Dario Argento is one of the most beloved horror directors of the 20th century, having pioneered the giallo subgenre with classic films like “Suspiria” and “Deep Red.” Argento is still directing movies, but the 81-year-old filmmaker recently tried something new: acting. The Italian director earned strong reviews for his lead role as a dementia-stricken man in Gaspar Noé’s “Vortex,” a movie inspired by Noé’s own near-death experience. The film premiered at Cannes last year before hitting theaters in America this summer. Argento, whose work is currently enjoying a retrospective at Film at Lincoln Center in New York, spoke to Vulture about the decision to step in front of the camera, and what the role in Noé’s film meant to him.
“I didn’t really shape the character. I tried to play myself,” Argento said. “When Gaspar came to my house in Rome to ask me if I would be in the movie, my immediate answer was ‘no.’ I didn’t feel like being an actor. But he spent the entire day at my house. He wouldn’t leave. And then he said the magic words, that the entire film would be improvised. That word in particular, improvised, rang a bell.”
Argento added that many of his favorite films utilized similar processes, which helped him wrap his mind around the idea.
“After all, I am a child of Italian neorealism,” he said. “So I am sort of accustomed to the practice of improvisation. Rather than use professional actors, the neorealists worked with the average man on the street, people who spoke with their own accents and who came up with their own lines. That interested me, so I thought, ‘Yes, I could do something improvised.’”
The process of improvisation helped Argento create a character whose life was reminiscent of his own, which made it easier for the first-time actor to immerse himself in the role.
“Still, this character — he has no name in the movie — had to be somewhat similar to my own,” he said. “He’s a film critic, just like I was before I became a director. And in the movie, he wrote an essay, a book on the relationship between cinema and dreams. I have also written an essay on cinema and dreams.”
Still, as happy as he is with how the film turned out, fans should not expect Argento to keep acting in other people’s movies.
“That all being said, I was not interested in being an actor,” he said. “I also don’t feel like what I did was acting — I played myself. What you see in the film is me telling my story.”