After photographing Michela De Rossi over the summer, Sophie Elgort sat down with her over Zoom to hear all about her life - from where and how she grew up to how she landed the role of Guiseppina in The Many Saints of Newark and lots in between. They also spoke about how she doesn’t like the word “talent”, that one time she went to 53 callbacks, how she prepares for her roles and gets into character and what her next dream role would be.
Sophie Elgort: So where are you now?
Michela De Rossi: I’m in Rome. I live in Rome. I’m in the center of the city. It’s a choice - it’s kind of Manhattan.
SE: Are you a city girl?
MD: I don’t really know. I like both. I like the country, all the green, but when I work I prefer to be in the city.
SE: I love the city, I grew up in the city so I always like the fact that you can just walk out the door and you’re in the middle of something. Where did you grow up?
MD: I grew up in Rome, my mom she’s from Sicily, and my grandma too. My dad is from Rome and I grew up in Rome. I’m a real one (laughs). In the center. This is my neighborhood. I love to be here.
SE: Did you grow up with any brothers or sisters?
MD: Yes I have a brother, he’s kind of a genius. He’s 23 now and he lived in Shanghai for four years and he graduated over there. So he speaks Chinese and English like how he speaks Italian. So he’s kind of a young businessman - numbers and...
SE: Such a different track from you. Did you always know growing up that you wanted to act? I know you did a lot of dance too.
MD: Yeah yeah I danced. I didn’t know how, but I wanted to speak to people, to bring messages. When I graduated from high school, I just thought I don’t want to go to University, I want to do something with my body. Maybe I want to act.
SE: So were you acting already in high school or did you start after?
MD: No, there was the choice to do that, but I didn’t like it, I don’t know why. Maybe because of the people. I didn’t like to be in the school where I was. So I just refused, thinking maybe it’s not interesting because of the people who are doing it. So I just did the exams for all the drama schools in Italy when I graduated from high school and the first one who chose me, I went there.
SE: And was your family supportive of your choice?
MD: Yes they were and this is the most important thing, I think that it’s important for your parents to believe in you and support you.
SE: Yes I agree. So you guys are still very close?
MD: Yes, we are. They are so proud.
SE: And for the beginnings of your career after school what was the first thing that you did?
MD: I did three years of drama school and I graduated and then I started to do mostly theater. I come from there. And I remember I just wanted to do theater. I just wanted to be on the stage, I didn’t think about movies or television. I did theater for two or three years and then I had this bad experience in an audition, like six months or more of callbacks. I did like 53 callbacks. Yeah I know, it’s crazy, I didn’t have agents, I was young so I just did everything and then they chose a famous actress so I was so sad. And I remember the casting director, she said, no I’m gonna find you an agent, so she helped me and then I met my agents. And from that moment, everything started. Auditions, and the first movies and television.
SE: Do you think when you have the right agent they believe in you and they help you develop or what do they do for you?
MD: It’s like a balance between fortune and people who believe in you.
SE: And talent too. Your talent.
MD: I don’t like that word, I don’t like the word talent. I believe in talent, but I think that we need to be prepared and to study. You know what I mean? You can read everywhere, “we discovered talents, we have new talents,” and it’s sort of like “we found something which existed.”
SE: But you put in that preparation and work to make it exist. That’s a really good point. So tell me about this movie that you have been working on and is almost coming out, how did that happen for you and what was the first thing you heard about it when you got the role. Tell me about your first audition.
MD: It’s been amazing because I didn’t expect it. So I just self-taped myself from Italy and one month later they called me in person in Rome. The Italian casting director saw like 40 actresses in Rome and then two months later I was in the theater, seeing a show, it was like 10 pm and my agent called me like laughing saying, you’re not going to believe it, but you’re gonna go to New York City tomorrow morning for a chemistry test. I did this last audition with Alessandro Nivola in front of kind of everyone, Alan Taylor and David Chase and the casting directors and someone from the production. So we worked for like two hours and then I just said goodbye, I’m gonna go back to Rome and Alan asked me, do you have something to do? And I said, I don’t know, I’m waiting for another response. And he said, okay, have a great flight, bye. And I went in the elevator and I went in the car and he called me back on the phone, saying, we want you to be her - like ten minutes later. And I screamed and I said okay okay! So I had a great flight back.
SE: And then how soon after did you start?
MD: Then I had one month to read the script and study and prepare all the stuff for the visa, the applications, everything - it’s been a big deal because I was in New York for four months and a half more or less.
SE: Before this happened had you ever watched the series The Sopranos?
MD: No, no - I didn’t. I just had heard about it because everyone knows The Sopranos in Italy. We didn’t watch it, we just knew it existed and it was huge. So when they chose me I watched the whole thing in like three weeks. And I asked myself, why I didn’t watch it before. I loved it.
SE: And then how did you prepare for the film? You watched the original series, but how else did you prepare for the film?
MD: I watched the original series, but the thing is, my character is a new one. So I thought okay now I have to find a way to bring myself into a world that exists. How can I bring a new character into the Sopranos world? I think the costumes and the hair and makeup and everything were perfect so maybe it’s just me, I like to wear the costumes to see where I am and then I start to create someone new. When I had the script I didn’t know how to create Josephine, I just started to do that with the others, with David Chase and mostly on set. I did inform myself about everything, the history things and the period, but she was born on set.
SE: Is that how you always prepare for things or is it different for each?
MD: Yeah I think so. I’m kind of an animal - I need to be there to start to think or create. Of course I prepare myself on paper with appointments I have to do, but the big part of the work I do, that’s on set.
SE: And what was it like working with the cast of the film?
MD: It’s been a very great school because I learned about different methods and different backgrounds and I acted with actors who did a lot of movies before. So you can feel the difference and it’s been exciting. I remember Alessandro Nivola, he has his method and it’s so much different than mine. But we found a way to be together and I think we did it.
SE: Is it just a different type of acting method or just the way he prepares?
MD: Yeah it’s a different kind of acting. The way you repeat the lines, the way you are when you have a closeup. Everyone has his technique.
SE: I can’t wait to see you in it, and now thinking about what you’ve said. See how it is with the other actors. Was it fun playing your role?
MD: Yeah it’s been so fun and it’s been a challenge definitely. Because she has a big arch and I think the thing I loved most has been the script, because when you have a great script you can do a lot. David Chase did a great job. So you can feel it when you repeat the lines, when you do rehearsals, the scenes, they worked.
SE: And have you seen the film yet?
MD: Yeah I saw it. It was one of the things I did after we shot (this story for Visual Tales). Two days after, I saw a screening in New York.
SE: And then just generally, what are your favorite movies?
MD: Okay I love a lot of different things, but I can say that for example Paul Thomas Anderson, he’s one of my favorite directors. Asghar Farhadi - I don’t know if you know him, he’s Iranian he also won an Oscar some years ago. I love French movies and old Italian movies. Tarantino. I just love great performances. I love cinema, so I have a long list of movies.
SE: What would be your dream role? Is there a specific role from a story or a book that you would love to play?
MD: Yes I have kind of a dream, which is to do a biopic because I love to imitate and I would like to work on someone who really existed. To completely change myself to be someone who I can study, I can watch, I can copy. And one of these people, there are a few, but one is definitely Audrey Hepburn.
SE: I can see you playing her.
MD: Because she was a dancer and she completely changed history in her way. In a way maybe we don’t know her. She was very melancholic and she had a sad life. She would be interesting to play.
SE: I just saw the Rolling Stone cover shoot. Congratulations. Of course as a photographer I’m interested to hear about the shoot. How was that, where did you shoot it and how was the shoot? To have all of you on the same cover it was such a cool idea, pretty unique.
MD: Yeah so iconic. We shot it in Los Angeles in Milk Studios. And it was amazing because we were all there together, hugging each other, catching up on everything. We wanted to talk to each other, so everyone was late to everything. The press office was like, come here, we need to work. It was like a family reunion. I remember there was the dog of Jon Bernthal, so he was kind of a protagonist of the day and also we had an excellent team. Wow.
SE: And what is coming up for you next after all of this or maybe the better question is what have you been working on since?
MD: Yeah because of Covid, I shot this movie more than two years ago. I did my first movie as the main role here in Italy. Then I shot the Django series, which is an international production from Sky and Canal+. We shot in Romania in Transylvania. It’s the Django plot, the one from the old movie. It’s a western series, there are some great actors in it. And then I’m going to shoot another movie here in Italy and I’m waiting for this movie (Many Saints of Newark) to come out because, you know. I would love to continue to work over there - in the USA.
SE: How is it different shooting when you’re speaking in English vs Italian?
MD: It’s so much different, you can hear it now while we’re talking, you can feel I want to say a lot of things, but I have a different background of words.
SE: You speak very well, but I just wonder, it must be different. Do you think in English or do you think in Italian?
MD: I think now I think in both languages. But I remember when I came to New York for the first time, I didn’t speak at all. So I’ve learned in this two years, doing conversation. But it’s so different to act in English, it’s so hard. If you say “hard”, for you, it’s years of that word in your life. When I say the same word in Italian, it’s the same thing for me. When I say “hard” in English, it’s just a new word, which means another word. So this is an example I love to give. The more times I will use a word, the more that word will be something to me. So it’s just, I need to speak English as much as I can.
SE: Did you speak Italian in the film?
MD: Yes yes of course I did. Also in the movie I speak Neapolitan, which is different than Italian.
SE: Did you speak that already?
MD: No, no. That was a third language to learn.
SE: Now you’re sounding like your brother! Well I’m so excited to see it, I just can’t wait. I’m excited about our pictures too, I think we did a nice shoot together.
MD: I love the pictures we did.
SE: Well thank you so much again and I hope our paths cross again soon.