Sitting in the make-up chair of a photography studio in north London, Filippo Scotti is having his hair tousled by his groomer and stylist. They are trying to figure out whether to make their subject’s Chalamet-esque mop — by turns both unruly and angelic — bigger or more modest.
‘Is your hair from your mum or dad’s side?’ the stylist asks.
‘My dad,’ comes the reply, delivered in a mellifluous, soft Italian accent with drawn out vowels. ‘But now? He is bald.’
Scotti, it quickly becomes clear, is a wisecracker: funny in ways men this handsome seldom need to be. Hair now finished, we head to the dressing room where lunch has arrived: though pizza, I suggest, might be a bold choice for a man from where it’s made best. ‘Let’s be open,’ he says, smiling as he bites into a slice. He chews, thinks and then, with his mouth still full, delivers the verdict. ‘You know, it’s not so bad!’
‘Not so bad’ is a phrase that could also be used — were one understatement-prone — to describe the trajectory of this 21-year-old from Dongo, a small commune that lies on the north-western shore of Lake Como. Eighteen months ago, Scotti was a university student desperately trying to prepare for his exams during the pandemic. Today, he’s weeks in to an intense global press tour that began at the Venice Film Festival in September, and has thus far taken in Paris, Los Angeles, New York, Colorado, Rome and many more locales. Having only done his first proper interview two months previously, this plunge into the deep end of promo, with all the jetting around that it entails, initially felt ‘new and strange’.
‘But I feel like it’s real now, I feel it in my body,’ he continues, having changed into the grey T-shirt and black trousers he arrived in, rubbing his shoulders like a fatigued athlete. ‘I’m super tired, yes. But I’m very happy.’
The reason for all this attention and activity is Scotti’s leading role in The Hand of God: a much-hyped Netflix film directed by Paolo Sorrentino, whose roll call of leading men includes — in the past decade alone — Michael Caine, Sean Penn, Jude Law and Italian screen god Toni Servillo. Sorrentino is, in his home country, what Martin Scorsese is to American cinema. ‘Actors in Italy have a certain reputation,’ Scotti notes. ‘And then when they start working with Paolo, that reputation skyrockets.’
This would certainly seem to be true in his case. At the Venice Film Festival, soon after The Hand of God won the prestigious Grand Jury Prize, its star took delivery of the festival’s Marcello Mastroianni Award, which recognises the best performance by an emerging actor. Previous winners include Jennifer Lawrence, Mila Kunis and Gael García Bernal. The award was presented to him by Bong Joon-Ho, director of Parasite. ‘It was like I was dreaming,’ Scotti says, shaking himself out of his trance: ‘Sorry for this childish reaction! It was just… it felt impossible.’
The film is now tipped as a frontrunner for best international feature and best director prizes for the forthcoming awards season. Some have Scotti lined up as a best actor contender too. ‘I don’t want to think about it,’ he says, shutting it out when I ask how he’s processing the hype. ‘[An Oscar nomination] would be great, of course, but I’m just happy that the movie happened at all, you know? If anything else [comes from it]? That would be beautiful.’
In the film, Scotti plays Fabietto, a curious if despondent teenage boy growing up in 1980s Naples, navigating his first, feverish sexual infatuations, life with a large, loving (if a little dysfunctional) family, while trying to plot where his future may take him. His long, hot summer days are spent taking languid lunches on the family terrace and jumping off boats into the blue Mediterranean sea. At night, it seems like the whole world is drawn either to football matches featuring their local hero, Diego Maradona, or the cinema to soak up films by art-house greats like Fellini. The film is a loose retelling of Sorrentino’s own teenage years in Naples, during which he lost his parents in a tragic accident and decided he wanted to become a film-maker. It’s about how magic, cruel and unconquerable the world can seem to a small-town boy.
Scotti’s involvement in the project began last summer, after months of lockdown in Covid-hit Naples. ‘I was pretty down emotionally,’ he says. ‘From April through to June, I was doing self-taped auditions that no one [responded] to.’ At the same time, he was studying modern literature at university (‘half because I loved it and half because I was expected to do it’ by his parents), preparing for his exams. It was a back-up in case his acting career didn’t work out.
Then his agent sent through a handful of scripted scenes with no name attached from which he ‘immediately felt the power’. It would turn out, of course, to be Sorrentino’s next film, but even without that name attached, it struck a chord. ‘I really wanted to do this,’ Scotti insists, ‘because me and this character, Fabietto, had something in common emotionally: it was a sense of feeling powerless. Of not being understood by others around me. That sense of uneasiness with the life I was leading.’
Scotti has never shaken the feeling of being an outsider. He moved from Dongo to Naples at the age of six with his parents — both of whom are art teachers — and his older sister. ‘[Dongo] gave me a sense of calm, where I felt sure of myself because it was such a small village,’ he recalls. Things changed when he moved south. ‘I understood that I needed to adapt [to the bigger city] when I moved.’ In his spare time, mostly spent in solitude, he would watch films (mainly Pixar movies before his dad introduced him to Alfred Hitchcock and Fellini) and cycle round the city, exploring a place far bigger than where he’d grown up. ‘It gave me the feeling of being free and independent from my parents,’ he says.
Having caught the acting bug as a kid performing in local theatre productions, the idea of graduating from high school and seguing into a life of higher education didn’t interest him. His high school years were not a happy time, anyway. ‘I was the worst in my class,’ he says. ‘I spoke with my parents, and I told them, “You know, I love cinema and I have an agent, so I would love to focus on this for at least a year, just to see what happens.”’ In that time, he appeared in an Italian horror series for Netflix, Luna Nera, and shot a short film. But true to his word, he started university when the year his parents promised him was up. Does he think he’ll go back now he’s made The Hand of God? ‘I might have to stop,’ he shrugs, ‘or maybe I will change [subjects].’ He’s keen to improve his languages, despite the fact his English is pretty much perfect: ‘Well, I want to open my mind to the idea of working outside of Italy one day.’
Preparing for the role of Fabietto did, at times, feel like earning a degree anyway. Last summer before the shoot, he bailed on a family holiday to spend a month at home in Naples, ‘to think about the environment [of the city] during the 1980s,’ he says. ‘I started working on my own stuff; those bad high school years helped me bring to the screen that melancholic outlook that Fabietto has, too.’ Sorrentino sent him a list of 1980s music he’d listened to (The Cure, Talking Heads, U2) and sexy French dramedies that matched the film’s message about wide-eyed desire, like Francois Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women.
Scotti had to work, too, on his fascination with Maradona; the film’s deity whose nickname provides the title and who weaves himself into the story like a spectre. ‘I’m Neapolitan and Maradona is like a sacred figure to us,’ he grins, holding his clasped fingers to his chest. ‘He’s next to the saints on the streets, but I had to look into him, because I wasn’t as big of a fan of football as Fabietto was.’
Venice was Scotti’s first red carpet moment. He had seen the film a month earlier but was desperate to see it again, having been distracted by his own performance, nitpicking as he watched it on the big screen. Here and then later on the promotional tour, he was introduced to A-listers, including Harvey Keitel (‘A very good person, I had goosebumps’), Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, Spike Lee, Sophia Loren and Lady Gaga. Where did he run into Gaga? ‘At the Academy Museum,’ he says, coolly. ‘She was really great.’ There’s one star, though, whom he thinks about often. ‘I love Laura Dern with all my heart,’ he gushes. ‘I was very honoured to meet her. I think about Laura Dern a lot! Now I’m very confident around her.’ He says it again to make sure I believe it: ‘Really, I love her with all my heart.’
Shoot complete, Scotti slouches into the leather seat of a car that’s been sent to take him to his hotel. From there, his promotional blitzkrieg will continue. He was in Los Angeles two days ago, will be in Rome the day after tomorrow and then it’s home to Naples where the film will have a special screening. This is the one he’s most excited for: primarily because it is where, finally, his family will get to see his work.
He is looking forward to returning home for more than a couple of days; to the house where he sat his mid-pandemic exams and filmed those self-taped auditions. How different would his life be if all of this hadn’t happened? ‘For sure, I’d still be in university, [or shooting] something different to The Hand of God. But truthfully, I don’t know. You know, in the past, many roles have come my way that I felt were supposed to happen, and they didn’t, and I’d be sad about it. But maybe it was a good thing. Maybe it wasn’t right. I’m just happy that I have this.’
He hasn’t had the chance to look beyond The Hand of God quite yet, but those ambitions to work with directors he has long admired, many of whom he has now met in the flesh — Alejandro González Iñárritu, for example — feel a little more tangible now. After all, there is a space for men like Scotti in Hollywood. Long gone are the days when leading men required washboard abs and heinous levels of sex appeal. Instead, like his hair twin Chalamet, the ‘art-throb’ is in demand: swoon-worthy men who seem sensitive and smart enough to navigate roles that require real thought.
‘I don’t think I would love to be the main character every time,’ Scotti says, showing his modesty. ‘It depends on the story and the director. To me, there’s not a traditional profile of a leading man, or a leading woman, in a movie. All that exists are characters, and they all need an actor’s attention.’
And what if, hypothetically, Hollywood does come calling? ‘It would be a dream, of course,’ he says, as he gets out of the car. ‘But [Hollywood stardom] is not my goal. I’m already happy that I was able to do a movie like this. The real goal is to be able to do this job for the rest of my life. That’s all I want.’
‘The Hand of God’ is in cinemas 3 Dec and on Netflix from 15 Dec