Urban Cinefile
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated December 18, 2014 - Editions No 928, 929, 930, 931 

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SCACCHI, GRETA - LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI

LOOKING FOR IDENTITY
She was born in Italy, brought up in England, made to feel at home in Australia: Greta Scacchi, who plays an Italian-Australian in Looking for Alibrandi, tells ANDREW L. URBAN why she feels that way.

Ushered into the Sydney hotel room where Greta Scacchi is spending a few hours receiving the press, I am greeted by a surprised smile: "I remember you!" she exclaims, clearly not having remembered my name, but recognising my face. Considering ten years have passed between meetings, I am surprised: it's one thing me remembering a midnight interview with Greta Scacchi on the island of Phuket while she was filming Turtle Beach, but it's quite another for her to remember it. "Was I moaning and complaining?" she asks, still smiling at the memory.

Perhaps that was it; she had been having a bad day and bad night shoot, and it - rather than me - stuck in her memory, and was jogged by my face. Maybe I have a jogging face. In any event, it broke the ice and Scacchi - in blue jeans and a casual top - plonked herself on the floor on her knees, legs apart and elbows leaning on the posh little glass coffee table for support. I sat on the two seater opposite her, Sydney's Hyde Park going autumnal through the windows behind me.

It is nearly lunch time, and soon she would order room service (Thai tom yum soup to start . . .) before packing up and heading off to start rehearsals for the ABC TV mini series, The Farm (playing an Australian farmer's wife) with director Kate Woods, who had directed her in Looking for Alibrandi, Scacchi's first Australian film for a while. But the professional reunification was a coincidence - although Scacchi says she was prompted to take the job when she heard Woods was to direct. "She's very ambitious to have the highest standards and get the best results. Working with her on Alibrandi, she had so much detail, with such planning. It's rare to find directors who've visualised so much and worked out the way to tell the story."

"I am always fascinated by these transmutations of culture"

Looking for Alibrandi first attracted Scacchi on its publication as a book. "I should have read the book," she says, "I had bought it when it was published and was carrying round with me all over the place. Of course I'd been interested because it is an Italian - Australian story."

Although it struck a chord with her, it was not those personal issues that prompted her to buy the book. "I am always fascinated by these transmutations of culture . . . I was so intrigued when we were researching for the show, Waterfront, and working with all those actors who are from the Italian community in Melbourne. Their grandparents came from Italy - and they were still speaking Italian. Here in Australia, people can keep their national identity, they don't have ditch it."

Her own circumstances are very different, she hastens to point out. "My family connection is North Italian, these were Sicilians and although I shot a film in Sicily once I still probably wouldn't connect so closely with that. And they make their tomato sauce in a completely different way," she says smiling, in a reference to the tomato squashing scene in Looking for Alibrandi.

As we talk about nationality and culture - subjects which fascinate her for personal reasons - Scacchi reveals her thoughtful side, and also something of her curious cross-cultural background. "I carry an Italian passport and an Australian passport. I don't have a British one… " She feels more "comfortable" since getting her Australian passport, which she did six years ago, "as soon as Italy and Australia had an agreement about dual nationality." She had always had an Italian passport - her father was Italian, mother English - and had always assumed she would get a British passport when she turned 18, "because I'd been on my mother's British passport."

"I was sooooo pissed off!"

But while her application for British citizenship was being processed at the Home Office, Margaret Thatcher came to power, "and she decided that all females born abroad of a foreign father could never become British," she explains in her quiet, neutral-English voice, calmly, but clearly with some feeling. "I was sooooo pissed off! I appealed and all they were interest in was the nationality of my father's father and his father . . .and if there was nay sign of Englishness on my paternal side, to merit me getting a British passport. The fact that my mother was English of Viking stock going back generations, made no difference to Thatcher England! So when I snatched my passport back from them and thought, bugger you, who wants to be British anyway….I found that I liked that status. And I've never applied again. I'm not interested." That said, Scacchi is based in England, although she comes to Australia "a lot." And the irony is that with the EEC, her Italian passport gives her free access to Britain - more so than her Australian passport, which, if she used it for travel to Britain, would require a visa.

But all of this talk of a passport is nothing more than Scacchi's perception of the usefulness of having as many travel documents as possible. They have little to do with the feeling of belonging or a sense of national patriotism. She was four when her mother took young Greta to England, but she finished her schooling, from age 15, in Perth. "Most of my growing identity was in England, so that's probably the biggest part of me. But I feel I can disown it at a whim, and I like that."

My mother influenced me - it was summer holidays with my dad, who was a cad and a bounder, so his influence was very transient. But when I'm in Italy I feel like a foreigner; and when I'm in England I feel like a foreigner. Partly when it's convenient for me - like 'Thatcher's not mine…I'm Italian, you can't blame me for her!' And all those childhood years I always felt . . . different. That's probably quite a snobbish thing to feel…."

"a different part of me"

And as early as eight, Scacchi recognised that cultures were more than just different languages. "I noticed then that when I was in Italy on a visit, it wasn't just the words that were different - it was the thoughts that were different, the mentality. I didn't just say things differently in Italian, I was expressing myself in a different way, and it was a different part of me. I identified that a different part of me came to the surface…"

But when she arrived in Australia at 15, Scacchi for the first time didn't feel like a foreigner - yet she was in the strangest land in her life to that point. "I feel it's full of variety and slip into that. There's such a range of cultural identities that I no longer feel I'm an outsider; I can be one of them."



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