Oscar-Winner Roberto Benigni to Play Geppetto in Matteo Garrone’s ‘Pinocchio’

Roberto Benigni, who won an Oscar for best actor in 1999 for “Life Is Beautiful,” is set to return to the big screen after a seven-year hiatus to play Mastro Geppetto in a live-action version of “Pinocchio” to be directed by Matteo Garrone.

Shooting on the previously announced film is set to start in the first quarter of 2019 on location in Italy’s Lazio, Tuscany and Puglia regions.

The casting of Benigni as Geppetto in Garrone’s live-action adaptation of “Pinocchio” was announced Friday, just days after the news that Guillermo del Toro is to make a stop-motion animated musical version for Netflix of Carlo Collodi’s classic about a puppet that comes to life. In 2002, Benigni directed and played the lead role in his own live-action adaptation of “Pinocchio,” which flopped at the U.S. box office.

Benigni’s last directorial effort is “The Tiger and the Snow,” in 2005, in which he also starred. His last acting turn was a cameo in Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love” in 2012. In recent years, the beloved Italian showman has been active with his stage adaptation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” which toured in Italy and internationally.

Garrone said in a statement that filming “Pinocchio” and directing Benigni were “two dreams come true in one film.”

“Collodi’s puppet and I have been chasing each other since I was a child, drawing my first storyboards,” he said. “As years passed, I have always felt something familiar in the story, as if Pinocchio had penetrated my imagination to such an extent that many have found traces of his adventures in my previous films.”

Garrone noted that for years he had also been pursuing Benigni, “who has amused and moved millions of spectators across the world.”

Benigni said: “A great character, a great story, a great director: Playing Geppetto directed by Matteo Garrone is one of the forms of happiness.”

The film is an international co-production between Italy and France, produced by Garrone’s Archimede Films, Rai Cinema and Jean Labadie’s Le Pacte, with Jeremy Thomas’ Recorded Picture Company. HanWay Films will be handling international sales. Rai Cinema will release the film in Italy, and Le Pacte in France.

Rai Cinema CEO Paolo Del Brocco noted that Italian pubcaster Rai’s film unit was “greatly honored to be part of the making of a film of such a high level” and called the fact that Benigni accepted to play Geppetto “a gift that will give us marvelous surprises.”

Gabrielle Stewart, HanWay’s managing director, said that Garrone’s re-imagining of one the most famous stories in the world will have “roots that run far deeper than the famous Disney animation.”

The animals and creatures in Pinocchio’s world will be created “with extraordinary realism” by Britain’s Mark Coulier, who won Oscars for makeup and hair for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Iron Lady.” Coulier will be working in tandem with VFX supervisor Rachel Penfold (“The Revenant,” “Cloud Atlas”).

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