Title: Friends: Roberto Benigni by Tom Waits
Source: Interview Magazine, January 1993. By Michael Roberts. Transcription by Colin Hubert as sent to Raindogs Listserv Discussionlist, June 26, 1996
Date: January 1993
Key words: Roberto Benigni, Movie directing, Acting, Studio recording

Magazine front cover: Interview Magazine. January 1993. "The funniest man in Italy"


Friends: Roberto Benigni By Tom Waits


A great clown meets an old pal with a gravelly voice

(funny business)
Roberto Benigni The new Clousseau(1) waits for Tom Waits to pour the coffee and ask the questions
(photo of Benigni seated, doubled over, head laughing aside at us, thick black specs dangling from left hand by his shin, caption "Clown by law")

"I ham a good egg," Roberto Benigni claimed in Jim Jarmusch's "Down By Law"(2) - and, as if there were any doubt, the Tuscan Toto went on to prove it as the sheep-loving taxi driver in Jarmusch's "Night On Earth"(3). In between, he acted in Fellini's "The Voice Of The Moon" and directed and starred in "The Little Devil" and last fall's "Johnny Stecchino", the most successful Italian film of all time; this spring, he appears as Inspector Clousseau's bungling offspring in "Son Of The Pink Panther", a casting director's dream.

When this good egg was recently in Hollywood, we put him next to a sizzling piece of bacon, Tom Waits, who had shared a cell with Benigni (and John Lurie) in "Down By Law". Waits follows last year's "Bone Machine" album with "The Black Rider" (Island) in April and his role in "Bram Stoker's Dracula with one in Robert Altman's upcoming "Short Cuts". Samuel Beckett didn't write the dialogue of his conversation with Benigni, but 'Godot' was definitely in the details.

TOM WAITS: The one thing that makes you such a gifted comedian and actor is that you have a sense of music about everything you do. That's what I love, when you hit your boot and knee and your chest...
TW: When you're directing, how do you keep the humor and keep the life? How do you keep the wings on all the birds?
RB: That is a very good question. So you think to direct is to fly? To move legs from the ground?
TW: To leave the ground and to soar. I don't know how you do it, because in films you deal with a machine. My theory about songs is that most of them don't like to be recorded, they like to be wild. And I think very human moments in film sometimes don't like to be captured by the camera. The camera is like a butterfly net. You have to capture the butterfly without hurting it.
RB: Yes. I think this is a very good sensation you have about the movies. I fell exactly the same. Because when I am shooting it, the romantic thing about a movie is it's the opposite of theater: (sic) you can't control it. You never know when it's good or not. Because the movie is choosing what is beautiful. When you are acting, if the crew is laughing very much, this doesn't mean that you are doing it right. For a movie, a laughing crew is very dangerous.
TW: So, ideally, the camera is laughing and the crew is silent?
RB: Right! A lot of the time on "Johnny Stecchino" I remember the crew didn't laugh. But then the audience rioted. I was really flabbergasted. Very discombobulated. And always the movie is choosing you. You can't say, "I am a good actor for a movie." Only the screen can say "This is good actor - I like him." I never go with my director of photography to watch rushes, because a movie must be undisturbed until the end. Like a watermelon. You open it - "Oh, it's red. Hah! It's red. It's red!" Heh-hah!
TW: They say that if you tap on a watermelon and it has a certain sound, it's a red watermelon.
RB: Hah! I tap the camera. This sounds very good, yes.
TW: Yeah, it's red. But not always. Sometimes it's rotten. With insects living inside of it.
RB: Revolting.
TW: I think that's a good metaphor, the watermelon.
RB: There it is - it's fresh, it's sweet, it's very red and good. But it's true, about a movie choosing you.
It happens a lot of times that very bad actors become big. They're not good actors. They are just in a good movie, a good watermelon.
TW: Just light flicking through a machine.
RB: And your metaphor with the music is good, because the music is like a free jail. It you read the script of Bach, you see music is like mathematic, but when you hear it, it seems like something completely free, improvisation. Like in your songs. My favourite musicians, Bach and Waits.
TW: My thing is the best songs come out of the ground, just like a potato. You plan and plan, and then you wait for the potato - and watermelon, same.
RB: Your potato is for music, watermelon is for film. So when you are doing a soundtrack, you are doing a potato for a watermelon.
TW: And the tape machine is like the camera. There are things that go into the machine that are improved, and there are other things that go into the machine that are lost. It's not like a science. It's like a mystery. More coffee?
RB: Yes. I like coffee. Black coffee. I have a wonderful jet lag, yes.
TW: You like jet lag?
RB I love it. Jet lag is one of my favourite things in the world. Yes. I woke up this morning, and it was
4:30, and I felt so good, but I didn't know what time it was. I thought it was the sun that was very dark. I couldn't understand what happened.
TW: It's good to be lost.
RB: Yes. Lost with yourself.
TW: Because film and music are expeditions and sometimes you have no map. You just go drifting, and you go many days without water or food. When I am making music, I don't change my clothes for two full months.
RB: You know who did this, too? Michelangelo. He painted the Sistine Chapel. He never washed himself, he never changed clothes, especially shoes and socks.
TW: Yeah?
RB: Michelangelo tried to take the socks off and skin came off with the socks. He never changed his clothes until he was finished, and was completely revolting.
TW: Sometimes when you finish, you take the clothes and you put them in a pile, and you burn them. You make a fire of all your clothes. Sometimes to be a leader you must be a child, you must be a stinking idiot.
RB: Absolutely. You must be a stinking idiot.
TW: You know what I mean? The courage of a child to say, "I smell nothing," and to go into it with eyes open. But more important than liking movies, it's important for the movies to like you.
RB: Right! I like watermelons. But it's more important that the watermelons like me. We started with this theory - the movies choose you. Movies decide if you are a great actor.
TW: Yeah. We've come full circle.
RB: This is it. This is like Bach's music.
TW: Exactly.
RB: Correct. Very good. Without meaning to, we finish where we started.


(1) Roberto Benigni The new Clousseau: Italian actor/ comedian Benigni and Waits worked together several times from 1985 and on: - The movie 'Down By Law' (shot on location in New Orleans, in 1985). Movie released, 1986. Directed by Jim Jarmusch. With Waits in a leading role as DJ Zack. On the soundtrack: "Jockey Full Of Bourbon" and "Tango Til They're Sore". Actor; - The 'San Remo Festival (Club Tenco), Teatro Ariston', San Remo/ Italy November 22, 1986). Attendant and promoter of festival as aired on Italian television by: RAI DUE (L'altra America); - The movie 'Night On Earth'. Movie released: 1991. Movie directed by Jim Jarmusch. Soundtrack by Tom Waits. Co-starring; Further reading: Who's Who?

(2) Jim Jarmusch's "Down By Law": Down by Law (1986) Movie directed by Jim Jarmusch. Shot on location in New Orleans in 1985. TW: actor & composer. Plays main role as DJ Zack. On soundtrack: "Jockey Full Of Bourbon" and "Tango Till They're Sore". Further reading: Filmography

(3) Jarmusch's "Night On Earth": Night on Earth (1991) Movie directed by Jim Jarmusch. With: Winona Ryder and Roberto Benigni. TW: composer. Soundtrack. Soundtrack album released in 1992: (P) & � 1992 Island Records, Inc. 314-510 725-2. � 1992 Jalma Music