In the Land of Blood and Honey unflinchingly depicts all the brutality and horrors of the years of armed conflict, ethnic cleansing, mass rape, and a population under endless siege. Framed within that chaos is the story of Danijel (Goran Kostic) and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), who had a relationship before the war and now find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. The cast of unknowns, including Kostic and Marjanovic, many of whom experienced the war as young people, may not add Hollywood star power to the project, but they lend the film something perhaps of greater value: authenticity. Jolie felt a responsibility to get their story right, and wants the film, regardless of its critical reception, to serve as a conversation restarter about Bosnia, and, implicitly, to get people to think of that war against the relative successes and failures of other, more recent American interventions abroad.
Taking on a hot-button political topic has not been without its risks, even for someone with Jolie’s connections. Permission to shoot in Sarajevo in fall 2010 was briefly denied after the Bosnian group Women Victims of War claimed that the plot depicted a Bosnian female prisoner falling in love with the man who tortured her-a situation deemed unthinkable and distressing to survivors. After Bosnian officials read the script, the crew was allowed to shoot in the country’s capital, though most of the action was filmed in Hungary, where Jolie, 36, has spent much of the past year. She was in Budapest, where partner Brad Pitt was filming his zombie flick World War Z, when she spoke with Clint Eastwood, a filmmaker who is no stranger to the cinema of violence and tragedy. He directed Jolie in Changeling (2008), and the two hope to collaborate again someday.
CLINT EASTWOOD: I saw the film the other day and really enjoyed it. I thought what you did was great. I don’t think people will think that it is a first-time film.
ANGELINA JOLIE: Oh, thank you so much.
EASTWOOD: You must have had good influences along the way.
Jolie: Yeah, you being one of them. [laughs] When I was on set with you, I thought, God, Clint makes this look really, really easy. And it’s really not that easy. But you seemed to surround yourself with great people and let them do their thing and encourage it. And I had a great team and let them do their thing and they were amazing, so I got lucky.
EASTWOOD: There is some heavy violence in this movie, which people don’t usually associate with a woman starting out on her first film, but they don’t know you as well as I do. [Jolie laughs] I was also really surprised at how good the art direction was. It really added to the authenticity and the feel of the whole thing.
JOLIE: Oh, Clint, thank you. And that’s Jon Hutman [production designer] and Dean [Semler, director of photography]. We had the good fortune that all the actors are from the area and lived through the war, so they could call us on it if it wasn’t right.
EASTWOOD: You got that feeling that everybody was connected to it in some way. The actors looked authentic. Either that or they were just brilliant, which maybe was the case as well.
Jolie: I’m biased, but I think they are a bit brilliant.
EASTWOOD: You actually wrote the story for this film from scratch-that’s one thing that I have never done. Did you take this from any particular piece of material?
JOLIE: You know, it was one of those funny things. I didn’t intend to write anything and I never wanted to direct anything. I didn’t even have Final Draft. I was just kind of messing around one day on my computer for fun. I had a lot of thoughts about intervention and justice issues and humanity, and I’d spent a lot of time with people after conflict. So it was kind of a meditation for me: What if it was me and I loved somebody from what became the other side? What would it take for me to go against my neighbor? Would I?
EASTWOOD: I don’t know how many movies have been made on the Bosnian war.
JOLIE: There have been some made, but in America they’re not known to be hugely successful. It’s not an extremely successful subject matter in Hollywood.
EASTWOOD: But your film is very educational in a sense because there’s very little on this particular conflict. We all know what World War II is, but this one, at least for us in this part of the world, isn’t as widely understood. It has a different effect on us. It’s like we’re studying a historical thing.
JOLIE: Well, I did write the script with the intention of getting an education. I mean, I made this movie for certain reasons, and I want people to discuss Bosnia whether they like the movie or not. I want them to revisit that time in history and learn about it, and I do think it’s important to discuss what happens when we don’t intervene or what kind of intervention is right or appreciating what happened in this society.
EASTWOOD: I do remember a lot of discussions at that time as to whether Americans should intervene or how much they should intervene and if we should do the same in every conflict.
JOLIE: It’s tough because I tried not to have a direct opinion-I’m not a politician. But I think that if you learn enough about a situation, you feel like there is no one clear answer of the best way, and you do know that there were certain things going on that, whether you intervened or not, were clearly handicapping certain people and allowing for certain things to go on too long. There were definitely some things that could’ve been handled a hell of a lot better than they were. It’s hard not to think, If we’d just intervened sooner then they wouldn’t have gotten to this point where that society is this broken … You know, even without boots on the ground, there’s a lot more that could’ve been done.
EASTWOOD: I agree, but it seems like the Western-world approach is to just jump right in, with little knowledge of what has happened …
JOLIE: And now they’ve come out the other side and they’re all moving forward, but there’s a lot of healing and a lot of support that’s still needed. Even just the world remembering, acknowledging, and supporting them and being a part of their futures in an integral, positive way, as opposed to just kind of letting it stir and settle again.
EASTWOOD: Well, the only time that I was ever in Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito was running the show then, and everything was moving along quite smoothly at that time. This was in the 1960s.
JOLIE: They were Communist, right?
EASTWOOD: It was Communist. It was organized, as Tito was kind of an organized communist. If they didn’t have too much conflict then, they were suppressing it. I don’t know—everybody says a benevolent dictator is the greatest form of government, but there’s never been … Nobody can seem to find an example of a benevolent dictator. [both laugh]
JOLIE: Very good point.
EASTWOOD: I think it depends on whose eyes you’re looking through, but the thinking then was, When Tito goes, this whole place is gonna come apart.
JOLIE: Yeah, and they knew that. The international community knew; they knew after Croatia. They knew, they knew. And it was no surprise to anybody that it was coming, that it would possibly be even that bad. I think they knew. I’ve been meeting a lot of reporters and people who covered it, and it was one of those horrible situations where there were a lot of great journalists on the ground, but there was not a lot of interest, and there was also intention to cover up some of the truths so governments would not have to intervene. I’ve been finding a lot of reporters who are actually very emotional about it because of where they were blocked.
EASTWOOD: It’s hard to believe that this is so recent. That brings an added sadness to it all.
JOLIE: It does. It was the ’90s, so we all know where we were and what we were doing and what we were thinking about. The cast, many of them are younger than I am, and they remember gunshots or a grenade in the backyard. They’ve lived a thousand more lives than I could ever imagine. Very young people. Very heavy people. But what’s amazing is that they’re extraordinarily artistic and vibrant. The Sarajevo Film Festival actually started during the siege. During the siege they made art and did plays and started a film festival, and their spirit was never broken somehow. They’re artists in a way that as another artist it’s really special to know them.
EASTWOOD: When did you decide that you wanted to direct the film? When I first read the script, I thought your intention was to act in it and play the girl. But then I hadn’t discussed it with you, so I didn’t know exactly where you were coming from.
JOLIE: I think I always knew it belonged to them, and I couldn’t do it. I had the crazy thought of directing it, and I kind of just couldn’t accept that. I never believed that I was the right person technically, but I couldn’t trust it away from me emotionally, so I ended up saying, “All right, we’ll send it to a few people from the area, and if they think it’s terrible we’ll shred it. But if they’re willing to make it with me, then maybe there’s some truth to it and they can help me do it and it won’t be wrong.” And then I was with Bernie [David Bernstein, first assistant director] when he started talking about the schedule, and I put my head in my hands. I think I didn’t know how I’d gotten there.
EASTWOOD: I think somehow your brain snapped and you decided, “Okay, I’m ready. Go.”
JOLIE: I don’t know if I ever actually thought I was ready, but I realized, “Oh, what am I doing? I’m doing this!” I think this business can be so much about, “What’s your next film?” and then sometimes we get lucky and we’re able to be smart enough to take a deep breath and say, “I just want to be an artist, and I just want to try something. I want to learn and I want to play and create, and I’m not actually sure of anything, but I just want to learn something new.”
EASTWOOD: Well, that’s the way to go. You just jump in headfirst and go for it.
JOLIE: Did you know you were going to be a director when you were acting?
EASTWOOD: I always knew I wanted to try it, but I had to wait for the right project. I just wasn’t ready to do anything.
JOLIE: But then you found a great one.
EASTWOOD: I finally found a small film, Play Misty for Me , a small film-
JOLIE: Beautiful film. I love that film.
EASTWOOD: It’s about guy and a town and an image of conflict that was much more condensed. But yours is a more ambitious project. What I liked about the cast is that you could definitely tell they were not American actors doing the parts. It looked like they were right from there.
JOLIE: What was important to me and what meant a lot was that they agreed that it wasn’t just people from one side wanting to tell the story, because they were more the victims of the story. There were people from all sides who decided that they would come together, so it was Serbians from Bosnia, Serbians from Serbia, Bosnian Muslims, and Serbo-Croatians, and that was great. And you know, I did think about you a lot because we did it in the language of the area, what was called Serbo-Croatian and is now BHS [Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian]. And I remembered you talking about Letters From Iwo Jima  and thinking, I know I somehow made this work, but I got confused often [laughs].
EASTWOOD: The idea of jumping into that with a whole different society and a whole different background is great fun. To me, doing Letters had that same feeling. The actors didn’t even speak English, so everything was filmed with interpreters. And the actors had never even known about the conflict in that case, because in Japan they never taught kids the story about World War II.
JOLIE: I didn’t realize that. That’s extraordinary.
EASTWOOD: But your actors pretty much had lived it.
JOLIE: They had. A lot of them remember it. Everybody was at a different age and remembered it in different ways, but a few of the cast and crew had gunshot wounds themselves. We had one beautiful, sweet young actress who’s just so full of life, and she lost 28 family members in the conflict, and yet somehow she’s emerged a shining light of a human being and not a dark, depressed person. I don’t know exactly how she managed that.
EASTWOOD: How do you get past depression at that state?
JOLIE: I don’t know. I don’t think I would be as strong as she was.
EASTWOOD: Well, it’s an extremely bold project from every angle, and as we were discussing, this particular conflict and the way the world is now … Of course, I’m trying to preach the idea that if we don’t pay attention to history we’re destined to repeat it.
JOLIE: Yeah. I believe that, too.
EASTWOOD: We discussed that a little bit in making [Eastwood’s recently released film] J. Edgar, too, because now we’re repeating everything that’s in that story, and that was back in the 1920s.
JOLIE: I saw the trailer for J. Edgar. I’m always curious to see what you’re doing. I thought it looked amazing. Are you happy with it?
EASTWOOD: Yeah, I am, but you know, I don’t know anything. [Jolie laughs] You never know objectively, so at some point you just kind of say, “Oh well,” and you turn it over to the public and see where it goes. I imagine you’re feeling that right now.
JOLIE: I’m trying not to think about it. I still don’t quite believe that it’s coming out, if that makes sense. I’m still not quite convinced. I saw the first trailer and I thought, Wow, that was such a real trailer! I think I was expecting not a real trailer. Or not a real poster, or not a real release date. I just think somehow it’s this wonderful, creative time and a piece of art I made with some friends, and …
EASTWOOD: And then you just put it on the shelf, and that’s final. But everybody’s really excited about In the Land of Blood and Honey. I think people are going to be amazed.
JOLIE: That means everything coming from you.
EASTWOOD: You will amaze them again.
JOLIE: I’m just blushing that you’ve got such nice things to say. That means so, so much to me. I’m just glad you didn’t call me and whisper, “You know, I think you should just hide it.” You know? “Start over!”
EASTWOOD: No, no. I think it’s a tough movie and that it’s extremely well made, and tough movies that are extremely well made are very hard to do.
JOLIE: Well, thank you so much. Thanks for doing this. It’s so fun to talk, and I can’t wait to see you and everybody. We’ll just plan to get together and hang out.
EASTWOOD: Definitely. I miss seeing you. You have a good time over there, say hello to Brad, and I will see you when you come back west. And when do you get back to Los Angeles?
JOLIE: Maybe early December.
EASTWOOD: I miss your lovely face.
JOLIE: You too. It’s so nice to talk to you, and I hope we’ll find another project to work on together. I’d love to do something again with you.
EASTWOOD: Well, I’m always looking for something special that we can do. It’ll be great. But this time you’re directing. I’ll just sit in the back. Do you have any inkling of what you might do next? Does anything pop to mind?
JOLIE: Well, I’ve been writing and staying with the kids. I think I should learn French and be a better cook—basic really good life stuff. I think I’m like you. I’m always doing something. I never shut my brain off. I always have something going on. But I think I’m trying to—
EASTWOOD: You’re trying to slow down.
JOLIE: Well I haven’t worked since Blood and Honey.
EASTWOOD: Are you studying French with a class?
JOLIE: I’ve been studying on and off my whole life, and I figured, my kids can speak it, and it’s embarrassing that I can’t as well as they can, so now …
EASTWOOD: You’ve got to pick it up.
JOLIE: Now, I have to. I’ve kind of half tried everything. It’s like deciding to write something or deciding to direct or make a score of a film. It has to become a priority.
EASTWOOD: I’ve got Rosetta Stone in French.
JOLIE: Oh, we should have a competition! Which one of us can learn French first? Oh, we’ll do it! I’ll work on writing something that’s in French, you direct it, and I’ll speak it.
JOLIE: And then we’ll have some time, and we’ll hang out with our families in France.
EASTWOOD: But then maybe you should direct the movie, because if I have to do anything in French, I can only do one thing at a time.
JOLIE: Well, we can take a really long time. Do it the very French way. We’ll just have short hours and relax a lot. It’ll be a three-year process of making the film.
EASTWOOD: I’ve got to learn French because I’ve been going there for years and still, the only words I know are the swear words.
JOLIE: Which can get you pretty far. A glass of wine and a few swear words.
Clint Eastwood is an actor and two-time Academy Award–winning Director.
Woody Allen by Moonlight
Woody Allen by Moonlight
Woody Allen returned to the theater this season with a contribution to the collaborative effort Relatively Speaking, a trio of one-act plays directed by John Turturro, and featuring, alongside Allen, works by Ethan Coen and Elaine May. Ari Graynor and Steve Guttenberg star as a new couple in Allen’s “Honeymoon Motel,” a wedding farce set in a purple and silk roadside pied-à-terre. The three stories that comprise the production are linked by theme. Like Allen’s, Coen’s and May’s comedies—”Talking Cure” and “George is Dead,” respectively—explore (and explode) the tensions, inadequacies, and absurdities of the family dynamic. Ironically, though, Relatively Speaking also considers the relationship between moral relativism and family dysfunction; the former emerges as a mere survival method, a way to escape a mess without cleaning it up. Of his own play’s pedagogical value, however, Allen is wryly self-effacing, insisting it isn’t his wisest work. On the heels of PBS’s evocative documentary on the auteur for its “American Masters” program, Allen answered our questions about his involvement in Relatively Speaking and his evolving relationship with the city he has, for many, defined. The result was an honest meditation on his city, his craft, and his life in between.
UZOAMAKA MADUKA: In films like Husbands and Wives (1992)or Manhattan (1979), the plots revolve around morally strong characters that provide an axis, a moral reference point, for the viewer. The Manhattan protagonist, Isaac Davis, is a good example—when he is accused of “thinking he’s God,” he responds that “he has to model himself off of somebody.” This moral axis seems to be absent from “Honeymoon Motel”; for the characters, ultimately, relativism reigns. Still, the emphasis on the tackiness of the room at the beginning of the play and the context of the honeymoon itself seem to undermine the characters’ conclusions. Is that an intentional critique or mere coincidence?
WOODY ALLEN: Please don’t judge anything by “Honeymoon Motel.” I wrote it quickly and only to make people laugh. There’s not a shred of purported wisdom in it, and if anything looks like it’s saying something, it’s pure accident. The emphasis on the tackiness of the room is a private joke between [scenic designer] Santo Loquasto and myself, as I believe he did a set that was even tackier than I had imagined.
MADUKA: And setting is your forte—in your various mediums, you have succeeded in establishing and evoking place, such that it often becomes a character itself. Have you always been quite sensitive to your physical surroundings?
ALLEN: I have always been sensitive to the places I’ve been filming in. There is something about big cities that turns me on, and for whatever mysterious reason, places like New York and Paris inspire me. I think it’s because cities represent civilization, and as crime-ridden and broken down as some of them are, it’s still better than skipping through a meadow.
MADUKA: The image of Paris in the rain often captivates your characters; it is again conjured in “Honeymoon Motel.” What is so seductive about Paris in the rain, and why has it become such a potent object for you and your characters?
ALLEN: Paris, like New York, is a city with endless possibilities, and to me, there is nothing like a big city in the rain. If I had it my way, it would be gray and rainy five days a week and bright and sunny two days. Think of a romantic interior: people dim the lights to make it more romantic; they don’t turn them up bright.
MADUKA: Midnight in Paris is in some ways an exploration of how the two worlds of fantasy and reality can co-exist, and how one can found that co-existence on either a fantastic escape or a bold leap. How would you define fantasy? When, if ever, is the bold leap into something fantastic not merely an escape?
ALLEN: Fantasy is only a state of mind that you can employ when existing in a real context. Fantasy is seductive and much more wonderful than reality, but you can’t take it to the bank. It’s always an escape. And if used as an escape, as in attending a movie or a show for a circumscribed period of time, it’s fine. When it starts to become undifferentiated from reality, it leads to big trouble.
MADUKA: “It’s always a question of high aims, grandiose dreams, great bravado and confidence, and great courage at the typewriter,” you once told Michiko Kakutani of your creative process, “and then, when I’m in the midst of finishing a picture and everything’s gone horribly wrong and I’ve reedited it and reshot it and tried to fix it, then it’s merely a struggle for survival. You’re happy only to be alive.” Your description of your creative process seems in many respects to echo your understanding of the world: how has the daily experience of your creative process conditioned your understanding of life itself?
ALLEN: My experience creatively is different than my experience in life, for, as my father would say, the simple reason that you can’t get hurt when everything goes wrong creatively. In life, you’re dealing with questions of mortality: it’s better to get sidetracked by your creative problems, your “second act” problems, than your real problems. Unfortunately, the real problems win out.
MADUKA: In “Honeymoon Motel,” the rabbi who officiates the wedding cuts an interesting character on stage, acting as both an authority and as a buffoon, yet never completely undermined. You have always been interested in the great existentialist thinkers like Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard, many of whom were men of faith. What, for you, is the relationship between faith, the search for meaning, and the specter of meaninglessness?
ALLEN: The search for meaning is irresistible, but everybody really knows deep down—and I mean really deep—that existence is meaningless, and the search has less odds of success than the Mega Ball lottery.
MADUKA: As a writer-director, it must be an odd experience to watch your work on stage when you haven’t yourself directed it. Is it frightening to relinquish control in this regard?
ALLEN: I don’t like relinquishing my work to another director. I was fortunate in being able to have John Turturro, but it was a one-act play, and it would be hard—if not impossible—for me to relinquish a full-length play or film script, no matter the director. I can’t imagine any director directing a screenplay of mine, because the great directors all have very personal styles, and the ones that don’t are not very interesting directors.
MADUKA: It seems that working in theater, you come into conversation not only with a group of artists, but with the place, the city itself. What characterizes the theater in New York, in your opinion, and how has that changed?
ALLEN: When I grew up, the Broadway theater towered in importance over films, and gradually over the years films grew up a certain amount. (I’m talking about American films, as foreign movies were always significant.) But the Broadway theater became less and less potent, and more and more of a trivial tourist attraction that’s vastly overpriced and needs star power to keep it going. This was not the way it was when I was younger: you could see Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and even Eugene O’Neill productions.
MADUKA: I know you are a dedicated prose writer—is there a prose project you are working on at present?
ALLEN: I tried once to write a novel, which I found to be long and excruciating work, and I don’t think it came out very well, so I scrapped it. Maybe some day I’ll try again, but because I grew up uninterested in literature, a non-reader, I didn’t have any natural flair for it the way I did for show business—I grew up in the movie theaters.
MADUKA: You have given many people their image of Manhattan, and have, in the past, been one of its greatest cultural champions. But, of course, you’ve gone international in recent years. How has your feeling towards this city changed or matured? Does it continue to inspire you and your work? How has the city itself changed over the course of your career?
ALLEN: New York has changed for the better in some obvious ways, like the dropping of the crime rate and people don’t squeegee my windshield when I come to a stoplight. On the other hand, uncontrolled bike riders are a great hazard, and the wonderful idea of more and more people having bikes in New York will turn sour as people become alienated because so much of it is out of control. That will be a pity.
The city continues to inspire me and still remains head and shoulders above any city in the country. One problem for me is that I’ve grown older and I’ve had some success, and all those warmly lit townhouses and co-ops that I used to fantasize about, and dream about what was going on inside, I now know from my own experience. In one sense, I’m part of the establishment—and I don’t mind, except that it’s not as exciting as longing to become part of the establishment.
MADUKA: What is the most captivating part of your creative process?
ALLEN: The only parts that are captivating are beginning to write after you’ve gotten an idea for a film and putting in the music after you’ve shot the film and edited it together.
MADUKA: Has there been a recent time in your day-to-day life here in New York or elsewhere when you were greatly moved or captivated?
ALLEN: There is no vivid day-to-day experience apart from being moved by my wife and children, but I can’t think of anything in life that has moved me as much as the end of The Bicycle Thief.
MADUKA: And finally, what books are on your reading list now? Movies? Exhibitions?
ALLEN: Like everyone else, I very much enjoyed In The Garden of Beasts and a lesser-known book called Rules of Civility. And of course, [Diane] Keaton’s book. Living near all of the museums, my wife and I drop in frequently to all the exhibitions, and I get a kick out of most of them, but nothing ever equals just going to The Met and seeing the Impressionist paintings, particularly the streets of Paris painted by Pissarro. As far as movies go, as a moviemaker, I always find things I love in movies and things I don’t like very much, but my opinion is too prejudiced to be taken seriously.
Mario Sorrenti on Pirelli
In 1993, a picture of his naked girlfriend was all it took to launch then 21-year-old Mario Sorrenti’s explosive career in fashion photography. Of course, it helped that his girlfriend was Kate Moss, and that the piercing image was for Calvin Klein’s iconic Obsession campaign. Now, almost 20 years later, Sorrenti’s bold, sensual images frequent Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview, and W, for whom he recently shot a cover with the Fanning sisters. The Italian-born, New York-raised photographer is famed for his ability to capture the vulnerable beauty of nude models with his lens. So it’s no surprise that Sorrenti, who now lives in New York with his wife, Mary Frey, and two children, was tapped to shoot the 2012 Pirelli calendar.
Working as a model in his youth, Sorrenti, whose Mediterranean good looks often rival those of his subjects, spent his fair share of time posing (sometimes nude, sometimes not) for the cameras of Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber, and Steven Meisel. Perhaps these experiences are what help him to connect with the models he photographs. Although, he admits, he’s not sure exactly how it happens, Sorrenti forges an intimate bond with his subjects; he creates an ease on set that translates into raw intensity on the page. This is precisely what we see in the Pirelli calendar, which, released Dec. 6, the photographer titled “Swoon.”
Inaugurated in 1964, the seductive calendar is only gifted to an exclusive list of celebrities and Pirelli’s VIPs. In previous years, its pages, always graced by scantily clad (if that) supermodels and starlets, have been snapped by greats like Hans Feurer, Peter Lindberg, Mario Testino and Karl Lagerfeld. Needless to say, that’s a pretty intimidating list of predecessors. But shooting the likes of Isabeli Fontana, Natasha Poly and yes, Kate Moss, in the ethereal wilderness of Corsica, Sorrenti—who is, funnily enough, the first Italian photographer ever to shoot the calendar—more than held his own. Milla Jovovich, Lara Stone, and Joan Smalls become one with the landscape as they perch beneath the soft shadows of branches or arch across jagged cliffs. Clothed in nothing but their own skin and flecks of sunlight, each of Sorrenti’s 12 sirens radiate an empowered elegance and pure sexuality. Here, the mega-photographer talks to Interview about playing in the nude, the calendar, and his “very personal” new project.
KATHARINE ZARRELLA: What do you feel separates your work from that of other photographers? What are you all about?
MARIO SORRENTI: I don’t know! [laughs] Those are questions that you should ask other people. I mean, I guess my work is described a lot of the time as very sensual and sexy. When I take a picture, I’m very focused on trying to discover something about a person. Or about an idea. I try to be quite successful at it.
ZARRELLA: Now, you were born in Italy and grew up in New York. Considering the idea of a New York woman and the idea of an Italian woman are both very strong in different ways, how do you feel that has influenced your perspective?
SORRENTI: Good question. They’re very different. I try not to let the material aspects of different cultures distract me from getting to the essence of the person I’m photographing. Whether it’s a man or a woman. Wherever they’re from, I try not to let social status or cultural background affect me or affect the person. I strip all those things away to get down to the essence of the human being, the person, the woman and what her beauty may be, whether it’s sexuality, whether it’s sadness or a pain or a smile or happiness. I focus on and tune into whatever it may be that seems to be quite powerful in that person at the moment. The essential part of who they are as a person, that’s what I focus on. Even when I’m doing a fashion picture, I still try and go beyond the clothes or beyond the handbag to reach the person.
ZARRELLA: How do you achieve that? Would you say you have a method or do you think you have a natural connection with your subjects?
SORRENTI: It’s not a method. It’s just a relationship. It’s a communication that’s very natural. We talk about it. I talk about the things that are not important to me in the photograph and the things that I would like to focus on. I try to make the subject very comfortable so they’re able to feel at ease and reveal themselves and so on. There has to be some trust on both ends. I think somehow the subject comes to trust me or I need to win that trust. I don’t know how it happens. I just direct them slowly away from the things that might be making them nervous or whatever might be in our way at the moment.
ZARRELLA: Obviously you’re famous for your nudes. Do you remember the first time you saw a naked woman?
SORRENTI: To be honest with you, when I was young, my mother and my father were hippies and we grew up naked. We’d spend most of our summers running around naked on the beach. Until I was 9, 10 years old, I remember just being naked on the beach and stuff. I’ve always been surrounded by nudity. I’ve never had a problem with it.
ZARRELLA: Speaking of your childhood, you began documenting your life through photographs when you were young. Can you tell me a bit about that?
SORRENTI: I started taking pictures when I was 18 and basically, the first thing that I started to do was to photograph the people who were around me. I was so obsessed with photography at the time that I carried a camera with me everywhere, 24 hours a day. I just took thousands and thousands of pictures of everybody around me—friends, girlfriends, whatever was happening, I always had my camera on me. I did that until about 10 years ago, and then I just stopped. I had kids and there seemed to be no more time, and I stopped carrying a camera around.
ZARRELLA: Would you ever pick that up again?
SORRENTI: Yeah. I think about it all the time. Because when I’m walking down the street, I see something, or when I’m in an elevator or somewhere, I always see these incredible things happening, these moments, these photographs, and I’m always like, “Damn, I’ve got to start carrying my camera around with me again.” I should do something that’s about these moments that you see randomly when you’re walking around. So yeah,I would like to do that again.
ZARRELLA: The list of photographers who have shot the Pirelli calendar is quite prestigious. And it includes Bruce Weber, who you’ve noted is one of your mentors. What was your reaction when you learned you’d be shooting the calendar?
SORRENTI: I was super excited, and the funny thing is that it’s been a couple of years in the making. They contacted me a few times before this and it didn’t end up happening. And I was quite let down when it didn’t happen. And when they said, “Oh, we’d like to meet again, we’d like to talk again,” I was like, “Oh, OK. One more time.” And then when they decided to go with me, I was super excited.
ZARRELLA: Do you know what happened the first few times, or was it just not in the stars?
SORRENTI: I guess so. Maybe they didn’t feel at the time that what I wanted to do was appropriate for them. I don’t know what it might have been. I have no idea.
ZARRELLA: You were recently quoted as saying that you didn’t want the calendar’s images to be sexy. How, in your opinion, do you make a gaggle of naked supermodels not appear sexy?
SORRENTI: It’s funny, because I’ve realized that that’s a very personal view. A lot of people have come up to me and said that the images are very sexy. When I was taking the photographs, I realized that I could do something really over-the-top, something that really pushed the sexuality aspect of the shoot. I was going to use clothes to heighten [the sexuality] even more by not revealing so much, or wetting the clothes and doing all that stuff. I started doing that the first day and then as the day went on we said, okay, let’s just try doing some nudes and we took all the clothes away and focused on the body. Sometimes it was very sculptural. Sometimes it was just very simple. I didn’t want to focus on the obvious sexuality of the woman. I was more interested in the anatomy and the beauty of the figure and shape; if the muscles were tensing or something like that. I wanted to let [the photographs] be something that came from the model in her own way as well. I didn’t want to take the models too much out of their own skin. I realized that I wanted to create a marriage between who the person was, the nature, the beauty in the figure, and how the models sat or posed themselves. And as the six days progressed, I slowly started getting closer and closer to that.
ZARRELLA: There’s a beautiful delicacy and subtlety to the images. Do you think that working in a natural environment helped you achieve that?
SORRENTI: Absolutely. I wanted the models to be influenced by their environment. I wanted that serenity to be shared. And I wanted there to be a marriage between the beauty of the landscape and the models’ beauty.
ZARRELLA: You posed nude during your time as a model. What was that like, and do you feel that having had that experience helps you connect with your subjects?
SORRENTI: Like I said, I’ve always been very comfortable being nude. I’ve done a lot of self-portraits that are nude, and I’ve posed nude for other photographers. Even when I was modeling, I loved the whole creative process and I really enjoyed being part of an artist’s creative process. I could understand what they were trying to do, and what they were trying to achieve with the photographs and I really enjoyed being part of that. I worked with photographers like Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, and Richard Avedon when I was a model and I was really young. I was only 18 or 19 years old. And it made me understand how incredible these talented artists were and it inspired me. I remembered thinking to myself, “Wow, will I ever be able to have a kind of effect on the subject where they want to become part of my work so completely?”
ZARRELLA: How do you make your models feel so comfortable? There’s that image of you shooting Milla Jovovich for the calendar, and she’s so connected with you. It seems like a very powerful relationship.
SORRENTI: I know Milla very well. I went out with Milla for a couple years when I was 22, so the relationship between Milla and I is quite familiar. It’s easy to connect with somebody like Milla. And it’s easy to connect with Kate [Moss] because we’ve had relationships together before. But when I work with somebody that I haven’t worked with before, like Margareth [Madè], I had never photographed her before, so I told everybody to leave and we started taking the photographs. I think the subject senses what I’m trying to achieve. I think they know what I’m trying to get out of them and once they understand that, they understand that I’m not trying to take advantage of them or to rob them of anything, but that I’m just trying to capture something quite beautiful, something that they’re going to be happy with. I don’t want to upset anybody with the photographs. I don’t want the models to feel misunderstood, and I don’t want them to do anything that they don’t want to do. It seems like [the models] naturally let go of their defenses. They understand the photographs and they want to be a part of them and to try and make them better. With Margareth, we started with clothes and then she realized what I was looking for and she said, “You know what, I feel totally comfortable. I don’t need to wear the dress.” And it was great. I think [the models] feel better about the photographs of themselves when they’re completely in the photograph instead of holding back.
ZARRELLA: They’ve got to let loose.
SORRENTI: Yeah. It just becomes a great experience for them. Just as it’s a great experience for me to take the pictures.
ZARRELLA: Why did you choose to shoot these particular models and actresses for the calendar? And how do you choose your subjects in general?
SORRENTI: It’s instinctive. I meet somebody and there’s something about that person that I find attractive. I always like to meet the people I’m going to photograph. I need to have a conversation. I need to feel a vibe. I need to see what’s going on in the person. I’m not just interested in physical beauty. I really need a personality.
ZARRELLA: Who do you feel has had the biggest impact on your career and your development as a photographer?
SORRENTI: I think it’s definitely been Kate Moss. She’s had the biggest impact on my career.
ZARRELLA: Why Kate Moss?
SORRENTI: I think it’s… I don’t know why. I think it’s because we went out when we were kids, and we were able to do all those pictures for Calvin Klein that were super successful and that sort of launched me as a photographer. That was the beginning, and it set a standard of what could be achieved as far as success and beauty in my photographs.
ZARRELLA: Where do you go for inspiration? Is there anything that constantly inspires you?
SORRENTI: I watch films a lot. I buy a ton of photography books and art books. I get excited by everything around me, from things that I see on the street to [art] exhibitions. I work all the time and I’m doing tons and tons of pictures a day and sometimes I get to a point where I’m like, “Fuck. I’m drained. I’m really wiped out. I don’t know what the hell to do.” And I’ll just go to a museum and I get inspired. My batteries get recharged. I want to go out and do something and create something again.
ZARRELLA: What’s recharged your batteries lately?
SORRENTI: Well I went to see an incredible, mind-blowing Gerhard Richter show at the Tate Modern in London, and it really blew me away. I love things that expand our consciousness of what we know in imagery and how to look at things. And that show did that for me. Even though I knew a lot of the work already, just seeing it there on the walls made me realize that there are so many incredible ways to have a visual conversation. It’s so inspiring.
ZARRELLA: Can you tell me about one of your most memorable sittings?
SORRENTI: I can tell you about a great evening when I was shooting Natasha Poly for Pirelli. I love Natasha. She’s amazing and she’s always been so incredibly giving. The whole day, we did so many beautiful pictures and we went into the evening, into the dusk and everybody was super happy. When we were done taking photographs, we made a big fire on the beach and we all were drinking some beers and wine and hanging out and this huge full moon started to rise over the mountains and the ocean. It was just so beautiful. And we started taking pictures again. It was such a beautiful night and the light from the fire was incredible.
ZARRELLA: Did you use any of those images for the calendar or were they personal pictures?
SORRENTI: I didn’t use any for the calendar because they didn’t really fit with what we were doing, but they’re amazing pictures. They’re great. And I’ll probably use them one day for something.
ZARRELLA: What did you hope to achieve through this project, and do you think that you got there?
SORRENTI: I was just trying to do the best job that I could. I think when you’re in that moment and you’re given something, you say “Okay, what can I do with this?” And I just tried to do the best that I could and hopefully people enjoy it. That’s the only thing that I can really hope is that people enjoy the photographs as much as we enjoyed making them.
ZARRELLA: Do you have any upcoming projects that you can share with us?
SORRENTI: I’m working on a book of a collection of Polaroids from the last 15 years, ranging from fashion work to family stuff. I think it’s supposed to come out in the spring. It definitely goes a lot behind the scenes. It’s 15 years of my life, so [all the images are] powerful to me. It’s very personal.