New generation may be better prepared than predecessors

Italian thesps who have transcended the Bel Paese are few and far between, but this looks set to change as a growing number of the thirtysomething generation clinch parts — big and small — in international productions.

Leading the way, Giovanna Mezzogiorno is due to hit the bigscreen worldwide this fall in Mike Newell’s adaptation of “Love in the Time of Cholera” opposite Benjamin Bratt.

Paris-based Caterina Murino, a former Miss Italy contender hailing from Sardinia, made her English-language debut as a Bond Girl in “Casino Royale.” She is currently on the set of “St. Trinian’s” in the role of the sexy language teacher Miss Maupassant.

Compatriot Claudio Santamaria also put in a brief appearance in “Casino Royale” as bad guy Le Chiffre’s henchman Carlos.

Pierfrancesco Favino, who played Christopher Columbus in “Night at the Museum,” is now shooting “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” in the role of Lord Glozelle. Respected thesp and occasional director Sergio Castellitto will also appear in the film as King Miraz.

Riccardo Scarmacio, one of the leads in Daniele Luchetti’s Un Certain Regard screener “My Brother Is an Only Child,” can also be seen at Cannes in Abel Ferrara’s Midnight screener “Go Go Tales” alongside fellow Italian Stefania Rocca.

“It had gone a bit quiet, but demand for Italian actors has definitely picked up of late,” says Rome-based agent Luciana Soli of Soli & Associati who reps Mezzogiorno and Murino.

“The Americans seem more enthusiastic about coming here to check out our actors than in the past,” says Graziella Bonacchi of TNA, which reps Favino, Castellitto and Santamaria.

“There have always been a few Italian actors who’ve managed to get international work, and whenever a production has come here to shoot, that’s always been an opportunity for local talent, but there has been a bit more movement beyond this of late,” she adds.

Neither agent can pinpoint precisely what has prompted this mini-breakthrough for Italo thesps

“It’s difficult to say what has sparked it. The new generation of actors is perhaps better prepared than their predecessors — more of them speak English, for example, which is indispensable,” Soli says.

The international release of pics such as “The Last Kiss,” “Crime Novel,” “Don’t Move” and “Don’t Tell” over the past five years may also have helped, they suggest, acting as showcases for a generation now in their late 20s and 30s.

“Films such as ‘The Last Kiss’ and ‘Crime Novel’ got their casts international exposure — the impact of which is now becoming apparent,” Bonacchi says. “Favino and Santamaria were in both films, for example, and I’m sure this helped raise their profiles abroad.”

International interest in Mezzogiorno, says Soli, really took off following the 2006 foreign-language Oscar nomination for “Don’t Tell,” in which the actress played a young woman coming to terms with child abuse.

“We’d already done a lot of groundwork on Giovanna long before ‘Don’t Tell.’ We’d sent show reels of performances in films such as the English-language ‘Daddy’ and ‘The Last Kiss’ to our contacts in the U.S. and also set up meetings,” she says. “When the nomination came through she was already a known quantity not a complete unknown. She ended up with more than one offer but plumped for ‘Love in the Time of Cholera.’ ”

The actress, who is in constant demand back home, has “Flying Lessons” and “Night Bus,” both shot in 2006, screening in the Cannes Market. It remains to be seen whether her international shooting schedule will become equally packed.

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