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Vanessa Redgrave knows love delayed

In 'Letters,' she's a woman looking for a love lost 50 years earlier, like her life.

May 14, 2010|Susan King

Art sometimes imitates life. And then again, life often imitates art.

Just ask Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave and her husband, Franco Nero.

In the new romantic comedy, "Letters to Juliet," the 73-year-old Redgrave plays a widow named Claire who had left the love of her life, Lorenzo (Nero), 50 years earlier when she was a student in Verona, Italy.

Before she had left, Claire did what numerous women in love have done over the centuries, write a letter about her love affair to the Shakespearean heroine, Juliet, and tack it on the wall of the courtyard where the fictional character had lived.

When a young American woman named Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), vacationing in Verona at the present time, finds the letter hidden in a crook in the wall, she writes Claire. And much to Sophie's surprise, Claire and her grandson (Chris Egan) arrive in Verona to look for Lorenzo.

In real life, Redgrave and Nero met and fell in love in 1966 on the set of the movie musical "Camelot." She was playing Guinevere and he was playing the brave knight Lancelot.

They had a son, Carlo Nero, now a director, in 1969. Though they went their separate ways, they always remained close. In 1996, the two rekindled their love affair and married later that year.

"Life is sometimes very complicated," says Nero, 68, over the phone with Redgrave from Verona, just a few days before the actress lost her youngest sister, Lynn, to breast cancer.

Redgrave was the first cast in the film. "I was thrilled when I was sent the script and offered this," says Redgrave, who lets Nero dominate the interview. "I knew that producer [actress] Ellen Barkin had recommended me, which was lovely for her to do."

She told the filmmakers she thought Nero would be perfect for Lorenzo.

"There wasn't anybody we had in mind," says director Gary Winick. "The Italian casting director said there are some wonderful actors that might be more suited and I said, you know Franco is going to be great and their real life story mirrors our story. The fact that Vanessa suggested it, she wouldn't suggest something that wouldn't work out great."

Nero, who is also a director and writer, had distinct ideas about certain scenes. "In fact, when I first met him he handed me pages he has written," Winick recalls laughing

"There are two lines in the movie that are essential," says Nero. "They are two lines which are a great message to young people, to old people, to middle-age people. "

One is the line in which Claire tells Lorenzo "sorry I'm late," for keeping him waiting for 50 years. "And I say," explains Nero, " 'when we speak about love, it's never too late.' I was so proud about those two lines."

But Nero didn't mention during the interview he actually wrote those lines. "It did mean a lot to them," says Winick. In fact, when the couple learned that the scene had been cut, they called the studio. The lines were put back in.

"It's a privilege to work with Vanessa," says Nero. "I think she's the best."

"Oh you darling," Redgrave says softly.

Says Nero: "When I say the best, I tell you she's the best. She has an incredible talent and we all know that and she's a great woman. Sometimes she's a little bit stubborn and I have to find a way to convince her to do something."

"He's passionate about cinema and film," Redgrave says of her husband.

"And directing too," adds Nero.

Nero recalls the first time he met Redgrave on the backlot of Warner Bros. He was walking with "Camelot" director Josh Logan, who pointed her out to Nero. The actor wasn't impressed. "I see this woman who is wearing blue jeans with holes, glasses and no makeup," he says laughing.

"I was sort of cold when he introduced us," recalls Nero. "I said later, 'Josh, are you sure you got the right actress? She's ugly.' He said, 'Don't worry, you'll see.' I was a young Italian boy who thought women had to be dark like Sophia Loren."

When he got back to his dressing room, Nero found a letter in Italian from Redgrave inviting him to dinner. Nero drove to her house in the Pacific Palisades. "I knocked on the door and a lady opens the door," Nero says. "She was a beautiful lady. Fantastic. I said I was invited here by Vanessa Redgrave for dinner. She said, 'I am Vanessa Redgrave.' She was completely changed. Unbelievable."

So why did they decide to finally tie the knot?

"I always loved her," he says.

"I did love him," adds Redgrave.

"I think when you become a little bit older, I think you become wiser," says Nero.

--

susan.king@latimes.com

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