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John Turturro on ‘The Name of the Rose’: Politics, Celibacy and the Suppression of Women

John Turturro and the producers of “The Name of the Rose”  unveiled their ambitious English-language TV adaptation of Umberto Eco’s murder mystery in Rome on Thursday ahead of its global rollout, which will kick off March 4 on Italy’s RAI.

Producers and the Italian pubcaster have high hopes the show will expand the international footprint of Italy’s high-end dramas following “My Brilliant Friend,” based on a more recent bestseller. The $30 million, eight-episode series is directed by Giacomo Battiato, whose 2011 Palestinian-terrorism thriller “L’Infiltré” was nominated for an International Emmy, and produced by Rome-based companies 11 Marzo and Palomar and Rai Fiction. It will go out in the U.S. via AMC on May 1.

John Turturro, who plays the central character of Franciscan monk William of Baskerville, said that Eco’s novel, which has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide since first being published in 1980, was very relevant today.

“There is a power structure – the church – which also represents the government or politics,” he said. “Then there is suppression of women. There is the question of celibacy and denial of science. And there is philosophy.” Turturro added that inherent in the book is “the idea that all of this is a buffer, a way to combat extremism of any kind.”

Turturro, who also worked on the screenplay as a credited writer, said that he had not seen the 1986 movie adaptation of Eco’s bestseller, starring Sean Connery.

“Even though I love Sean Connery, I realized that I had a doll of Sean Connery as James Bond as a kid,” he quipped, adding that this “would not have been helpful” in preparing him to reprise the role of the 14th-century monk investigating murders in a secluded abbey.

Rupert Everett plays merciless inquisitor Bernard Gui, and Michael Emerson is the abbot. The international cast also includes rising German star Damian Hardung, who plays Baskerville’s novice. The Italian cast – praised by Turturro for acting in impeccable English – includes Fabrizio Bentivoglio as Remigio, the abbey’s cellarer; Roberto Herlitzka as elderly monk Alinardo; and Greta Scarano in a double role.

RAI head of drama Eleonora Andreatta noted that “The Name of the Rose” was shot at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios and called it “an example of how one can be highbrow and popular at the same time.” She also noted that it has already been sold in 130 territories.

RAI’s new course is “based on the capability of forging international alliances based on locally rooted ideas that can germinate globally with top-level production values and talents,” she said.

Palomar managing director Nicola Serra said Germany’s Tele München, the prominent TV company acquired last week by global investment firm KKR, was able to get global networks to board the show during the development and production phases, not based on the finished product.

“This is a very strong indication of a growing trust that Italian TV productions are able to elicit,” he noted.

Besides AMC in the U.S. and the BBC in the U.K, the Eco adaptation has sold to Starz in Latin America, OCS in France, and Sky in Germany, among many other outlets. The medieval thriller marks “the first time in decades” that an Italian drama will air on the BBC in a prime time slot, said producer Matteo Levi, who originated the project.

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