Art and Experience: Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, who star in Paolo Virzi’s English-language debut, “The Leisure Seeker,” shared their love of Italian cinema Friday and their experience working with Virzi on a film that scratches beneath the surface of American life.
Mirren and Sutherland star in the film as a runaway couple who embark on a cross-country journey from Boston to the Florida Keys in their vintage camper to escape from the suffocating care of their doctors and grown children.
“I think there is a moment when a foreign eye is a wonderful eye to put upon a culture or a country – it gives a depth and a face. A foreign director looking at American culture, American life and landscape, has an eye which is fresh and individual, and I think that’s a powerful eye that Paolo brought to this particular movie,” said Mirren.
“He brought his vision, his humanity and sense of humor that you see in his other movies. ‘Leisure Seeker’ is very much a Paolo Virzi movie – couldn’t be made by anybody else,” the Oscar-winning actress added.
Sutherland recalled his experience working with Federico Fellini on “Fellini’s Casanova” in 1976 and compared it with his recent collaboration with Virzi.
The Fellini film “was an elemental part of what we all over the world understood as Italian cinema,” and “making this film, with the crew, we felt that we were a part of Italian cinema,” Sutherland said.
But the actor added that the fact “Leisure Seeker” was directed by an Italian helmer didn’t make the story any less universal.
“It seemed like an extraordinary vision of truth and understanding of a particular condition that I was very familiar with and that Helen is familiar with, and it seemed like the best idea in the world,” he said.
Mirren also reflected on her character, Ella, who is suffering from terminal cancer and said she was inspired by Ella’s thirst for life and courage in the face of illness.
“It’s a reflection of how I hope to live my life because she is facing the end of her life and she’s full of energy, commitment, pleasure in life that I hope that I can maintain to the end of my days,” said Mirren.
Alluding to her recent role in “Collateral Beauty,” Mirren said she had recently played death and that it was “important that [her portrayal of] death was as full of life as possible.”
American politics was also part of the presser, with reference to the Donald Trump campaign rally scene in “The Leisure Seeker.”
“When we filmed that rally for the current president of the United States we never thought for a moment that he was going to be president of the United States,” Sutherland declared, adding after a pause that what he just said “was not a political statement. It was just a comment on fact.”