Never the same as himself, but even though he was to be, never without passion, never miserable: Tommaso Ragno is kindness and humbleness, but also temper, which is that “conjunction ring between ability and luck” that’s vital to survive even in the most hostile of contexts, that’s vital to choose the actor’s job, every day.
In a motivating phone conversation, Tommaso shared with us some pieces and thoughts from his past and present, from the first times he stepped on a theater stage, up to his latest moments on set, specifically that of “Dry” by Paolo Virzì and “Like Sheep Among Wolves” by Lyda Patitucci.
As our May Cover story, Tommaso becomes an example and advocate for the cure and goodness with which everyone should move in the world, in human relationships, in that parallel dimension that originates acting, in the constant research for a stable balance in the strong unbalance of life.
What’s your first cinema memory?
It’s linked to the sound of movies coming from the summer arena when I was still too young to access it. I remember it as a mysterious and powerful sound.
From “Fargo” to “Happy as Lazarus” to “Nostalgia” and “Burning Hearts”: whether it is a TV series or movie, among the characters you play, none is ever the same. What is it that attracts you towards things and people that are so different one from another and maybe also very far from you? Is it fate or a goal of yours?
It’s a goal, but fate is not subordinate.
I believe that what actors wish for is to experience different things also from the point of view of their growth, to avoid doing the same movie every time because otherwise, you could find yourself playing the same role all lifelong. But let me be clearer. I’d like to highlight an important link to the pure and simple job, where a certain actor or actress perhaps became famous for playing Superman or 007, genres that I mention without absolutely devaluating them. On the contrary, I don’t think that cinema is only made of arthouse movies and that “Superman” and “Terminator” are not cinema, I don’t really think so because cinema is a vast branch of art.
If I got to do something different, I mean, it’s also because of luck because what I find myself doing, whatever it is, I try and do it as best as possible, if anything because it stays. I guess it’s a personal mindset, maybe ethical other than aesthetic because the two things go hand in hand after all, but basically, it’s just that I love what I do and when I’m lucky enough to do it, whatever it is, I prefer to do it at the best of my possibilities. If I were to play James Bond for the rest of my days, why not? For me, there’s also a lighthearted side to it that I think is very important in this world: if you get to do what you think is the best you can do according to your ambition, and if you love what you do even when it’s not a masterpiece, I believe that that’s the attitude. So far, I’ve been lucky, but if I had to play the same part for the rest of my days, it would be okay because I think what matters is to recognize yourself in the parts you play. I’ve got to be honest about this because there’s always the vague desire to portray yourself as a better version of who you really are, while the truth is that there are some aspects connected to your needs at that very moment because maybe there’s nothing else you can do. The actor’s job is already a difficult one, it’s already difficult to think about it as such because it requires so much energy, and I’ve experienced work in many shapes, I’ve been lucky enough to really do lots of experience.
“Basically, it’s just that I love what I do and when I’m lucky enough to do it, whatever it is, I prefer to do it at the best of my possibilities.”
What makes you say yes to a project?
The meaning that a project carries inside, especially because it’s a job that you do with other people with whom you share some important moments.
If you could warn your younger self, new to the world of cinema, what would you suggest to him? What’s the best advice he would have needed?
Honestly, I’ve been lucky in this because I had the chance to work at the top levels of theater in Italy, which has been a school of life and relationships, other than a training school in the arts field. I really believe that what matters is a good amount of stubbornness and patience, in fact, I don’t think that passion is really the key because passion can extinguish. I think that the conjunction ring between talent and fate, which concerns who does this job, who plays any sport, or who has a job that they’ve chosen, really chosen and not because there was nothing else that they could do, is temper.
Temper is the conjunction ring between the abilities you can have and the historic and social conditions you could find yourself living in, which could maybe be beneficial or detrimental, according to how you want to look at it, your way to exist in the world, your fate, where you got to be born, live, and work.
It’s certainly true that it takes talent, but I wouldn’t even know how to define talent, while I know how to define temper, that’s what you need to have when things are not in your favor, when circumstances are not optimal (and basically, they never are), which is what encourages you to keep on doing it every day and not only occasionally because, at that point, temper is much more useful than talent. This is what I feel like maybe not advising but rather telling based on what I’ve experienced. You know, in words I could tell you so many beautiful things, as usual always more beautiful than how things really are, but the real, concrete stuff has to do with temper. For example, to Roberto Baggio, when he was very young, doctors said his career was over because his knee was very messed up; we’re talking about a great champion who’s faced lots of obstacles throughout his life, and this example comes to my mind right because Baggio’s temper allowed a champion beloved from everyone, even from fans of opposing teams, to go on and confirm himself as such, probably also because of this aspect.
“A good amount of stubbornness and patience”
“Like Sheep Among Wolves” was very positively welcomed by critics. It premiered at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam and it’s the cinema debut of an emerging director (Lyda Patitucci): a crime about brotherhood and what one is willing to do for the love of yourself but, above all, for the love of others. What did you think when you read the script for the first time?
I’m always fascinated by the possibility to take part in someone’s directorial debut, for the strength that all things done for the first time have. The possibility to work in a debut is always very inspiring to me because debuts always have an original character as if they’re a gesture you’re doing for the first time, that allows you to rediscover and share so much because cinema is a job based on sharing, it’s a team job that’s also very powerful. Of this movie, then, I was really fascinated by the kind of character I would have had to play.
In “Dry” by Paolo Virzì you play a former actor turned into an influencer who developed a form of addiction to social media. A story that might sound familiar. How did you approach your character? What kind of experience did you have on this set, while telling the story of a dying city and a dying society?
Working with Paolo is a blessing for actors because he’s an artist who’s always by your side on the set, playing with actors as if he was an actor himself, he never leaves you alone in the game. His amusement is contagious. But he also knows when it’s better not to intervene and let the actors free to follow their instincts, and an uncommon quality because it requires lots of self-confidence and trust in yourself.
I never think about a character as a separate entity, to me, the interaction with Elena Lietti, Emanuele Maria Di Stefano, and Massimo Popolizio (who are my wife, my son, and the director of the theater play, respectively) was vital. A character is shaped thanks to the interaction with the other characters.
You actors, thanks to your job, have often the possibility to explore yourself and find perhaps forgotten sides of yourselves. Did you discover anything new about yourself during this latest experience? What’s the biggest revelation you have ever had workwise through a movie in which you’ve acted?
I’m so grateful to Paolo for having given me the chance to express some stupid and comic aspects of the human condition in such an extreme context as a drought can be.
By the way, it’s not only through movies that I have revelations, but it’s from the moment I could step on a theater stage, and then on a movie set, later on in life, that I realized how that act could be a parallel life in which there’s a lot of private things, for sure, but it’s also another world that has nothing to do with the personal sphere, at the same time. It’s been a revelation the fact that I could make a living out of theater and cinema, as well as a way of being in touch with reality through an aspect of “fiction” that it’s not fake, though. When you have to do with that world, it’s all about finding a balance in the unbalance of life, accepting the risks and dangers of this way of living. I don’t know if you can call it a revelation, but every time I’m surprised that I’m offered to exercise my mimetic nature as a job. And I’m happy when this task involves a bet, a high degree of difficulty.
“it’s all about finding a balance in the unbalance of life”
When you work on a character, are you usually more rational or instinctive?
Strangely enough, I tend to rely on a sort of “intelligent stupidity”, which helps me stay open, and be surprised as if it was the first time. Obviously, the study process is very important, but next to this activity, I leave the door open to my ignorance. Who knows, maybe I get to discover something better than what I imagined.
Your heart (and career) is split between theater and cinema: where do you feel more at home?
Wherever I’m given the possibility to exercise this mimetic attitude that’s the actors’ nature, there I feel at home. It’s only healthy to be able to stay in both sectors.
Of theater and cinema, both ways to exercise your “mimetic attitude”, as you said, what’s the added value that each form of art brings to the audience’s living, in your opinion? And what have they added to your own living?
You know, I don’t think I know the answer to this. To say that they can improve other people’s lives sounds noble, from a certain point of view, but I don’t even know how true it is. If I go to a concert or to see a film, it’s not necessarily because I’m looking for something that has to do with me, not at all. I mean, theater and cinema are certainly ways to look at the world, a magnifier, whatever genre it is, from the most sophisticated works to Christmas comedies; it depends on what you want at that moment in your life.
As everything has to do with transformation, certain things transform faster than others, and for some is less evident because they transform more slowly, I realize that several things I’ve watched, according to how old I was, had a different meaning. This doesn’t mean that I’ve fully got it, but in some aspects, they’ve certainly made my life less miserable. This also goes for music.
What’s a theater play you would adapt into a movie? And a movie on which you’d base a theater play?
My best answer for you is the movie “Vanya on 42nd Street” by Louis Malle, which is a movie based on a famous theater play by Chekhov (“Uncle Vanja”), and it includes both things.
An epic fail on set or on stage.
A very long blank space on the scene in a theater play. I had fallen asleep in my dressing room during the last act of a show in a long tour; I was literally thrown on stage after a gap a few minutes long and after having seen the faces of my other colleagues in a mix of embarrassment and outrage. I wanted to disappear.
Your must-have on set.
A good mood.
What are your cinephile rituals?
Watching movies at the cinema, when possible, I guess.
What book are you reading right now?
I’m reading Elia Kazan’s autobiography, it’s called “A Life”.
What is it that surprises you?
Kindness, it surprises me every time. And also a good heart, which I think is a form of intelligence.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Mine is a job that requires a good amount of courage, among other things. Especially because the “nos” you get are more than the “yeses”.
“Kindness, it surprises me every time.”
What are you afraid of, instead?
I’m scared of living in fear.
Your biggest act of rebellion?
The act against fear.
The latest thing or person who made you smile?
My dumbness when I think I’m acting smart, instead. And then the moment comes when I realize we’re a comic species. And at that point, it’s like getting an epiphany and I smile in an indulgent manner.
What’s your happy place?
Reading and listening to music.
Photos & Video by Johnny Carrano.
Grooming by Micaela Ingrassia.
Location: Antico Casale di MonteMariolo.
Thanks to The Rumors.
Total look: Kiton
Shoes: Vic Matié
Shoes: Vic Matié
Shoes: Vic Matié