Art world icon Mark Kostabi stars in Italian film My Italy, directed by Bruno Colella. Initially, Kostabi was supposed to be the main protagonist of the project, but Colella added in the Polish artist Krzysztof Bednarski, Danish Thorsten Kirchhoff and Malaysian H.H. Lim – to the surprise of Kostabi.

“Bruno Colella, the director, had been coming to my parties in Rome and my parties are kind of open,” Kostabi told uInterview exclusively. “I didn’t know who he was, he was a guest of one of my other guests, and strangely I noticed every time he came to my parties he was getting his hair cut there. And that’s how I got to know him, as this strange character who got his hair cut at my parties while people were dancing and the band was playing live music and the chef was serving delicious Italian food to everyone. So then I became friends with him, and at one point he invited me to his house for a small dinner party, and he said, ‘I’d like to make a movie about you.’ And when you see the movie, you’ll see why that is an important statement because there are four artists in the movie, and they all believe that they are the main star of the movie, and I still don’t know if Bruno was telling [me] the truth.”

Kostabi explained how the three other artists got thrown into the mix – it was famed Italian art critic Achille Bonito Oliva who suggested introducing the others. “So I had to change the contract because I was actually only getting some pennies as the sole protagonist,” he said. “We filmed a lot in Naples and Rome and a little bit in New York, but it happened like that. Now I’m really good friends with Bruno Colella, and the thing that I love about this movie is that it’s very accurate about who people really are.”

One of the film’s story arcs revolves around Kostabi trying to find a home for his painting of Sofia Loren. In real life, when Kostabi met Loren at one of his favorite restaurants, he was awed. “She calmed me down by holding my hand and we talked and I got to know her and was starstruck by her, and decided to make a painting of her,” he explained.

Kostabi finds learning a new craft stimulating. “Now I’m a professional actor, but when I started this movie I was not. I was a well-known artist, very successful, arguably famous,” Kostabi explained. “But I didn’t go to acting school. So the thing I will remember the most about being involved with this movie was the life of an actor. I don’t know how they did it before the internet because it’s a lot of waiting… I enjoyed that though.”

Mark Kostabi

Q: How did you get involved in ‘My Italy?’

A: Bruno Colella, the director, had been coming to parties in Rome. My parties are kind of open, I didn’t know who he was. He was guest of one of my other guests. Strangely, I noticed every time he came to my parties, he was getting his hair cut there. Now Bruno Colella is the director of ‘My Italy,’ and that’s how I got to know him, as this strange character who got his hair cut at my parties, while people were dancing and the band was playing live music and the chef was serving delicious Italian food to everyone. It was very wild, and I did it many times, so then I became friends with him. At one point, he invited me to his house for a small dinner party, and he said, “I’d like to make a movie about you.” And when you see the movie, you’ll see how that is an important statement because there are four artists in the movie, and they all believe that they are the main star movie, that they are the protagonist. I still don’t know if Bruno’s telling is the truth because it really seemed to be all about me at first, he said, “I want to do a documentary about you,” and he just started shooting me. He didn’t talk about any other artists, so we shot for a long time. And suddenly he says the great, genius Achille Bonito Oliva, who’s the most famous art critic in Italy, along with Vittorio Sgarbi they’re tied, but Achille is the grand, contemporary art expert. Achille came along and said, “you know, I’ll be in your movie too, but you should get other artists in there too, not just Kostabi. Kostabi’s great, but let’s get Lim in there, Bednarski, and Thorsten Kirchhoff, and then it’d really be interesting to get more people in there.” So, I had to change the contract because I was actually going to get some pennies when this movie starts making money, as the sole protagonist. Bruno says, “oh we have three other artists now, we gotta change the contract.” And I said, “okay, well they’re all friends of mine. The more the merrier.” I went along with it. We filmed a lot in Naples, Rome, a little bit in New York, they filmed in Poland, but it happened like that.

Now, I’m really good friends with Bruno Colella, and the thing that I love about this movie is that it’s very accurate about who people really are. Bruno Colella is an absolute genius, but he’s kind of a freeloader, kind of a shyster. In the movie he plays this slightly, not to be trusted, movie director, producer guy, and he’s taking advantage of his assistant. It’s all true. He behaves like that. He’s the kind of guy you meet for dinner, and everyone thinks that we’re going Dutch, everyone’s gonna pay their own bill, then Bruno wil leave before dinner’s over to avoid paying the bill. He does that in real life. Any time he can get a free meal, he’ll go for it, even though he is an award-winning director. But you know, movie directors aren’t rich. They have to freeload, so he freeloads off people like me, a rich and famous artist, who lives New York and Rome, and therefore was invited to be in the movie called ‘My Italy,’ which by the way I titled. I gave him the idea for the title. He doesn’t deny that.

Q: How did your storyline evolve? 

A: First of all, I don’t cook. I eat out all the time, and after the third time that I go to a restaurant, one of the waiters says , “hey that’s Kostabi, he’s the guy the designed album cover for Guns N’ Roses, you should meet him,” and then the owner comes to me and says, “Mistro! Que Bella de Vanderci, you should give me a painting.” I said, “that would be great, you should give me a lifetime tab so I don’t have to pay with money,” and that’s what happens in rea life. So, I have all these paintings in all these high-end restaurants throughout Rome and New York. I have this lifetime tab thing going on there, and that’s part of the movie. One of the restaurants that I have a lifetime tab in is called Antica Pesa. It’s in Via Garibaldi, number 18 in Tres Devre. It’s Sophia Loren’s favorite restaurant. It also happens to be the favorite restaurant of many movie stars, and they all eat there from everyone from Robert De Niro, to Al Capone, to Lady Gaga, and Madonna. There’s no movie star that doesn’t eat at this restaurant call Antica Pesa, including Sophia Loren, and it’s full of my art, gigantic paintings. They opened up a branch in Brooklyn recently, and you know people like Leonardo DiCaprio went on opening night. So, it’s instant success. I’m involved with that restaurant because I have my paintings there, and basically, I don’t have to pay. It’s a little iffy because if I went every night then they might get annoyed, but I go every once in a while, to the place a month or so.

One night, the owner said, “Oh Sophia Loren’s here do you want to meet here?” In a minute, I was ushered into the secret back dining room, and I was sitting next to Sophia Loren at dinner, and I was star struck and nervous. She calmed me down by holding my hand, and we talked, and I got to know her, and I was star struck by her, and decided to make a painting of her. Then I met her another two times, all was at that same restaurant. I’m like a well-known artist, but one thing I have in common with Andy Warhol is that I like to meet celebrities and be photographed with them. I like the attention. It helps. It’s exciting. It boosts the ego, but it also helps marketing because, you know when Elvis met the Pope, it helped his legend, so to speak. I met the Pope too, I did a portrait of the Pope. Sophia has dinner with the cardinals, the Pope can’t eat at Antica Pesa, but it was through that restaurant I got a commission to do a sculpture of the Pope. But Sophia is very religious and eats with these cardinals in the secret back dining room. So, when the movie started being shot, Bruno Colella had the idea to involved my painting of her and to bring it to Naples, and to find a home for it. So I’m there, talking about how I brought Sophia back home to her hometown because she was from Portswallo, which is a part of Naples, sort of or next to, so I’m looking for a restaurant to put it in.

Q: What’s your favorite ‘My Italy’ memory?

A: Okay, I’m not- now I’m a professional actor, but when I started this movie I was not. I was a well-known artist, very successful, arguably famous, but I didn’t go to acting school. The thing I remembered, which I will remember the most, about being a part of this movie was the life of an actor, and I don’t know how they did it before the internet. I guess they brought a paperback book, because it’s a lot of waiting. You have to wait. The director tells you to show up at 8 in the morning, for your shot, and then the shot doesn’t happen until midnight, or at least till noon, four hours later. So there’s a lot of waiting, and I enjoyed that though. And also, I was told things like to slow down, in movies things don’t always have to go as fast as they go in your stress phonetic life, walk slower. I had scenes with short actors, but he had to be the same size on camera, there were two ways to do it. Apparently with Sylvester Stallone they put him on a little pedestal so he looks taller than he actually is. We didn’t have a pedestal when I had to be
in shots with shorter actors, so I had to like bend down and be in this very uncomfortable half-kneeling position, while pretending to act. And then Bruno told me, this is standard in the industry. You gotta do your lines while you’re bending down, so you look the same height. He taught me so much about how to be an actor, and I was acting with real professional actors. It was tremendously valuable, wonderful experience, and the waiting was actually no problem because I had my iPhone.

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