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Quentin Tarantino’s much-anticipated movie “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood” evokes nostalgia for a moment or reality that never happened. But Chilean actress Lorenza Izzo—who plays Leonardo DiCaprio’s bombshell wife on screen—says that this film tells an intimate story about the end of a golden age that can feel emotionally true for fans.
“It was such a glorious time in the sense of glamour,” Izzo told NBC News. “I’m a big fan of actresses like Sofia Loren. They were larger-than-life, sensual symbols, and became icons for everyone.”
Izzo plays the Italian actress Francesca Capucci, who was inspired by Loren and other 1960s Italian divas and sex symbols like Claudia Cardinale and Monica Vitti. She meets and then marries Rick Dalton (played by DiCaprio) while on set in Italy.
“Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood” focuses mainly on the relationship between Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt) who struggle on the fringes of the movie industry. Dalton is a fading TV star who makes guest appearances as a bad guy on different western shows. And he reluctantly accepts a strange offer to work on a movie in Rome, which could potentially make or break his career.
Dalton will remind spaghetti western fans of real-life actors like Clint Eastwood, who co-starred in the 1960s western TV series “Rawhide”. Eastwood similarly accepted an offer for a small budget Italian western that was filmed in Spain. And this movie, “A Fistful of Dollars”, ultimately made him an international star.
Izzo says that these Italian westerns sometimes copied or imitated movies produced in the United States. Spaghetti western fans will similarly point out that “A Fistful of Dollars” was an unauthorized remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”.
But the low budgets and remote locations also attracted diverse casts and crews who spoke different languages on and off camera. And in the case of Tarantino’s ninth film, which cost approximately $90 million to make, Izzo’s Italian-speaking character made her think about that 1960s diversity and the hidden connections that transform Hollywood into a global brand.
“I’m Chilena 1,000 percent. And culturally I identify as Latina,” the actress said. “But sometimes when you travel to other places you feel a weird connection. Certain countries make you feel at home; like there is something there that understands you. Italy is one of those places for me. And that made diving into Francesca’s Italian-speaking character feel very close.”
Tarantino’s film takes place mostly in the warm sunlit streets of Hollywood during the summer of 1969—the same year when members of the Manson family murdered actress Sharon Tate (almost nine months pregnant) and four other people.
On screen, Tate (played by Margot Robbie) and her husband Roman Polanski (played by Rafal Zawierucha) live at the end of a gated driveway just above their neighbor Dalton. And while the characters admire each other from a distance, Tarantino uses the tension between counterculture hippies and the cowboy-gentleman values of Dalton and Booth to expose the differences between younger and older generations.
In real life, Polanski’s groundbreaking film “Rosemary’s Baby” premieres just one year before the 1969 timeline of Tarantino’s movie. And in many ways, it embodies hippie counterculture—criticizing how both religion and society restrict women, while building dread, terror and suspense to dramatize the tension that this imbalance creates between men and women.
But for viewers who are looking for a historically accurate biopic about the Manson murders and the end of big studio Hollywood, Tarantino will surprise them. The camera follows Tate, Booth and Dalton, sometimes elevating their simple movements into art or poetry, especially in a world where saying less and doing more is falling out of fashion.
Izzo says that while Hollywood today has become more inclusive and is blending the lines between men and women, race and religion, there is still much left to do.
“A few years ago Latina actresses were playing cleaning ladies and hot young moms,” she told NBC News. “Today there are many more opportunities, but we are still one of the most underrepresented communities in Hollywood. And yet the highest [movie] ticket-paying group is Latino.”