Tell people you’re going to interview Sophia Loren and a common response is, “There aren’t many like her left.” But there never was anyone quite like Sophia Loren, whose combination of cosmopolitan glamour and earthy sensuality made an indelible mark on international cinema of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Emerging from Italian films, Loren, 85, anchored historical Hollywood epics such as “El Cid" (1961) and “The Fall of the Roman Empire” (1964); ignited romantic comedies like “Houseboat” (1958), opposite Cary Grant; and created sizzling onscreen chemistry with her most frequent costar, Marcello Mastroianni, in such internationally popular Italian films as “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” (1963) and “Marriage Italian Style” (1964).
“What a partner. I’ve been very lucky,” Loren says in lilting accented English over the telephone from her home in Geneva. She and Mastroianni worked on a dozen films together "and had a wonderful relationship on the set. No love story; no, no, no. Otherwise, you don’t work well — one important thing at a time.”
Loren earned her cinematic bona fides in director Vittorio De Sica’s 1960 neorealist classic “Two Women,” drawing on her own experiences growing up in war-torn Naples for her wrenching portrait of a young mother in rural Italy trying to shield her daughter from the horrors of war. Loren won the best actress Oscar, the first performer to win for a non-English-speaking role.
“I won two Oscars, not one,” Loren quickly corrects, referring to her 1991 honorary Oscar. “That’s important to me.”
Area audiences will have the opportunity to see the actress live. An Evening With Sophia Loren takes place on Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m., at the Rhode Island Convention Center, in Providence. Loren will engage in an onstage conversation with former “Entertainment Tonight” host Bill Harris and answer audience questions.
Talking about her life and career is a role that Loren has enjoyed in recent years. She credits Grant, who famously fell in love with her — Loren recounted the romance, with characteristic delicacy, in her 2014 autobiography, “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life” — for first introducing the raconteur idea to her.
“After we did ‘The Pride and the Passion’  together, I was in New York and he called me and we had a nice chat. I said, ‘What are you doing in New York?’ and he said, ‘A public event.’ I said, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ And he said, ‘No, if you have a nice rapport with the public, I think it’s quite fun to say things you want the public to know about you.’ I pretended I wasn’t interested but it remained within me. I thought, maybe it’s good to have a new thing, to talk with the public who go to see your films. . . . I feel cozy [with] the public; they want to know about me as a person. Sometimes it’s quite touching.”
Personal appearances haven’t replaced screen roles, though Loren has long been selective about projects. “It has to be from your heart. Important things for me happen when it is time to happen,” she says. “When you are an actress, you are always looking for something you feel inside; otherwise, I’m not interested.”
She just completed a role as a Holocaust survivor in “Life in Front of You” directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti (her oldest son, Carlo Ponti Jr., is an orchestra conductor). Ponti has directed his mother in two other films: “Between Strangers” (2002) and “Human Voice” (2014).
“When I am working with my son,” Loren says, she’ll think to herself, "'Madonna mia, why do I feel like this?’ I am so open when working with him; it’s impossible to explain.”
But moviemaking was always a family affair for her. Her husband, Carlo Ponti, who died in 2007, produced many of her films; she had a long creative partnership with De Sica that lasted from “The Gold of Naples” (1954) to their final film, “The Voyage” (1974).
“We came from the same country. We knew each other and understood each other completely,” says Loren of the famed director. “We had the most wonderful times of our lives on the set. You become so close; you laugh, you cry together.”
Like De Sica, most of the legendary directors she collaborated with over the decades — Carol Reed, Sidney Lumet, Anthony Mann, George Cukor, Stanley Donen, Charlie Chaplin — are now gone. One, Lina Wertmüller who directed her in four films, is very much alive, at 91. On Oct. 27 at the pre-Oscars Governors Awards in Hollywood, Loren paid tribute to Wertmüller, speaking to her in Italian.
“It was not Italian; it was Neapolitan, a dialect she didn’t understand,” says Loren. “So when I finished onstage, I went to her table and I explained what I said. She is what she was many, many years ago: funny, intelligent, everything.”
Loren was ahead of her time in using her celebrity not just as a brand — she’s marketed her own fragrance and eyewear — but to deepen her oeuvre. She played herself and her mother in the 1980 TV movie “Sophia Loren: Her Own Story” and again played her mother, Romilda Villani, in “My House Is Full of Mirrors” (2010), based on a book by her younger sister, Anna Maria Scicolone.
“My mother was a woman who had not got from life what she was looking for: love,” says Loren. “She met my father — they never married, of course. I always saw her sorrowful, not believing in life, because she had this terrible encounter. . . . But life flourished like a flower when [I was] 16 and we went to Rome to look for my father [Riccardo Scicolone, whom Loren met just a few times]. We went to Cinecittà [Studio———s], where they were making films and, little by little, I started to know people who could help me.”
Although she downplays her singing voice (“I’m not Lady Gaga”), Loren’s screen musicals include “Man of La Mancha” (1972) and “Nine” (2009). She even had a novelty hit in 1960, “Goodness Gracious Me,” with Peter Sellers. Loren credits her mother for her musicality.
“My mother was a pianist. She had great immersion in classical music, modern music. She was always at the piano playing and singing. I had a wonderful teacher in my mother.”
As a proud Neapolitan, Loren is a fan of Elena Ferrante’s famed Neapolitan novels, the first of which became an HBO limited series in 2018, and identifies with the character of young Lila Cerullo.
“Physically, she is like me at that age. I was dark, with dark hair, not like me now at all. She reminded me of myself: thin, with thin legs, knees coming out.” Ferrante “reached out to me,” says Loren. “We never met, but there will be an opportunity. I like her a lot.”
Perhaps that could mean a future role. Loren has no intention of retiring from acting.
“I think one of the best things I have in life, besides my family, my children, is my work,” she says. “I am in love with my work, I really am. The older I get, the better I get. It’s true.”
Loren King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.