If you tuned in to Netflix’s miniseries From Scratch and wondered who that handsome Italian fellow is playing opposite Zoe Saldaña, you’re probably not alone. Eugenio Mastrandrea is making his English language debut with the eight episode series, playing Lino, a chef who meets and falls in love with Saldaña’s Amy, and just as the two are building a life together, he is diagnosed with cancer. The story is based on the memoir by Tembi Locke, who lost her husband Saro to the disease, and was adapted by Tembi’s sister, veteran TV writer Attica Locke. Mastrandrea took a break from shooting The Equalizer 3 in Italy opposite Denzel Washington to have a chat.
First, let’s talk about how where you come from and how you started acting in the first place.
I was born and raised in Rome. After school, I first tried to be a doctor, but had no success in that. I’ve been acting since I was 14 with theatre in school, really enjoyed it. After tasting University, I understood that that was not my path at all. So I said, Okay, let’s do something I like, that brings joy and happiness to my life. So I did the auditions to enter the National Academy of Dramatic Arts here in Rome. It took me two years, but I got in and that was the beginning of my education as an actor.
How long did it take you to start working regularly?
It took me a couple of years. I stumbled from theater productions to some TV stuff. One or two days of shooting here, one day of shooting there. Normal steps for a young actor.
This role in From Scratch is by far your biggest to date, opposite Zoe Saldaña, who has been working in front of cameras for over 20 years. What did you learn from working with her?
When you work with great actors or actresses, they bring so much into the scene that you have to be strong to surf the flow they bring in. Zoe was a great colleague, a great partner on set, and she was willing and open to build the path of these two characters together along with me. I mean, I’m just the kid coming from Italy. She is Zoe Saldaña. But she never made me feel that difference. From the very beginning, from our first shaking hands, she treated me the same. Like a colleague. I told her a lot of times how I learned from her not only seeing what she did during our acting, but also the way she takes the whole creating process. Not only what you see on the screen, but also off screen as well. All that is needed to bring the creative process to that result.
There are a couple things that set Lino apart from other roles. One is that he’s a chef, the other is that he’s fighting cancer. How much research did you do for both parts of that?
When it comes to being the chef, I’ve been around my grandma, my mom, they’re great cooks. I’ve always been around them when they’re doing their kitchen stuff. Food for Italians is something that is part of our DNA, part of our blood. That was easier than the other part.
Well, I read the book, then I read the script. I listened a lot to Tembi, tried to receive any suggestion, any note, any sharing of her experience. We once had a beautiful, beautiful conversation, just me and her, where she really shared with me all the aspects of sorrow, and Saro’s sickness. One thing that was my guiding light was when Saro told Tembi that he had no space for anything else than his pain. He was so sick, his body was betraying him so much, he had no space to think, to do, to say anything else that was not related to his pain. So I tried to build a cancer patient by collecting and mixing all the suggestions and the shared experiences that I received.
Something like that, I imagine there’s a universal aspect to that experience.
The amazing thing is that during our shooting, I received a lot of people on set, the crew, the cast, that shared with me their experience saying I went through this with my dad, I went through this with my son, I went through this myself. A lot of people said I experienced what you are portraying now. It was really touching and moving. I felt a lot of responsibility. This was really something that had to be told truthfully, and honestly. I don’t know if I got to do it truthfully, but I know that I did it honestly.
You’re now shooting a movie with Denzel Washington. What’s that like?
Yesterday, I was talking with a fellow actor on set, and Denzel was passing by. I just followed him with my eyes as he walked by us and said, ‘Okay, he definitely moves the air.’ Like, he’s the magnetic center of attention. He’s amazing. Amazing. Amazing.
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