She’s the “Monica” you should know!

Bellucci answers siren call
LOS ANGELES √≥ Bruce Willis knows who Monica Bellucci is. “She’s a babe,” he says of his Tears of the Sun co-star who, while unknown here, is Europe’s reigning female star.
She won’t be “Monica who?” for long. A deglamorized Bellucci has her first major English-language role Friday in Tears, as a doctor imperiled by a Nigerian uprising.
America will be seeing much more of the cinematic siren this year.
In fact in Irreversible, which is probably the most controversial film she’ll ever make, nearly all of Bellucci is on view. The French-language hit also opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles, before expanding into limited release around North America.
And in May, the Italian actress, 34, will play the black-leather-clad Persephone in The Matrix Reloaded, the first of the two new Matrix movies. “She’s dangerous. She’s mysterious, and she has a sense of humor too,” says the actress who, like the rest of the cast, has been sworn to secrecy about the films.
Next comes her Mary Magdalene in Mel Gibson’s already buzzed-about The Passion, a retelling in explicitly gory detail of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus.
But even as the Italian star discussed Tears with journalists last week, it was Irreversible that dominated conversation. Bold and brutal as it unreels in reverse (like Memento), Gaspar Noe’s film depicts first a nauseating revenge killing in a gay sex club and then Bellucci’s equally disturbing and explicit anal rape in a Parisian pedestrian tunnel.
Why do something so explicitly violent?
Bellucci joked, “Because I’m crazy.”
Actually, she’s anything but. She has reached her slightly stratospheric perch after one modest international hit, Mal√ãna , the 2000 Italian import in which she played a sexy wife beset by men and misfortune during World War II.
How does she explain her rapid rise?
“I have no clue, as you say,” says Bellucci, who is married to Vincent Cassell, her Irreversible co-star.
“Through Mal√ãna a year-and-a-half ago, I met the Wachowskis (Andy and Larry, the brothers behind the Matrix films) and Bruce and Antoine (Fuqua, Tears’ director) and then Mel Gibson, and so it’s happened so fast. I’ve turned down other films,” she points out.
“I don’t want to make an American movie just because it’s American. I want to make movies in Europe because it’s my culture, and I’m lucky to be Italian and working in Italy and France and America. Here you have great directors.”
Now that Irreversible has achieved its succ√ãs de scandale, it might be easy to think of Bellucci as consciously following another Italian’s path from sex symbol to serious actress: Sophia Loren, who won the 1961 best-actress Oscar for Two Women, playing an Italian mother raped by soldiers during WWII. “Call it ‘Two Women 2003,’ ” Bellucci says with a laugh.
“I don’t think it’s possible to compare. If today I do movies, it’s because growing up I dreamed of Sophia and Gina Lollobrigida and Monica Vitti and Anna Magnani, those incredible actresses who made the Italian cinema, but I’m so far from them. When they came to America, they were famous because of Italian movies, and today it’s not like that anymore. If you want to make a career, you have to go to France or America. I was lucky.”
Now Bellucci must prove that her luck is, well, irreversible.