I found Lara on line searching for blogs about London, my second favourite city after Rome. She has called her blog London Calling and this led me to discover her world. Her irony and vivid style immediately caught my attention.Then I went back several times and I found out, little by little, how special she is. Lara Parmiani is an Italian actress living between Italy and London. She is totally bilingual and has experience in film, TV, theatre and voice over. She's even a published writer.
I thought it would be nice to let you all know her and her work in my space dedicated to MY BLOGGER BUDDIES : WOMEN, READERS, WRITERS , FRIENDS and , from today on, also … ACTRESSES!
So, Lara, it is a bit strange to speak English between us since we are both Italian but, as my readers are mostly English speakers, we’ll have to do it. And it seems you don’t have any problem at all! First let me say it’s a great pleasure to have you as a guest on my blog . Then, I’d like to start by asking ... you live and work in England, in London. When did you start and why?
Like most things in my life living in London wasn’t really a decision, it kind of happened little by little. After graduating from Accademia Dei Filodrammatici – the oldest drama school in Italy – I started auditionning for theatre shows and films; but most castings were fake, talent wasn’t really the main factor... I did lots of “dubbing”, some children TV and a couple of shows but I felt condemned to being just a “voice in the shadow”. Not that I don’t like voice over work, it’s fun, but I wanted more. But all doors were shut. I’m 1mt55, flat chested and I’ve always looked way younger than my age. Quite intellectual and a feminist... Not exactly the type that’s so popular in Rome!
By the way Maria Grazia, you mention Rome as your favorite city, well, I’m afraid I equal Rome with hell. A place for lost souls, corruption and sin. I hate it. Of course it’s beautiful but it’s so fake, so rotting, nothing works, nobody takes you seriously, and it’s still terribly provincial. Then one summer, I think in 1994, my singing teacher, who was from London, suggested I should do a short musical theatre course at Central School of Speech and Drama, just as an experience. I’m also a singer so I thought it’d be fun. I had only been in London once before, in 1986, on an EF language holiday and I’d found it a bit scary, full of punks and skinned heads. But when I arrived in 1994 I immediately felt so free and happy. Free even in the silliest things. For instance, I’ve an insane passion for clothes, but not for labels, for original, creative stuff; in Italy everyone wears the same style, colour, shape, they’re all obsessed with labels...
In Britain people play with clothes, create an image, have fun, experiment, mix second hand with couture, charity shop stuff with H&M, their granny’s hats with Topshop... I adored that! And of course the theatre scene was amazing, shows at every corner, and actors seemed to get much more respect than in Italy. However, I didn’t dare just saying, ok, I’m going to give up on everything and move here. It’s not me. I’m like an octopus, very rooted to the place I belong to, like a turtle who needs to carry her whole world with her on her back... I wanted to be in London but also to make sure it wouldn’t be a traumatic cut, that I could still go back, that I wouldn’t loose “my” people and also the only secure source of income I had: dubbing. So I went back to Milan and for a year I studied English at the British Council while continuing with my voice over work. Then in 1997 I returned to London and spent two months here. Then back to Milan, then again back to London. Then to Milan and back... For about 3 or 4 years I lived like that, as a commuter so to speak. In late 1999 I got my first part in a show, it was a musical, The King and I. So I stayed longer. I rented a proper room in an absurd house that I shared with absurd people... But even after that, I never stopped “commuting”, even though I would be gradually spending more time in the UK than Italy. By 2002 instead of being a Milanese who visited London once a month I had become a Londoner who visited Milan once a month. But it was so gradual that even my friends and family didn’t really notice that I wasn’t living in Italy anymore!!!
Even now that I own my own flat in London I keep returning to Milan at least once a month to “dub” cartoons and of course my dear GUIDING LIGHT (Sentieri in Italian. It’s going to end forever!!! In the US it’s already closed! How am I going to live without Lizzie Spaulding???) Sometimes it’s tiring, but it allows me to keep in touch with friends and family and to keep being considered as one of the voices of Italian TV, which is quite important professionally. (Listen to Lara/Lizzie in this clip)
2. What are the pros and cons of living in London?
London is one of the most truly multicultural cities in the world, and this is great. In Italy, even the most open minded people are somehow suspicious of what’s “different”. A stupid example: most Italians only eat Italian food. In London, when somebody takes you out for dinner, they always ask “which kind of food would you like tonight?” Because it’s normal that once you eat Thai, once Indian, once American, once Italian etc. More seriously, many Italians, at least the ones over the age of 25, don’t have friends who belong to different cultures, races, backgrounds. This generates prejudice. In London people come from everywhere. No matter where you work, your colleagues will be Asian, Oriental, African, West Indians. If a black man and a white woman walk hand in hand, nobody stares at them. If two men kiss in the street, nobody cares. Same with two women. I think every young Italian person should spend a compulsory year here, a sort of military service to open the mind. As an artist, London offers so much. It is a crucible of ideas, people, trends, because of this feeling of freedom, and this absence of preset rules. Of course London has also many problems. Public services are terrible – hospitals, schools, public transport... I don’t know why foreigners thinks the UK is this perfect place where everything works, well, perhaps in Victorian times, but try and get an urgent medical appointment, or try and cross the city by Tube at the weekend and you’ll change your mind immediately! But what worries me the most is seeing how social and moral values have almost disappeared in certain areas of society, leading to broken families, the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the Western world, and gang culture. The idea of tight communities where people look out for each other – like in Italy – doesn’t exist in London. Italian families can be a bore sometimes, everyone wants to know your business, but they offer a strong social, emotional and financial infrastructure.
Last year hundreds of kids were victim of knife crimes. 30% of kids between 11 and 15 get regularly drunk more than once a week. Alcholism is a problem even among “grown up” people, rich people, in the City, among bankers, if you don’t drink you’re an outsider for instance. On the personal relationships side, London is so huge, it might take up to 2 hours to cross it. It can be very tiring. It makes keeping relationships very hard. The British are not very open, they’re kind but keep to themselves, they don’t talk to you, which for a foreigner can be hard, as one can feel very isolated. And the weather personally drives me insane, even though it’s not true London is cold, for instance ( it’s much milder than Milan), and it’s not true that in London it rains all the time. The problem is, London is cold and rainy at the WRONG time of the year! In winter one has very dry lovely day, and in July and August it keeps raining. It makes me want to kill somebody! From April through October is pretty much the same season, which is so sad. I miss summer!!! Hot hot hot summer.
In general, lots of people come to London looking for dreams, for themselves, for a better life, but often they find solitude and disappointment. It’s typical of all big metropolis. There are lots of angry people around.
2. When did you understand you WERE an actress?
3. What are the works you’ve done so far you love most? And the one you dream about?
“He knew he was right” as it was such a huge set, with all those costumes, and people running around. And I had my own driver who picked me up in the morning! Very posh... I dream about doing Chechov with a great director. I know I’ll never work with my idol Peter Brook as he’s too old and I’m too unknown, but my goal is to work at that level, with that amount of passion. And I’d love to do a film with Meryl Streep of course. Just to watch her and learn. She’s amazing.
4. What are you currently doing?
5. People who visit my blog love books, especially classics. What about you? What kind of reader are you ? What are your favourite authors and books?
Ann Pratchett (Run and Belcanto are fantastic books), Lionel Shriver (We need to talk about Kevin is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in the past 10 years), Carol Shields, Anne Tyler, Joyce Carol Oates... They manage to talk about “big things” through very small, every day stories. I used to love Hanif Kureishi, especially his tales of lost men in grim contemporary London, but recently he’s become repetitive. Same for Mc Ewan, I prefer his early work. I appreciate the American Paul Aulster and of course Philip Roth. I love also some Japanese writers like Kazuo Ishiguro, and Murakami. There’s something surreal and melancholic about their writing. I’m currently reading “Half a yellow sun” by a Nigerian writer - another beautiful book. I haven’t read the classics in a very long time I must confess. I love them, I read all Jane Austen, George Eliot etc when I first arrived in England but, as I said, I now prefer books whose symbolism and message can throw a ray of light on my life, whose main characters I can identify with.
6. You are also a writer. Then tell us something about your writing.
I started writing and reading at 4 years old and never stopped, really. Writing has always been a part of me, I kept a diary for years and years, and perhaps because it’s such an intimate and special part of my life I never really tried to find a job where I would be “forced” to write, like journalism or script writer. Even though I’d like to have more stuff published sometimes I think that if I had a publisher and an agent and the pressure to write a book a year I’d stop enjoying it... When I started writing “seriously” in my 20s, I used to write poetry. I was influenced by Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson, by Alda Merini and other “tormented souls”... Some of the stuff I came up with wasn’t bad, but it was mainly a way to express my “angst”, my frustration and unhappiness rather than a research on words, sounds, rythms. I love images, I love writing through images, and in that sense my writing is poetic. But real Poetry is more than pure imagery. It’s precision of rythms, assonances, its’ painstaking search for the right sound, noun, verb. It required almost mathematical precision and endless concentration. I’m too “random” for that. Too undisciplined. My attention span is quite short. I’m either good at something straight away or I quit. I’m not the type that will spend a week on a verse, it’d run me mad. I’ve done it occasionally with my short stories, I can hear the narrating voice in my head while I write – almost a voice over reading aloud my words – and if the rythm doesn’t work I get stuck and frustrated and I can’t continue until I found the right sentence. But with poetry every verse is like that and it’d drive me insane. For a while I was stuck, trying to understand what to write. I had lots of stories in me but I feared they weren’t important enough, that nothing happened and that my voice was too light and ironic, unable to express real drama, violence, passion. I had this idea that to be a great writer one had to be “profound” and talk about big things. Salinger was a great discovery. He saved me! He talked about very important, personal, universal stuff, but without ever loosing lightness, without doing a close-up on tragedy. I realised that there were a series of American writers who didn’t write sagas, just little moments of life. Carver, for instance. Joyce Carol Oates. Also my dear Virgina Woolf, despite being a totally different writer, always managed to keep a sense of detachment and irony. I realised that small details can tell as much as an epic scene. That nothing is purely mundane. My first collection of stories was called “Con minime varianti” and was never published as a collection even though a couple of stories appeared on Italian magazines. When I came to England I went to a period of silence. From time to time I’d write a short story in Italian, but being surrounded by a new language meant I didn’t know how to speak anymore. How to write. It’s so weird moving abroad. You have to learn how to speak again, like a toddler. They say children from bilingual parents don’t speak as early as other kids as they need some time to find their bearings, to realise they can actually speak two languages. It was like that for me. Then, all of a sudden, one day I opened my computer and started writing in English. At first it was frustrating. It was like painting with less colours, I knew WHAT I wanted to write but sometimes I didn’t have the right word to express it. But one can discover many things from being limited. Every word becomes a struggle, so every word becomes important. I weigh it, I consider it, I make sure it’s right. It’s not like writing in Italian. There’s no mocking about, there’s no writing without thinking. My acting and my writing are deeply related in this respect. When I acted in Italian sometimes, if I was tired, I could just “say” words, counting on my technique to come up with the right intonation. When I act in English, I can’t loose focus or I’d say the wrong thing. I always have to make sure I’m saying the right word, so every word becomes important, as it comes from deep inside. The difficulty of speaking in a different language made me a better actress, more grounded, exactly like having a more limited vocabulary has made me a better writer, I believe. And I discovered that I was full of interesting stories to tell, stories I’d taken for granted. Milan in the 70s, the industrial suburbs, the factories, the “Italian Stalingrad” where I grew up, the greyness of my city, terrorism... But also my mad family members, children games played in concrete little courtyards. An Italy that isn’t the stereotype foreigners have in mind. No latin lovers on scooters, no sunny Tuscany, no mafia, no green countryside and beautiful buildings. And then I discovered I had a series of stories related to the many lost souls I’ve met in London... So I came up with the idea of putting together a collection divided in two parts: stories set in contemporary London and stories set in Italy in the 70s and 80s. Don’t ask me when it’ll be finished because I don’t know...
I started the blog, London Calling, about 2 and a half years ago. I wanted to share my experience of a foreigner living in London. I’d like to be more consistent. Or perhaps choose some themes. I’m open to suggestions!!
7. Many of the people who drop by or regularly read my blog have an interest in period drama and costume films, just like me. What about you? Have you ever worked in a period drama or film? Would you like to do it?
As I told you, I worked in “He knew he was right” for the BBC. Brilliant! But in the editing they cut most of my scenes!!!! I shot for two weeks in Orvieto and one week at Elstree Studios in London... And all that was left was one scene where I just nodded a couple of times to my “master” (I was the peasant maid from Italy with pre-raphaelite looks...) and then said “no signore...” How disappointing! Well, better than Kevin Costner who in his first film, The big chill, saw all his scenes cut and just appeared as a corpse!!!
(Lara as Maria in He Knew He was Right)
8. Listen Lara… Ehm … I’ve recently discovered that the majority of the visits I receive here on Fly High are due to another interest of mine: neither books nor costume drama. You know, I write a weekly post about a colleague of yours who is quite popular in the blogosphere and the Net in general. He is not famous in Italy, I just happened to discover him by chance in 2008, buying a DVD from Amazon UK. I wanted to use it in my Victorian classes: BBC North and South 2004. Have you ever heard of … Richard Armitage? … Met him?
Do you know? You’d be great in a costume drama with him!
Are you sure ladies wouldn't notice this tall handsome guy shopping at Tesco's? I'd bet on it.
So you don’t know he has his own Army on line ( I’m not in the Army, neither the Armitage Army, since I am a convinced and committed pacifist), counting thousands of fans all over the world? You should check, anyhow. And, please Lara, if you should actually meet Richard -at Tesco's or anywhere else - give him my regards and best wishes. BTW, he is not loved by his fans for being attractive only but also extremely talented and extraordinarily hard-working, modest, humane and generous.
Now Lara, thank you for answering my questions and GOOD LUCK with your work. I’ll wait for you here. Not in Rome, then, but in my small town, Subiaco. They have shot lots of films here (i.e. Metello, Elisa Di Rivombrosa, Il grande sogno, Baciami ancora). Maybe … one day… Never say never!
What an interesting interview--and I've already bookmarked Lara's blog as I'm a big fan of London as well :)
The connection for me was The Guiding Light. I haven't watched it in years, but one of my best friends from college introduced me to the Spauldings, Baurs, et al and we became friends over lunch, watching GL. She will be so impressed that I've "met" the Italian Lizzie!
I found Lara's frustrations with Roman society interesting and sympathized, though my desire to visit Rome continues undiminished...:)
Thanks for sharing Lara's story with us.
It was great to see the comparison between Rome and London. I especially didn't know about the fashion trends. That's cool London can be so hodge podge. I love that.
Best of wishes for Lara and her acting/singing/writing career!
Oh my Gosh! I got the chills when I read the part about Lara having starred in He Knew he was Right. BBC period drama!!!!!! Holy Canoly. Maria, you are one top notch blogger to have gotten a hold of...an actress in a period drama! Oh my gosh. What an amazing interview. I especially loved the photo where Lara was wearing a half mask. I'm going to go watch He Knew he was Right--not only because I meant to watch it, but to watch Lara act in it. So excited!
Gosh, this is quite a LONG interview :-O Maybe too much. But I’ve been brave and I managed to read it all. I even had a look to her blog but… too wordy for me, and perhaps for the average random blog reader as well (not that authors mind about ‘random blog readers’, though).
It is interesting to hear a different p.o.v. on things you are interested in – such as London, drama, literature and so on-, but how sad to find it full of clichés. You can’t seriously believe that Italian tourists still only eat Italian food. Not anymore! First of all because of the globalisation, sadly most of them eat at the same foodchains they find everywhere; then because most Italian restaurants abroad serve awful stuff, and we tend to avoid them; thirdly because – believe it or not – we value the culture of difference, at least in countries where we can enjoy it. By the way, Italian restaurants are ‘in fashion’ in UK, and their customers are mostly british. We can’t but laugh at the way ‘all things Italian’ are ‘in’, because here it’s quite the opposite! Just have a look at that (trendy?) shop in Regent St. pompously called ‘Ciro Citterio’: maybe they think it’s the best of fashion, but Italians can’t but associate it with a well known brand of… salami!
I won’t comment on your guest’s impressions on Roma, these are the average northerner p.o.v. However, it’s interesting to know that we’d both choose London as a second hometown – well, in fact she already did it!
As for RA “not being among those British stars famous for being attractive”, I hand it to your guest because she obviously doesn’t read any of these rubbish magazines, nor watches any TV shows ;-P
Thanks for an interesting interview with an interesting persona.
Happy Valentines Day
I'm loving this series of interviews you are doing Maria. Such a thorough job and interesting insights!
Congrats you have been awarded!
Gosh Karen your found of a few clichés your self "Most Italian restaurants abroad serve awful stuff" being the biggest, and just the kind of provincial thinking Lara bemoans in her interview. If you like I can recommend many wonderful Italian eateries in London that are truly world class. As for your assertion that all things Italian are 'in' when it comes to cuisine, I think you'll find your bit out of date as Thai food is far more popular here in London.
Sorry if I sound picky just responding to the tone of your post which seems rather pedantic( it's too long, too wordy) too literate perhaps? Seemingly missing all the things it is. which in my opinion is a lovely insightful piece on and interesting talented dare I add attractive woman, or is that the problem... Bravo Maria.
Anonymous said: Gosh Karen your found of a few clichés your self "Most Italian restaurants abroad serve awful stuff" being the biggest, and just the kind of provincial thinking Lara bemoans in her interview.
I don't want to start a 'fight' at MG's place.
I only pointed out a couple of clichés, but Lara's post is full of them, not to talk about "provincial
thinking"!!! e.g. "Quite intellectual and a feminist... Not exactly the type that’s so popular in Rome!" ; "I equal Rome with hell. A place for lost souls, corruption and sin. I hate it."; "in Italy everyone wears the same style, colour, shape, they’re all obsessed with labels"... and I'm only referring to the first section of the interview.
Anonymous said: As for your assertion that all things Italian are 'in' when it comes to cuisine, I think you'll find
your bit out of date as Thai food is far more popular here in London.
I'm sorry, I wasn't talking about cuisine: in fact, I was referring to a shop window carrying an Italian-ish firm, while in Italy most shops show English names. Quite pathetic, IMHO. I'm well aware - and happy! - that Italian food isn't 'in' anymore, in UK at least... replaced by sushi, which is now almost out to date, replaced by thai and indian. As for your kind offer, yes, please, let me know: it might be useful to get suggestions about good italian eateries (eateries? :-O) abroad.
Anonymous said: Sorry if I sound picky just responding to the tone of your post which seems rather pedantic
(it's too long, too wordy) too literate perhaps?
It is not clear if by "literate" you're referring to MY post or to my comments on Lara's post. In the
latter case, I wouldn't call literate someone who says she "read all Jane Austen, George Eliot etc when first arrived in England", dismissing them as mere "novels about 18/19th century maids looking for the perfect marriage".
Anonymous said: which in my opinion is a lovely insightful piece on and interesting talented dare I add attractive
woman, or is that the problem.
LOLLL! Are you kidding?
Now, seriously, .............
I have to say Karen (and we are not fighting just engaged in lively discourse I hope) We seem to have read Lara's comments in a completely different way. She does not dismiss the works of Elliot and Austin merely applies a large does of irony in describing them as books about maids looking for husbands. A very British trait I may add that seems to have rubbed off on her.
In fact I think you miss the humour in most of the article which (having stumbled upon and since traced to her blog) seems to be a prevalent trait in her character. Her clearly tongue in cheek reflections on Rome as an actress (one could replace it with LA for industry shallowness) are obvious attempts at levity.
I think humour is the word and what you seemed to have missed. Also a note of praise to Maria, often bogging is a vapid exercise in poor writing about dull people with little to say. This article was breath of fresh air, well written fascinating character study about a captivating woman. Well done; mind you Karen seems quite a character perhaps you can do a piece on her! I'd read it but I am a bloke!
Well done Maria Grazia for finding interetsing people and generating debate!
As an Italian who lived in Berlin for a while I totally sympathize with Lara's views. I love Italy but it is provincial and sometimes suffocating. Especially for an artist. Also I think the great thing about these interviews is that they express personal point of views based on personal experiences. Our perception of cities like London or Rome change according to what we're looking for in life. Rome is lively and beautiful for instance but not multicultural, open, creative like London or Berlin, where I used to live. I'm no artist but I can imagine that Italy and Rome isn't the best place to be if you want to act or paint or be creative at this moment in time. Let's look at Italian TV... Maria Grazia keeps writing about BBC period drama and not RAi for a reason!
I suggest to read this week column by Natalia Aspesi in Il Venerdi' di repuibblica. she says women who wish to blossom should go and live in countries more democratic and less mysogonist than Italy.
I totaly agree. Unfortunately.
i visited your site n was good enough then othere site that i visited last month
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