Elena Ferrante has over 10 million readers worldwide, with her four books recounting the lives of two girls growing up in 1950s Naples. Italian director Saverio Costanzo has now turned the literary sensation into a TV series. We spoke to the four girls who play the infant and adolescent protagonists Elena (Elisa Del Genio and Margherita Mazzucco) and Lila (Ludovica Nasti and Gaia Girace).
Tell us a little bit about your casting experience because we know there were so many contesters for the roles, what did the casting look like?
Ludovica: “I was not very convinced when I went for the audition, and I did the first screen test but I tried to stay with my feet on the ground ‘cause I didn’t want to be disappointed, I had twelve call-backs and seven months of auditioning and in the end I was very happy when they announced that I had been selected last August.”
Elisa: “For me it’s been a bit different, it was my brother who had initially been selected and she accompanied him one day for another audition, and that’s why they discovered her, and she only auditioned for a couple of months at that point, I went to Rome where I met Ludovica, Margherita and Gaia, and I was very happy to know that I had been selected for the role of young Elena.”
And you, Margherita and Gaia?
Margherita: “I landed on the series by sheer coincidence, I was handed a leaflet for the audition and I went there without knowing anything about the books or about what they were looking for, then they called me back and eventually I went to Rome for a four-hour screen test with Saverio. I rehearsed the scene I had been given the script a few days before.”
Gaia: “I was already attending an acting school because I wanted to become an actress, i went through the full process of auditioning for seven months until I learned the news that I had been chosen.”
Did any of you have to learn Neapolitan dialect for the film?
Ludovica: “I’m from Pozzuoli, near Naples, and I learned dialect from my grandmother and parents, but we all of had a coach, because we are not from Naples, but from the Amalfi Coast and areas around there.”
Was it difficult for you to act in a different language?
Gaia: “It was quite difficult because I had lots of dialogue and I come from a town near Sorrento which has a different dialect, and in this case it is Neapolitan dialect from the fifties which is different from present date.”
Can we know something about you, how old are you, what kind of school are you attending, and how did you organise your life during the shoot, which presumably took a lot of time?
Ludovica: “I’m twelve years old and I am about to start pre-secondary school; the production had granted us a private tutoring so every day from 7pm we had private tutoring to not miss out a lot on the school programme, and now I am going back to school.”
Elisa: “I’m eleven years old, like Ludovica I am about to attend pre-secondary school; I didn’t have a private tutor on-set, what I did have was a private tutor after the shoot to be able to catch up on what I had missed out from school.”
Margherita: “I’m fifteen years old and in my case the shoot was longer, it went on for six months, I had a tutor in the evening and then every two weeks I would go back to school for testing, and I am now back to school and I am studying in secondary school, specialising in the one called Liceo Classico, like the character Lenù, studying Latin and Greek.”
Gaia: “I’m fourteen years old and since we lived quite far from Naples from Monday to Friday with my mother we stayed in a hotel in Naples and went back home only on the weekends, I had private tutoring every evening from 7.30 pm and then I passed the exams in order to pass on to the next year, which I did, every evening I studied for a couple of hours with the private tutor.”
Do you believe that the friendship that exists between Elena and Lila is believable, and do you yourself have a friend like they are in real life?
Ludovica: “Nowadays life has changed, lots of our peers spend their time watching their smartphones, communication has changed a lot since the past and that type of friendship means missing someone special in your life.”
Did you read the books?
Margherita: “I read the four books in one week and really loved all of them.”
Elisa: “I read three out of four books and thought they were really special compared to anything I’ve read so far.”
How was this experience, did you have fun, what can you tell us about the whole thing and the shoot in particular?
Ludovica: “It was one of a kind, something absolutely extraordinary, we had a great deal of fun on set and I hope it is the first of many more experiences, it was a real adventure and everyone was really caring towards us, all the crew and the other actors.”
The second novel and so the second season is very close to the end of the first one, so it’s going to be the two of you again, do you already have a schedule for when you continue?
Margherita: “We know we will continue with the second but we don’t know when we start.”
Talking about the work that Saverio has done with you, how did you work, Margherita and Gaia in particular because you said he worked in a different way to Ludovica, to get into the role of their characters?
Margherita: “As I am very different from Elena, it is Saverio who helped me get into the role and explained about the character in general but also day by day depending on the scene they were shooting.”
What did Saverio do to explain the character?
Margherita: “Saverio helped me specifically in rehearsals because I wanted to play Lila and not Elena, I didn’t seem to be able to understand her fully, and he was the one to find the right word to portray her every day and make me love her, which I did in the end, and I remember one thing he once said “Elena is the one who tells the story, she is like water, takes on the shape of where you put her” and he made me appreciate my own character.”
Gaia: “It was Saverio, the books and the screenplay who helped me figure out what Lila is like, and then when we went on set it was even easier, because at that point we were on location with the costumes, hair and make-up and you dive into it quite easily.”
Ludovica, you already said you would like to be the actress when you are older, what about the others?
Elisa: “I wish to continue and become an actress because it has been an extraordinary experience.”
Margherita: “This experience really upset my plans for the future, I thought I would go to university and study foreign languages but now the dream has changed, I think I would like to be an actress.”
About the experience on the set – you found yourself travelling back to the 50s, because that’s what the set tells us, how did you feel?
Ludovica: “It was strange but very beautiful indeed, we do have grandmothers and grand-grandmothers who lived back then in similar situations.”
Do you have any role models?
Margherita: “I don’t have a role model but there actresses I like, Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lawrence.”
Ludovica: “Sophia Loren.”
Watch here the first My Brilliant Friend’s trailer: