The men have The Godfather and Scarface, but Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci lead their own mob movie with Mafia Mamma, directed by Catherine Hardwicke.
Mafia Mamma's lead character Kristin (Collette) is dealing with the sadness of her son leaving home for college and her husband is cheating on her. She gets a phone call from a woman named Bianca (Bellucci) in Italy who tells her that her grandfather has passed away and she needs to go to Rome to settle his affairs. While initially hesitant, Kristin vows to have a "Eat, Pray, F-ck," moment in Italy, escaping the chaos of her home life in the U.S.
When Kristin arrives in Italy, she realizes her grandfather was actually the head of a mafia empire, which she has now inherited. Kristin needs Bianca to help guide her through this unexpected twist in her life, a people-pleasing suburban American who is now in organized crime and has to dodge assassination attempts.
The humour, the challenge and exploring a woman who feels unseen
For Hardwicke, who previously worked on famed films like Twilight, Lords of Dogtown and Thirteen, the director was up for the challenge of executing this comedic, women-focused mob movie.
“[Toni] sent me this script and I'm reading it, of course thinking Toni is playing Kristin,” Hardwicke said. “Every page I would read, I would just kind of see Toni, some expressions and how she would play it. So it really came alive for me.”
“I just started laughing out loud at certain points and a lot of challenges for the director. So I thought, OK this is challenging. This is fun and it really touches on something where a woman feels unseen, unheard. Literally, she's pitching to her bosses, and they barely let her get two words out.”
Hardwicke and Collette have worked together before in the film Miss You Already (which also starred Drew Barrymore), and the director highlighted that Collette's creativity and willingness to be open to try anything makes her a particularly attractive collaborator.
“Toni is very creative. She's very open. She has a lot of joy. Ready to work,” Hardwicke said. “She really loves Italy … and so she was just so excited.”
“I think she's open to anything, just open to listening, to trying something different. Sometimes we'll pull it back, she'll change it. She has strong opinions, that is not working for me but she knows what works and what feels right, and what she can breathe through.”
An unlikely duo
While Kristin is going through this odd transformation in her life, which does allow her to gain confidence in herself, we also see an important physical transformation for the character. Her style is more elevated, her body language is completely different, and there's a great balance between the vibrancy of Kristin's evolving wardrobe with Bianca's stylish but monotone all-black outfits.
“I remember the week or the days before [Toni] arrived in Rome, costume designer Claudette Lilly, we had a whole room in order of her transformation,” Hardwicke revealed. “Now she gets a little more colour. Now she's going to show a little more skin.”
“I kind of love the contrast, even visually. You've got the light and the dark, Toni with the blonde hair, American, open, wanting to be in a rom-com, kind of giddy about being in Italy. Then you've got Bianca, elegant, dark, in her Dolce & Gabbana kind of vibe and just so refined, and she's lived through violence and the mafia world. So she kind of knows how to help guide [Kristin] through this and their personalities are almost just night and day.”
In much of her work, Hardwicke has been praised for projects that have women characters who are layered and multidimensional, but for the director it's really just about representing real women.
“Every woman that I know is so interesting, and has so many contradictions,” Hardwicke said. “They’re a college professor but they do this, they help the homeless but they do Botox.”
“I love all the real women in the world. I couldn't even think of not doing that in a way, it just seems completely organic to want to tell stories about these interesting, strange, mysterious ... women. I love that.”