Matteo Simoni: “An actor creates a human being, and each human being has his own identity”

From his TV series “Safety First” (2013-2015) with a kind of freewheeling slapstick humor, while at the same time it could be unusually mature, to “Patser” [2018, a.k.a. “Gansta”], his latest feature and a box office hit in the Low Countries, no matter what character Belgian-born stage and screen actor Matteo Simoni portrays, his acting is always subtle, intelligent and engaging. Time and again he brings a particular vitality to any role he plays because of his conviction and emotional power: he always acts, reacts and interacts in a most surprising way.

When he appeared in “Marina” (2013), directed by Academy Award-nominee Stijn Coninx, Mr. Simoni played singer-songwriter-accordionist Rocco Granata who in 1959 hit the Billboard charts and subsequently conquered the world with his hit song ‘Marina.’ In the meantime, Mr. Simoni rediscovered his Italian roots (his paternal grandfather is Italian) and he learned to speak the language. Five years later, after the insightful and compelling time travel journey “Terug naar Morgen” (2015, a.k.a. “Sum of Histories”) and the highly successful TV series “Callboys” (2017), Mr. Simoni was introduced at the Berlinale as one of the Festival’s Shooting Stars following in the footsteps of Rachel Weisz, Carey Mulligan and Daniel Craig.

Next September, he will be the Ostend Film Festival’s Master, hosting the Festival with his own selection of ten movies, from Chaplin’s “The Kid” (1921) to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” (2007), and with quite a bit of renowned continental features in between, all focusing on the theme of father and son, which is very dear to him as, acting wise, his own father and grandfather were very inspirational to him in his formative years.

In his home country, Mr. Simoni is an authority as far as acting is concerned, making him a distinguished personality. Pretty remarkable, since he’s only thirty years old.

He recently visited the coastal city of Ostend to launch the Film Festival, and to talk about his contribution to the upcoming FFO 2018 and his craft as an actor.

Mr. Simoni, looking at a photograph of yours, featured on one of the posters of the Festival, I think the comparisons are pretty obvious between you and Robert De Niro’s raw dynamism and vulnerability early in his career, or with Marlon Brando’s first publicity stills when he did “The Men” [1950] or “A Streetcar Named Desire” [1951]. Would you agree with that?

Well, that’s a very nice thing to say, and of course who wouldn’t dream of becoming an actor in that range. When you watch films like “Taxi Driver” [1976], Robert De Niro’s outstanding and gripping characterization and top-notch acting, how he delivers his lines… I have always been in awe of what he does and how he does it. But I’m very realistic about what I do, I work very hard and I don’t take anything for granted.

Did De Niro inspire you in any way to become an actor, or were there other actors, filmmakers and films that had a huge impact on you?

My father and my grandfather gave me the kind of fantasy, inspiration and energy I needed to become an actor. That’s also the main reason why I chose the father-son relationship in the films I picked out for the Festival. When I was young, I went to boarding school, so at that time I wasn’t too much involved with film. At eighteen, I entered drama school and then I also got to know the incredible body of work of actors like De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis.

I like the fact that the films you chose for the Festival cover a whole century of filmmaking and they’re a mix of European art films and highly acclaimed English-language films.

I chose those films because they all touched me in various ways. The reason why I chose “The Kid” [1921] for example, like Charlie Chaplin I am a very physical actor too. The way you look, how you walk and talk, your accent,… An actor does a lot more than just say his lines and play out a scene: he creates a human being, and each human being has his own identity. Chaplin’s screen persona of the Tramp has a certain tristesse, he’s nostalgic and very funny at the same time. I’m very much inspired by mime when you’re limited to only using your expression, gestures, movements. One day, I would like to do a show with only an apple, so to speak, because I love to do as much as possible with as little as possible. It also has to do with the Italian screen classics that I discovered while preparing for “Marina.” I watched a lot of Italian films and they broadened my horizon tremendously. I felt very passionate about it, because nobody says his lines and uses his hands better to express his feelings than an Italian actor does.

“One day, I would like to do a show with only an apple, so to speak, because I love to do as much as possible with as little as possible,” Matteo Simoni says. Photograph: Leo Verswijver

Do you also have other specific methods to prepare for a role?

I try to do as much research as I can, I try to fill my bag pack and want to find out what my character is all about, where he comes from, what he thinks and feels – anything really – and I write everything down. Then when I appear on the set, I can let it go very easily and simply rely on my own intuition. That’s a wonderful feeling, because when they say, ‘Rollin’!’ you know that an entire crew of fifty people is watching you and they’re all focusing on that one particular moment when you’re creating a life. You have to revive that moment. Chaplin wore baggy pants, a coat that was way too tight, a large pair of shoes, a hat, a flexible cane, and they all helped him to create his on-screen character. So it’s always an interesting process to be creative and to keep searching in any direction you can think of, because those physical attributes define how you feel as an actor when you’re in character.

Ostend (Belgium)
June 12, 2018

Theatrical trailer of “Marina” (2013) with Matteo Simoni playing Italian-born singer Rocco Granata

FILMS

BOERENPSALM (1989) DIR Roland Verhavert SCR (novel by Felix Timmermans) CAM Michel Van Laer MUS Dirk Brossé CAST Ronny Waterschoot, Jef Burm, Magda Lesage, Christel Domen, Erik Goossens, Ugo Prinsen, Sabine De Volder, Jacky Morel, Matteo Simoni (Baby)

ZOT VAN A., a.k..a CRAZY ABOUT YA (2010) DIR Jan Verheyen PROD Peter Bouckaert SCR (adaptation by Jan Verheyen, Peter Lories, Rik D’Hiet) CAM Stijn Van der Veken ED Philippe Ravoet MUS Steve Willaert CAST Kevin Janssens, Lotte Heijntjes, Kurt Rogiers, Barbara Sarafian, Joke Devynck, Mathijs Scheepers, Matteo Simoni (Lucas Levi), Mathias Sercu, Jan Van Looveren, Veerle Baetens, Koen De Graeve, Michel van Dousselaere, Herwig Ilegems, Axel Daeseleire, Chris Lomme, Jaak Van Assche, Kim Hertogs

GROENTEN UIT BALEN (2011) DIR Frank van Mechelen PROD Corinne Appelmans SCR Guido Van Meir, Walter Van Den Broeck CAM Lou Berghmans ED Frank van Mechelen, Pieter Smet MUS Koen Brandt CAST Stany Crets, Tiny Bertels, Michel van Dousselare, Evelien Bosmans, Clara Cleymans, Herwig Ilegems, Bart Hollanders, Veerle Dobbelaere, Koen De Bouw, Lucas Van den Eynde, Axel Daeseleire, Tom Dewispelaere, Mathijs Scheepers, Matteo Simoni (Student), Ben Segers, Stef Aerts

WEEKEND AAN ZEE, a.k.a. HIGH HEELS, LOW TIDE (2012) DIR – SCR Ilse Somers PROD Viviane Vanfleteren CAM Marijke Van Kets MUS Johan Hoogewijs CAST Eline Kuppens, Maaike Neuville, Marieke Dilles, Ellen Schoeters, Michael Pas, Stefaan Degand, Matteo Simoni (Peter), Kevin Janssens, Thomas Ryckewaert

MARINA (2013) DIR Stijn Coninx PROD Peter Bouckaert SCR Stijn Coninx, Rik D’Hiet CAM Lou Berghmans ED Philippe Ravoet MUS Michelino Bisceglia CAST Matteo Simoni (Rocco Granata), Evelien Bosmans, Luigi Lo Cascio, Donatella Finocchiaro, Warre Borgmans, Chris Van den Durpel, Christian Campagna, Jan Bijvoet, Jurgen Delnaet, Wim Willaert, Rocco Granata

I CORSARI (2014) DIR – SCR – CAM – ED Patrick Mattarelli MUS Daniel Fuchs, Philippe Jean-Richard CAST Giulia Belucci, Gianluca Marinangeli, Paolo Rocchi, Matteo Simoni (Matteo), Giorgio Basile, Stefano Tosoni, Francesca Luzi

TERUG NAAR MORGEN, a.k.a. SUM OF HISTORIES (2015) DIR – SCR Lukas Bossuyt PROD Frank Van Passel, Ivy Vanhaecke CAM Stijn Van der Veken ED Philippe Ravoet MUS Alexander Reumers, Jorrit Kleijnen CAST Matteo Simoni (Tom), Koen De Graeve, Karina Smulders, Robberecht Vanden Thoren, Charlotte Anne Bongaerts

AY RAMON! (2015) DIR Stijn Coninx PROD Nele Hendricks SCR Hugo Matthysen CAM Wim Le Compte ED David Verdurme CAST Jan Decleir, Frans Van der Aa, Pieter Embrechts, Els Dottermans, Lucas Van den Eynde, Adriaan Van den Hoof, Evelien Bosmans, Matteo Simoni (Max Muizenest), Tom Van Dyck, Warre Borgmans

SAFETY FIRST: THE MOVIE (2015) DIR Tim van Aelst PROD Sofie Peeters SCR David Vennix CAM Pieter Van Alphen ED Mathieu Depuydt CAST Matteo Simoni (Simon ‘Smos’ Vos), Bruno Vanden Broecke, Ruth Beeckmans, Ben Segers, Tom Van Dyck, Els Dottermans, Tom Waes

PATSER (2018) DIR Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah PROD Kobe Van Steenberghe, Hendrik Verthé SCR Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah, Nabir Ben Yadir, Bram Renders, Kove Van Steenberghe, Hendrik Verthé CAM Robrecht Heyvaert ED Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah, Thijs Van Nuffel MUS Hannes De Maeyer CAST Matteo Simoni (Adamo), Gene Bervoets, Jeroen Perceval, Dimitri Thivaios, Axel Daeseleire, Hans Royaards, Bond Mgebrishvili

ZOOKS (2017, animated) DIR – SCR Dimitri Leue, Kristoff Leue PROD Kristoff Leue, Peter De Maegd ED Jan Hameeuw MUS Jan Borré CAST (voice only) Glenn-Scott Peij, Mona Lahousse, Wim Helsen, Daisy Ip, Frank Focketeyn, Matteo Simono (Duvall), Tine Reymer, Wouter Hendrickx, Warre Borgmans