Storytelling has the capacity to inform and shape our perspective of a foreign culture, and the mafia or Camorra for many is intrinsically linked to the identity of Italy. Actor Marco D’Amore who plays Ciro Di Marzio in the crime drama Gomorrah: The Series (2014-) warns: “Any citizen at any latitude should deal with the mechanisms of criminal associations. Identify Italy or Naples by the Camorra is a mistake to underestimate the problems that surround anyone, especially on our continent.” Whilst on the one hand the thrilling and compelling drama of Gomorrah only deepens this association, it is a wide eyed, unflinching stare at the unsettling reality of one side of a country or a city.
Now in its third season, the murder of Don Pietro (Fortunato Cerlino) has left a void in the Naples underworld. Stepping into this vacuum is the late Don’s son Genny (Salvatore Esposito), who settles old scores before the warring factions unite under the economic pressure of war, and from the continued police pressure. Whilst a new Godfather begins his reign over Naples, Ciro who has seen his family and dreams destroyed in his pursuit of revenge relocates to Bulgaria, in the employment of drug dealer Valentin (Stilian Ivanov). Before long, Ciro has been forced to return to Naples, where upon meeting the ambitious Enzo (Arturo Muselli) he enters into a powerful partnership with.
In conversation with Film Frame, D’Amore discussed the onscreen world of the series as a reality, and the intimate relationship of art and life. He also reflected on the duplicity of human nature in authoring captivating characters, the pressures of audience expectation and the series as preventing plausible deniability.
Film Frame: Why a career in acting? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?
Marco D’Amore: Since childhood I have always loved acting and it has been a passion alongside other interests such as music and sports. After high school graduation I came across the theater company of Toni Servillo, star of The Great Beauty (2013), and I left for two years to tour with him. From there I decided to make this passion my job, and went on to study acting in Milan.
Film Frame: How has your perspective of the craft of acting changed across your various roles? Were there any moments that particularly informed a change in perspective, or growth in understanding the art of performance?
D’Amore: Each new experience has brought with it teachings and difficulties to be faced and overcome. Of course meeting Toni Servillo and his company when I was very young marked a watershed moment, between what was a distant dream and the real possibility of having it come true. Thanks to him, I learned how important it is to make life coincide with your profession, trying to be a well-educated and qualified man first, then a good artist. This is the very thought that has always influenced my choices.
Film Frame: What was the appeal of the character and the story when you first read the script for Gomorrah?
D’Amore: The first time I read the scripts and met my character, I felt a strong emotion. I realised immediately that I was faced with an ambitious and major project with many values related to the society in which I live, and a quotient of spectacle that I had not found myself reading so far.
Film Frame: How has the experience of the third season compared to the first two? Would you agree that with any television series, each season should place a pressure on the season that follows? Is this the ideal situation for you as storytellers and do you look at pressure of this nature as a privilege?
D’Amore: For the first series there were so many expectations, but also many doubts because we were going to get our hands on a hazardous material. The response that came after the airing surprised us; it was amazing and we were filled with happiness.
Gomorrah undergoes a constant pressure stemming from the audience’s expectations, which grow higher from season to season. As I am very competitive, I never suffered the responsibility that was upon our shoulders. Indeed it was an incentive for me and for the whole crew to always raise the bar in our work, so as not to disappoint the audience who were enthusiastically expecting us to give them a high quality product.
Film Frame: In television it can be the case that you receive the scripts quite late, almost discovering as you go along. Unlike in film where you know what will happen from beginning to end, does this create in television a greater synergy between you as actors and your audience?
D’Amore: We get the scripts almost just before shooting begins, both to preserve the privacy of the stories, and to keep us warm and ready to immediately absorb the new directives of the season to come. Beyond this we are a close-knit team that has rallied around a project that we know to be much bigger than us, and this has made us accomplices, or as the British say: “Partners in crime.”
Film Frame: In speaking with actors they have explained that the process of developing a character can lie in the discovery of the smallest detail, such as the way the character walks. How did the process of discovering Ciro work for you personally?
D’Amore: My prep work always starts with the script and I often say that actors are like archaeologists – they remove dust from precious and wonderful objects that exist before their discovery. Then there is a biography narrated for this character that I have had the good fortune and the misfortune to meet during my teenage years. And then there are the references that may seem very far away, but which influenced me and are related to my theatre studies. Not surprisingly, I compared Ciro di Marzio to Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, which inspired my interpretation.
Film Frame: “Happiness is universal, misery is individual” said Tolstoy. Is there something more potent about tragedy that touches us on a deeper level, emotionally or intellectually, wherein happiness is a more lethargic and less insightful experience? It occurs to me that tragic characters or the pain of life are perhaps the more compelling, which taps into the Freudian psychoanalytic theory of the “death drive.”
D’Amore: I compared my character to Iago, Othello’s lieutenant. Like Ciro, he is a soldier, but at the same time a very fine strategist who in order to fulfil his strategy, is able to ensnare whoever happens to be within his reach. Certain descriptions of human nature that can be found in both theatrical and cinematographic literature are the highest example of the duplicity of the soul, of its greatness and misery. That is the reason why these characters, superficially pinned down as the “bad guys” have the power to engage the viewers, to drag them into an endless whirl of emotions and moods generated by human natures that know both the dark and the light. For me as a spectator, it has always been like that.
Film Frame: Across the three seasons how have your own feelings towards Ciro changed? Has it been a harmonious relationship or one in which you’ve encountered moments of difficulty?
D’Amore: I have walked alongside this character for five years of my life and have always tried not to judge him, but rather to understand him, without justifying him. This journey has made us clash and fall in love at the same time. There has been plenty of disagreement when it came to playing a man so fierce and violent, but also the joy of being able to play at impersonating someone so different from who I am. Dealing with these events and relationships has made me understand many things in respect to the choices I have made in my life also.
Film Frame: Picking up on the point of coming to a point of understanding, how has the experience of playing Ciro influenced your perspective of the crime genre?
D’Amore: I was determined to work with this character to also understand in depth what the conditions and what are the difficulties of dealing with this kind of crime. By now I’m three years into this story or genre, and I hope in the future to be able to participate in other similar projects. It is obvious that it is a genre that manages to bring together the spectacular nature of the image with the strength of content.
Film Frame: To return to your point about understanding rather than justifying your character, there is often this idea within storytelling that you must sympathise with a character to follow him or her on a narrative journey. In this type of story the sympathetic character can be difficult to locate, and so I would argue that it is not in fact about sympathy. Rather it is about interest combined with mystery that holds our attention, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the show, and in particular Ciro’s journey?
D’Amore: It’s important not to confuse the fascination that undergoes watching and immersing oneself in the narrative context with the reflections that follow the vision. When I was a player and a spectator I empathized often with negative characters, but this has nothing to do with sympathy about the role. It is simply a game of convention that is created between the series or the film and the viewer. But when everything shuts down it is clear that the viewer must return to make their own reflections compared to what he saw and heard. Ciro is a character who walks a thin line because it was initially built to entice the public to side with him, up until they were betrayed by him completely, and any desire to emulate sympathy would be broken.
Film Frame: In discussing Gomorrah, American series’ such as Breaking Bad (2008-13) and The Wire (2002-08) have been cited by the critical establishment. From your perspective is there a tendency to sometimes draw comparisons, rather than to acknowledge or celebrate a series as an individual entity? Or is the comparative a useful and productive act to help us paint a picture of the landscape of modern television drama?
D’Amore: Certain comparisons to a wonderful and famous American series like Breaking Bad or The Wire fill us with a satisfaction that is hard to explain. But I would emphasise that our series has a record hard to match by any other television product – the world around us is not designed; we move in a context that thousands of citizens live daily. By looking at every frame behind our faces, you can constantly read and hear the stench of truth.
Film Frame: In as much as this truth provides the series with a strength of presence, will it allow Gomorrah to resonate with future audiences, enduring beyond its present?
D’Amore: This series compared to any other project has an absolute anthropological value, to the extent that fiction identifies with reality. What you see behind us is not fake, the buildings, the streets, the houses where the characters live are the natural setting where the very facts we put on stage have really happened. The very extras who inhabit the set are part of that world, and they carry the furrows of suffering that are visible to everyone. This series will stand as an official document representing the truth, so that no one can ever say: “I did not know.”
Film Frame: Speaking with Carol Morley for The Falling (2015) she explained: “You take it 90% of the way, and it is the audience that finishes it. So the audience by bringing themselves: their experiences, opinions and everything else to a film is what completes it.” Outside of film, do you perceive the audience to be the ones to complete a series and do you perceive there to be a transfer of ownership?
D’Amore: I am convinced that the public has the right to complete the creative path of a series, a movie or a book. I like to think that our work can build bridges between reality and imagination, to allow the public to make their own personal journey. But the return journey must be full of questions that are submitted to the reality, to continue what we have just suggested, with the rest left to the viewer, the listener or the reader.
Film Frame: Interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” But does the experience of watching a film or television series offer the audience a transformative experience through reflection? Is this a means to measure the merit of a film or series?
D’Amore: To be in a movie or a series such as this will undoubtedly change you, first of all because it allows you to grow from the professional point of view. It makes you struggle with many difficulties, with your limitations and puts you in contact with professionals, who thankfully make you constantly raise the bar of your work. But it changes you profoundly from the human point of view. This is a constant that has accompanied all of my work, and that I tend to defend with great force because I really believe in my craft as a location for art and life to coincide.
For me the task of the spectator goes far beyond simple observation. The spectator completes the work with their deductions and reflections, their desire to go beyond the viewing by starting a personal investigation into what they have witnessed. This is a responsible attitude everyone should take towards art in general.
Gomorrah: The Series Season 3 and the Season 1-3 boxset are available now on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download courtesy of Arrow TV.
Stills credit: Gianni Fiorito
Art work provided courtesy of Arrow TV