Sophia Loren doesn’t mean to not lie about her age, exactly. Having been famously 15 when first discovered, and 44 heralded years of screen acting having healthily ensued since then by anyone’s count, she explains, it’s simply too late not to cop now.
“What can I do? I started so young, that it’s impossible.” A chuckle. “Why deny it?”
Is the milestone just reached one she perhaps takes some pride in?
“No,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m just surprised I am 60. I’m surprised!” she reiterates, voice pitching up at the emphasis. “I didn’t see the time go by. I feel 12, I feel 13 . . . and so, I’m 60.”
Disbelief or denial is not limited to the actress’s professedly arrested psyche, but can be presumed to shortly extend to audiences about to watch Loren more or less steal “Ready to Wear,” the Robert Altman-concocted mega-ensemble farce that opens Sunday. Here is a picture engendering controversy with nude models a-go-go, and featuring no less contemporary an icon than Julia Roberts as a lovable sex-aholic. And yet it’s Loren--in recent years, more visible wearing glasses than making passes--providing very nearly all the smolder in sight.
The movie’s most memorable scene, at least for film buffs, comes when Loren meets her long-lost lover, Marcello Mastroianni, for a tryst and does a striptease for him. Italian film enthusiasts will immediately recognize this as a re-creation of a similar scene between the oft-paired couple in “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” a De Sica anthology comedy released three decades ago with the scent of scandal, thanks to said legendary scene.
Altman is rarely one to deal in such direct homage or overt cinematic referencing, so it’s not entirely surprising to learn that the specific concept for this diverting remake-within-a-film was not the director’s.
“I think that in principle it was Bob’s idea,” says Loren, “to have me and Marcello together in the film and to re-propose something that we had done before. But he didn’t know what we would come up with.”
The eureka moment in determining that she and Mastroianni would re-create the “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” scene came, she says, when she found the record she had stripped to in 1964 in her house. “So I think: Should I bring it back to Bob and make him listen to it and talk about the striptease that I did with Marcello such a long time ago? Because I was a little bit reluctant. It’s a kind of prudeness, a kind of timidity; we don’t know how the public will accept it. But we wouldn’t have done anything vulgar or too pushy or wrong, I don’t think. So, just in the name of what we had done before, I said, ‘I’ll ask Marcello, we’ll propose it and see what happens.’ He jumped on the ceiling and bonked his head when he heard about it.”
As Altman recalls it: “We were talking about what kind of scenes to do with them, and I had that bedroom scene, and then I think one of them said, ‘Oh, remember what we did in “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”?’ And it brought back my memory, and I said, ‘My God, let’s just paraphrase that and do the same thing.’ I mean, people that haven’t seen the other picture and don’t make the connection, it doesn’t hurt ‘em, and the people that do, it’s just a bonus.”
In “Ready to Wear,” as in the ’64 film, the literally howl-inducing striptease for Mastroianni doesn’t actually lead to consummation, although the cold shower of a punch line is different this time.
In any event, a certain chasteness even in the midst of sauciness is right in keeping with the career of Loren, who, now as then, declines to see herself as a sex symbol, and who seems to have a genuine reservedness beyond most actors’ protestations of shyness. On the front of the current Detour magazine, Loren is busting out from the cover in such decolletage-revealing decorative force that the casual browser might mistake her arresting image as lure for the Russ Meyer article also contained therein. This particular hearkening back to her ‘50s and ‘60s pinup days is, of course, a put-on: The real Loren, as we meet her in a Westwood hotel today, goes a long way toward defining a cliche such as “the picture of elegance,” in a tannish suit just lighter than her enviable, sun-burnished skin, modest in the extreme but for still nearly heart-stoppingly evidencing the gift of gam.
“Family values” have been her focus--really “a fixation,” even, she adds--since the arrival of her two sons, Edoardo and Carlo Ponti Jr., both in grad school now.
“My home is wherever I am with my family, with my children--that’s my home, anywhere with them” is her answer when asked where she lives now; that includes a residence outside of Los Angeles, where one son goes to school, though she’s said to maintain a Geneva home as her primary residence. “If you want to have a family, absolute dedication should be your first thought (so) the children can really feel the roots. You have to concentrate on your profession as a mother and really have to give all you have--your time and anything--to be able to succeed and be happy about your job. Which is the most difficult thing. Your children judge you!”
Is she aware of how other women might have related to her over the years, with empathy, as would seem to be the case given her success as something near a populist character actress in certain periods, or, perhaps, with envy, given her ideal-establishing beauty?
“Not envy,” she says emphatically. “I think that I inspire kind of an admiration. But I can’t explain to you why that is.”
Her tone is more genuinely quizzical than boastful. “It’s something very strange. Maybe for how I handled my life and when I was raising my children. Or the fact that I’ve never gone off the bridge in the sense that I changed my life, and I’m going on to other people.” Loren has been married to producer Carlo Ponti since 1967. “I don’t know, I have no idea. But I have always inspired respect, which is very nice.”
That admiration extended to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1991 bestowing upon her an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar, citing her as “one of the genuine treasures of world cinema.” It wasn’t even as if this were one of the Oscars’ occasional oversight consolation prizes, as Loren had already picked up a standard-brand Oscar three decades before, for De Sica’s “Two Women.”
Some viewers might have assumed, provided the actress’s near-complete lack of screen credits in the ‘80s, that the academy’s was a retirement present of some sort. But, she assures, unlike, say, fellow honoree Audrey Hepburn, she never made any conscious decision to stay away from the movies--nor did she, with family to raise, she hastens to add, fret unduly when she wasn’t working. Her story is the same as most actresses, but with an Italian accent and more of a predilection for choosiness: A good movie is hard to find “not only for women of my age, but also younger than me. Because I think that men write for men--and they don’t write for women.”