In Monaco for the Monte-Carlo Comedy Film Festival, screenwriter, director and actor Nick Vallelonga is still humbled by the success of his 2018 film Green Book. We had the opportunity to discuss with Mr. Vallelonga his latest project, why he likes comedies better than dramas, and what he most looks forward to at the 17th edition of the Festival Monte-Carlo Comedy Film Festival.
“To be here, he had to get tested more times than all of Monaco put together”, jokes president of the Monte-Carlo Film Festival Ezio Greggio. It is true that with compulsory quarantines, in Europe, Americans are now almost as rare as hen’s teeth.
“I liked cinema, and how it made you feel,” he tells us. Nick Vallelonga’s big breakthrough, a life-changing kind of big, came with Green Book, a film with which he won two academy awards for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. But why join the industry in the first place? “Who knows why I was always drawn to stories. I loved books, I loved plays, I loved how movies made you feel. I loved the art of it. I was curious about how I could make people laugh or cry. It took me a long time to make a success of it, but I loved it and kept on doing it, until finally, I got one that everyone liked (Green Book, ed.),” he says.
Green Book: “We wanted to show that you can find hope in connecting with other people, no matter your race, your country, or your nationality.”
Writing Green Book was a family affair. The film is based on the true story of African American pianist Dr. Don Shirley who hires an Italian American bouncer to drive him through a concert tour in the Deep South. The Italian American Driver in question is Franck Vallelonga, Nick’s Father. “As a boy, I remembered my father going away for long periods of time. I remember meeting Dr. Shirley,” Nick Vallelonga says at the press conference. When he got older and knew he wanted to become a filmmaker, Nick Vallelonga started recording his father. Later, his mother gave him the letters her husband had written during his time away, letters that would be crucial to reconstructing the plot of the trip; stepping stones to build a film on.
The film was a big success in the US, and perhaps “an even bigger success in Europe,” he says at the press conference, somewhat bewildered. When we ask him about it later, he adds: “Hopefully that’s a testament to the script and to Peter Farrelly’s direction. We wanted a story that would resonate with all people. We wanted to show that you can find hope in connecting with other people, no matter your race, your country, or your nationality,” he explains.
A Romantic comedy about Italian Americans in the works
This year, Nick Vallelonga is the President of the Monte-Carlo Comedy Film Festival Jury. “I love international films, so I am of course looking forward to the screenings, particularly my friend George Gallo’s The Comeback Trail. I’m interested in seeing how international audiences react to comedies. I haven’t been to a movie theatre during this whole pandemic. It’s nice to slowly, but safely start things up again,” he admits.
And a final question – who would win in the eternal Comedy vs Drama showdown? “I loved them both, I think there’s room for both. At the moment, I’m working on a musical romantic comedy about Italians in America called That’s Amore. I love to make people laugh. So yes, if I had to pick one, I’d say comedy,” he concludes.