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Movie icon Sophia Loren graced the stage of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Thursday, March 31, talking with interviewer Bill Harris, screening clips from some of her films, taking questions from the audience, and, at the end of the evening, accepting the Sarasota Film Festival Legend Award.

Harris introduced the actress, winner of an Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in the movie Two Women, noting that she had hurt her leg at the airport and helping her to a chair center stage after she blew kisses to a crowd standing to greet her. “I think you know how old I am,” she told her audience (she’s 81), “but I think I don’t look it so much.”

The Italian-born actress, who now makes her home in Geneva, Switzerland, occasionally slipped into her native tongue when answering Harris’ questions—and there were than a few in the audience who understood and responded accordingly. The first question was a direct one: How did Loren decide to present an evening of questions and answers? “I was in New York making a film, and the telephone rang; it was Cary Grant, a very dear friend,” she recalled. “He was there, doing questions and answers, and said to me, “Why don’t you?’ I thought, I can’t go on the stage, because I don’t like to expose myself so much. But the idea started to work in my head, and about two years ago my agent got a call from America about doing it, and I thought, because Cary told me, ‘Maybe I can do it.’”

The mother of two sons and grandmother of four talked about her dedication to family (“For a woman, family is always the best thing…it’s life, it’s love. It’s always a nightmare, but a wonderful nightmare”); her mother (the winner of a Greta Garbo lookalike contest); sleeping in railway tunnels during the bombardments of World War II outside of Naples; and her early adulation of Hollywood star Tyrone Power (“When he was smiling, I would die”).

Then she discussed being in a crowd scene in the movie Quo Vadis while still in her teens before being spotted by producer Carlo Ponti (later her husband), who helped to set up a screen test for the would-be actress. “The first cameraman didn’t like my face,” she said. But a second cameraman saw things differently, and soon Loren had formed a long working relationship with director Vittorio De Sica “(He saw something in me I didn’t know”) that included her Oscar-winning role in Two Women. “It was the most beautiful role I could ever think of; even now I’m moved just to think about it,” she said.

A few more comments from the star…

Her favorite costar? Marcello Mastroianni. “A great actor, although he didn’t like to learn his lines.” And “the best kisser” of all her leading men.

Her favorite pasta? “Ragu (meat sauce).”

Favorite place in Italy? “Naples. It’s all a theater there…funny theater.”

Actor she would like to work with? “Meryl Streep.”

Favorite actor today? “Leonardo DiCaprio.”

Favorite actress she worked with? “I always worked with men” (to laughter from the audience).

Loren then received her Legend Award from the Sarasota Film Festival’s Mark Famiglio, onstage with Van Wezel executive director Mary Bensel, who had booked Loren’s appearance here. Famiglio called Loren “the legend of all legends,” and the actress responded with a “Grazie” and “I had a wonderful time with you all” to much applause before leaving the stage.

 

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