Paolo Villaggio and the Holy Bible

paolo villaggio looking front

There are some people that we recognise as our myths from the first moment we met them. Paolo Villaggio is definitely one of mine. There is no other way to describe my absolute and profound esteem. It is not the talented actor, nor the brilliant writer that I love and admire. It is the person behind them, his intelligence and his ability in describing the struggles of the human being.

Paolo Villaggio’s saga is probably one of the strongest passions I share with my father and I even remember that, during the football world cup Italia 90, I couldn’t understand why we were watching a football match while there was a Fantozzi movie on the other channel. Only years after I gave myself an explanation: we already watched that movie at least a couple of times, while world cups happened every four years. Nonetheless, I would have loved to watch “Fantozzi contro Tutti” again – which I did many times afterwards.

I then grew up, realising that Paolo Villaggio was actually a human being and not only a (brilliant) movie character. I went to see his theatre show in Trieste, but I was too young and scared to try speaking with him. But I remember I saw him leaving the theatre after the show in a dark car. Very Pedro Almodóvar.

But I am going off topic. I guess that’s because I am slightly intimidated by Villaggio. I am afraid of speaking of him.

paolo villaggio corazzata potemkin roma photo by gabriele gelsi

The first time I properly met him was during my university studies: Rome, Università la Sapienza, Paolo Villaggio meets the students for a Lectio Magistralis. I approached him at the end of the lesson, almost shielding behind my camera. I was just starting to be a photographer. I was ultra intimidated and I could only say few confused words (which he didn’t listen to) and take a bad picture.

paolo villaggio sapienza roma photo by gabriele gelsi
paolo villaggio alla sapienza roma photo by gabriele gelsi

I managed to meet him again after a few years, in 2013. I was already a theatre photographer at that time, working with important theatre companies, actors, and directors. You’ll expect I was prepared. I was not. Not at all.

Paolo Villaggio was due to have a show/conversation with the public at Teatro Brancaccio. I was working for that theatre at that time, so it was relatively easy for me to have access and meet him properly. I went to the theatre and started waiting for him in the foyer.

And then he walked in. I couldn’t believe I was going to meet my myth, this time in a more intimate situation. We were by ourselves in a large Italian theatre foyer. “I don’t really know how to describe my esteem, you are really a living myth to me. I have your books on my night table, always there, ready to be consulted…”
Knowing his extended literary production I could see he was starting to think about the size of my night table. I took out of my pursue a 1975 Fantozzi book edition: “This is my Bible.”
“I see. So you read the Bible?”

I didn’t know what to say. How to reply. Of course I haven’t. Why did I say that?

I then tried to move the conversation to his writing skills, reporting an anecdote I read when at an international literature prize he was named ‘the Italian Gogol’. Probably thanks to this, he let me take some more creative portraits of him using my portable flashes.

paolo villaggio red curtain portrait by gabriele gelsi
paolo villaggio front view photo by gabriele gelsi

I obviously couldn’t ask all the questions I wanted to, and I couldn’t take all the pictures I wanted to take. But I met him and then met him again the next day, photographing his show and listening to any single word.
I am lucky enough to say that I spoke with my biggest contemporary idol. And to have a signed copy of the first edition of Fantozzi.

paolo villaggio foyer photo by gabriele gelsi
paolo villaggio signing book photo by gabriele gelsi

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