drama, they can soar beyond our greatest expectations.

Director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) explains that Kristin Balbano presents the perfect backdrop to explore universal feelings.

“Kristin is a woman whose marriage is falling apart, she’s not respected at her work, and she’s a ‘people-pleaser’ who cares about everybody else but doesn’t necessarily think of herself,” says Hardwicke. “All those things were so much fun to explore — and of course, the film laughs at toxic masculinity and things like that. It’s a great combination of so many things.”

Collette — whose filmography includes acclaimed performances in cinematic and cultural high-water marks and lauded stage work — makes Kristin a vibrantly real character, determined, vivacious, empathetic, and intelligent.

“I was blown away by the originality of the script,” says Collette. “It made me laugh, it was extremely tight and had a subtle feminist punch that was in no way dogmatic — perfectly balanced yet tonally unusual and exciting. I was, and am, flattered and thankful that Amanda would bring it to me in this way.”

Bellucci began her career as a model for Dolce & Gabbana, Cartier, and Dior, before transitioning to Italian films and later American and French films. Her acclaimed work in American and international films includes the James Bond blockbuster Spectre. With great skill, Bellucci portrays Bianca as a tough and wise woman who takes her position as consiglieri seriously but isn’t afraid to be warm, especially to her new friend, Kristin.

Mafia Mamma is a fun ride with great humor, a big nod to other mob movies, including The Godfather, and suburb acting. It also has a great deal of female empowerment since our heroine reveals, I inherited an opportunity to fulfill my purpose …I inherited me.”

Maybe we don’t quite know our destiny, but if given the opportunity, we can get out of our comfort zone to embrace all of the amazing layers life offers.

Read on for Monica Bellucci’s take on Mafia Mamma, how she forged new friendships, how she is a protective mama of her two daughters, and why we all need to see the beauty of Rome in person.

Monsters and Critics: Mafia Mamma was funny, sweet, irreverent, farcical, and of all the things that I wanted it to be. What initially attracted you to the material?

Monica Bellucci: I laughed out loud. It was so funny and I wanted to be in this project. Also, because I’m a huge fan of Toni Collette, I really loved her always as an actress, and then I had the chance to meet her in real life, and her energy is incredible.

I had a really beautiful moment of acting and with the direction of Catherine Hardwicke, she’s incredible. She moves from Twilight to Thirteen to this mob movie, so this ensemble made me so happy to be part of this project. And also, comedy is a genre I’ve done very little in my career, so I’m very grateful that after my appearance in Call My Agent!, I had the chance to play in a comedy again.

M&C: Were there certain things that you rehearsed for yourself? How did you get into this character? The costumes or the hair; what helped you embody her?

Monica Bellucci: I approached Bianca with a lot of dedication to her reality because in Bianca, there is a mystery, a Mediterranean warmth. Also, even though she seems very sweet, she can be very dangerous because she knows how to deal with violence because that is where she comes from. I like to prepare a character by knowing how she dresses, how she moves, and how she walks. But then there is something that is mysterious to me, something that you don’t really know what is going to happen until there is the moment to play.

For example, this moment Toni and I had together in the bed, I didn’t know where we would play the scene. Just I went close to her, and little by little we built these crazy moments. This is also because Catherine Hardwicke is a great director, and she gave us the freedom to build all this affection and connection between us that these two characters in their adventure.

We have to thank Catherine a lot because she has really great taste and she has incredible energy, and with her femininity, she brings elegance in the middle of violence. The other day we had the premiere,, and it was so interesting to see the reaction of the people. It was incredible because really the film is special.

Eduardo Scarpetta and Monica Belucci are standing in a church foyer.
Francesco Mastroianni and Monica Belucci in the new film, Mafia Mamma. Pic credit: cdpa/Bleeker Street

M&C: Were you up to date on your Godfather references? Was that a movie that you enjoyed or followed?

Monica Bellucci: Yeah, of course, like many people of my generation, I grew up with mafia movies such as The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Once Upon a Time in America. So, of course, I had many references, but I would never imagine that one day I would play in a comedy like this one, a mafia comedy with a feminine twist. And also, it’s very rare to see adult women in this position, so I think it also it is new.

Behind the comedy, we have a metaphor because we are in a male-dominated society, and these women have to learn how to defend themselves. And also, even though, okay, it’s crazy, it’s violent, everything else like that you want, there is also a beautiful message, you know?

M&C: The message I got as a mother of a 17-year-old son was that you never want to mess with mama.

Monica Bellucci: Yes. True. Be careful.

M&C: I’m sure, as a mother of daughters, you can relate. You become like a mama lion if somebody wants to touch a hair on their head.

Monica Bellucci: Yes, as a mama, you have to protect your children. I have two kids; one is 18 and a half, and the other is 13. So it’s a beautiful thing, the most beautiful thing, but it’s a lot of work. So much work. Especially my oldest one, she does some modeling and acting now so she knows already so many things, but she still needs protection because she’s very young.

M&C: What advice do you have for her or both of them with modeling? It’s a tough career, even if you’re perfect for it.

Monica Bellucci: Deva is doing some modeling, but also she’s done some acting. She did an Italian movie, finished the movie in November, and now she’s shooting a new TV series for Netflix. But she’s happy, she likes what she does. It’s so beautiful when you see your kids have a passion, and helping them in their passion is beautiful. I can see that she’s very excited about that. And my youngest, Leonie, is 13, so she’s going to school and she’s doing some theater. We’ll see. You know, both of them have this kind of sensibility and they love artistic things, but we’ll see what they’re going to do.

M&C: Talk about working with Toni after admiring her body of work and then the friendship that evolved on the set. There was quite a bit of chemistry. Did the friendship spill over?

Monica Bellucci: Yes, of course, because we are in touch all the time and we talk. You know, because we are also two adult women with kids so there was even a personal relationship, and this was really beautiful. It doesn’t happen all the time. So, I was very happy to see her yesterday when I was coming from Paris, she was coming from Australia.

Actually, I have also to thank [French novelist, playwright, and screenwriterwriter] Amanda Sthers, because the idea of the film is Amanda’s idea, and she is the one who gave me the script in the beginning. And she told me, ‘Listen, I would love you to come on board with this project with Toni and Catherine.’ So, we had this beautiful call, three of us together, and it was incredible because it’s like we knew each other for a long time, but we didn’t know each other. But right away, between Toni, Catherine, and I, there was this beautiful connection, so it’s beautiful to be a woman in this new world.

Toni Collette as Kristen, and Monica Belucci as Bianca.
Francesco Mastroianni, Toni Collette, Monica Belucci, and Alfonso Perugini in the new film Mafia Mamma. Pic credit: Fabrizio Di Giulio/Bleeker Street

M&C: Did you have fun off-camera? 

Monica Bellucci: Oh, yes. We were laughing so much. And also, you know, we were in Italy, it was a perfect place. Have you been to Italy?

M&C: Not yet.

Monica: Never? Oh, God, you have to come and see the beauty of Rome. So even this was the perfect place to shoot a film like that because there is something magical about Rome. Even though I’m Italian, every time I go to Rome, I never want to leave. The light, the beauty of the city, the food, and most of all, the people. So, I hope one day you will go to Rome.

M&C: Did you eat a lot of pasta?

Monica Bellucci: I can’t eat so much pasta, it’s not good for me, but it’s still good. I love pasta. We had good pasta and good wine and laughed a lot. Okay, we had to work a lot, too, because it’s a difficult movie, but we had really a great time.

M&C: What are the reasons that you encourage everyone to see this particular movie?

Monica Bellucci: I think it’s a moment where everything is suffering, and I think we need poetry, we need beauty, and also maybe the possibility to see a beautiful comedy. It’s the right time right now.

M&C: Talk about the fact we need more badass women role models.

Monica Bellucci: I agree, but women have many ways to be badass. We are more mysterious sometimes than men, so we can be badass without being obvious.

Mafia Mamma is currently playing at theaters nationwide.

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