×

‘My Brilliant Friend,’ ‘Gomorrah’ Show Different Sides of Naples

When Saverio Costanzo, the director of HBO and RAI’s “My Brilliant Friend,” started to plan how he would depict the grand but gritty city of Naples — one that’s so vivid in the imaginations of millions of Elena Ferrante readers, he quickly decided that the working-class neighborhood at the core of her four Neapolitan novels had to be fictional.

“Our starting point was always the fake city,” he says, noting that precisely because no other city in Italy has such a strong identity, keeping the right distance from Naples was what enabled him to represent it so intensely.

The drab ’hood called Rione Luzzatti was reconstructed on the grounds of an abandoned glass factory in Caserta, about 20 miles north of Naples, a roughly 5-acre converted space that’s become among the largest sets in Europe. Production designer Giancarlo Basili and local craftsmen built many of the story’s most memorable sites on that lot: the dark tunnel under which the two girls, Lila and Lenù, escape when they skip school; the grate into which the two brilliant friends throw their rag dolls; the Carracci grocery and Bar Solara. This sprawling site comprises exteriors of 14 buildings and a church, a piazza, and period-perfect 1950s apartment interiors, replete with working windows and internal staircases, assembled on a soundstage that was once a warehouse. 

“I used roughly 25 different shades of gray,” says Basili on set, adding that in terms of tone, he drew inspiration from Picasso’s “Guernica.” “Colors will come when the girls leave the neighborhood,” the production designer notes. This will happen in Season 2, which starts shooting in March. For the first season, Costanzo and Basili sought to create a “sense of isolation, as though it were the dusty scenery of a Western.”

The other key element of “My Brilliant Friend,” over which the helmer and production companies Wildside and Fandango obsessed, was the cast. Costanzo and casting directors Laura Muccino and Sara Casani saw 9,000 children before picking the four leads: Elisa del Genio, 11, who plays Elena (Lenù); Ludovica Nasti, 12, who plays Lila; and Margherita Mazzucco, 16, and Gaia Girace, 15, who play the friends when they get older. The quartet had little or no acting experience, so the process involved an intensive acting workshop where they also learned, or honed, the specific Neapolitan dialect spoken on-screen.

A more contemporary form of Neapolitan dialect is spoken in “Gomorrah,” the hyper-realistic mob show, now in its fourth season, which in 2014 started taking Italian TV to new international heights. Produced by Italy’s Cattleya and Sky Italia — and aired in the U.S. on Sundance TV and Netflix — “Gomorrah” was conceived as a series that would bring audiences inside the belly of the real Neapolitan criminal underworld, says executive producer Gina Gardini. This dictated the decision to shoot “almost entirely in the actual places it portrays,” adds Gardini, who notes that some of “Gomorrah’s” 50-minute episodes take place in more than 35 locations, which can mean moving the shoot “twice or even three times a day.”

As its narrative evolved, “Gomorrah” has never strayed from the basic tenet of authenticity, says Francesca Comencini, showrunner for the fourth season, which will air on Sky in March. “The principles of realism, accuracy, knowledge and our aversion toward folklore or cliché remain unchanged, as does our fascination with a city that is so unique and powerful,” she adds.

Campania Film Commission chief Maurizio Gemma says that the authentic locations of “Gomorrah” have made the show more complex from a production standpoint than “My Brilliant Friend.” More significantly, he notes that both shows are giving the region surrounding Naples a big boost. His commission is now training more English-speaking crew and working on new incentives and infrastructure to compete with Eastern Europe. 

More TV

  • Orlando Bloom Comic Con Immigrant San

    Orlando Bloom Claims San Diego Mayor Ran From Comic-Con Exhibit Featuring Immigrant Characters

    Did an immigration storyline cause Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer to run out of Amazon Prime Video’s Comic-Con activation this week? According to “Carnival Row” star Orlando Bloom, that’s exactly what happened. At Amazon’s “Carnival Row” panel, Bloom told the audience that Faulconer stopped by the Prime Video activation and chose the “Carnival Row” [...]

  • 'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final

    'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final Season Backlash 'Media-Led Hate Campaign'

    What is life like now after “Game of Thrones?” That’s the question that fans have been asking themselves and that cast members had to answer at the show’s final Comic-Con panel. But first, Conleth Hill, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and several others cleared the air and addressed the perceived negative response to the final season. “I don’t [...]

  • SDCC Roundup: AMC Drops 'The Walking

    SDCC TV News Roundup: AMC Releases 'The Walking Dead' Season 10 Trailer (Watch)

    San Diego Comic-Con has become a hotbed of entertainment news in recent years, especially for the television industry. In today’s SDCC TV news roundup, AMC dropped a trailer for the 10th season of “The Walking Dead” and FX released a first look at “Mayans MC” Season 2. FIRST LOOKS AMC debuted the trailer for Season [...]

  • ARCHER: 1999 -- "Cubert" -- Season

    'Archer' Renewed for Season 11 at FXX

    “Archer” has been picked up for an eleventh season. The announcement was made Friday at San Diego Comic-Con. The news comes less than a week ahead of the Season 10 finale. Season 11 is slated to debut on FXX in 2020. While the show initially focused on the agents and support staff of a covert [...]

  • Carnival Row

    Amazon Debuts New 'Carnival Row' Footage at Comic-Con (Watch)

    San Diego Comic-Con attendees got an extended look at the upcoming Amazon drama “Carnival Row” during the show’s panel at the annual fanfest on Friday. Two new featurettes (see above and below) offer in-depth looks at the backstories of the two main characters — Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevigne) and Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom). Delevigne plays [...]

  • Emmys: 'Better Call Saul' Short Loses

    'Better Call Saul' Short Loses Emmy Nominations in Light of Category Rule Violation

    Better Call AMC: Two Emmy nominations for the network’s short-form series “Better Call Saul Employee Training: Madrigal Electromotive Security” have been pulled after it was deemed ineligible for competition. The Television Academy recently discovered that the series didn’t meet the minimum required runtime of two minutes for at least six episodes — a new stipulation [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content