luni , 21 septembrie 2020

Audrey Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti: „My mother is an anti-star in many ways”

Audrey and Luca 2Audrey and Luca, in Switzerland, 1975. Photo by Doris Brynner

I would like to take you back a little and ask you how was your country house in Switzerland, how do you remember it?

It was our home, in every sense of the word. It was quite big, so it could keep many memories (smiles). All the toys were there, all the books, all the things that mattered to us… It was a house where you could always return and find your memories; that was vey important for my mom, because of her experience in the war, and then because of her career. She had changed many houses, so when she found this one, it became a solid base. No matter what, she knew she could always return to this place and feel safe. It was the central point of the family, and that was very reassuring.

I know that you sold the house to a family with many children.

Yes, that’s a very nice story. We kept the house for five or six years after my mother’s death. But my brother was living in California, I was living in Italy, we were both going to the house, but less and less. Usually, the place was filled with people of our family, but in time it started to feel very sad, because it was empty most of the time. So we put it on the market and we were very lucky to find a great  family, with seven children! It seemed logical to bring the place back to life and pass it on to these people. Now we are quite good friends, I see them many times.

Do you often visit the place?

Well, I visit Switzerland because my wife is Swiss and we go there quite a lot. We also were there for an event organized this year to mark 20 years since my mother’s passing. But I haven’t been inside the house; that is too emotional for me. Someday I might enter it, but I am not sure I want to do that. It’s somebody else’s house now. I am glad for the family who lives there, they are the right people, but it would be really too hard for me to go inside the house…

But I guess you visit the area, as your mother is buried nearby…

Yes, that’s true. She wanted to be buried close to the house, in the village where I grew up.

What’s your first memory about your mother?

There are so many… I remember us going to the beach together, in the summer, with my brother and my father, I remember when she taught me how to ride a bike. A few people asked me this before and it’s always a difficult to answer it, because when you are a child, you are not aware that your mother is special for so many people, so you don’t start recording your memories carefully.

I remember the simple things, like walking the dogs together with her. She gave a great importance to having children and pets together in the house; she always had dogs and she raised them with us, because she thought that a child must feel that empathy of growing up with a pet. It’s a great lesson of life, to have this connection with creatures which are weaker than us, which cannot express themselves through words, but which can offer so much affection. And which don’t expect it back, even if they need it. She used to say: The only thing a dog needs is love.

And now you raise your children with pets, too (e.n. a dog barking could often be heard during our telephone conversation).

Yes, I have a dog, cats, all kinds of animals (smiles). I grew up like that and I raise my kids in the same way. Without animals the house would just feel empty. I have children with ages from one year and a half to 12, and I teach them to take care of a dog; I consider it an important task.

You told me your mother didn’t think her celebrity was very important, but there were many people, like journalists or paparazzi, who did. How did this affect you?

Well, being in the movie business was a little harder those days. You had to travel to different locations to promote the films you starred in, do live interviews, photo sessions. There was no Internet, no satellite recordings or mobile phones; you had to travel a lot and it was a hard work. When she had children she stopped doing it. So me and my brother never felt things the way I guess some celebrity children feel today. We knew that she had a job, but she was at home, taking care of us.

How did the press treat her two divorces? Were they kind or rather not?

Difficult to tell. In these moments, that are rarely happy and light, one should have the right to be left alone. But mainly if the press was harsh on my parents’ divorce, it didn’t have much to do with my mother. Her private life was as good as her career. And if you think about it, it’s very strange, because she was one of the most important Hollywood stars. But this didn’t happen just because she was nice; no, she put a lot of effort in it. She was very strict about herself. When she took a break from her career, she knew exactly what she did and she just followed her priorities.

On the rare occasions the paparazzi came to take a snap of her walking on the street, I was quite surprised. I was asking myself why they were so aggressive with the photo cameras, but my mother was always very kind on that aspect. She used to say to me they were doing their job. She would say: Let’s smile and take a nice photo, and then we go on with our lives. They are writing stories, there aren’t so many stories about me, so they have to do something to create one. Just smile and don’t worry!

Was that the time when you became aware of her celebrity?

No. The moment I became aware of her celebrity was after she died. Those days after her death showed me how famous she was. You know, any loss is very private; you want to stay with your family, you want to stay quiet. But the press was all around our house and she was on every magazine’s cover, so it was a big shock for me to see so much interest in her. For a very long time after that, I insisted on my private life and I totally separated my mother’s life from my own career – I studied to be a graphic artist, which is a very private profession. But later I realised you have to find a balance; you can lead a private life, but you cannot pretend your mother wasn’t Audrey Hepburn. If you do that, you reach a point where you are ridiculous; you cannot hide from your friends or from your children – especially children – the story of such an important grandmother. So I try to tell them the real stories about their grandmother and separate them from her image in the press.

What image in the press do you consider to be untrue?

I wouldn’t say the images are untrue, but some of them don’t truly represent who she was. A concrete example would be her image from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is the one that mostly appears in the media and at the same time, it is the one which is most farther away from who my mother was. Sometimes she was a little worried because the media would heavily promote this image from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with the little black dress and the big sunglasses… Practically, it was the only case when she played such a different character. But in the rest of the time, her image was her very true persona. She used to say that the public is not stupid, that people are very clever and you cannot lie to them. They always saw my mother for who she was. She wasn’t an angel, she wasn’t a saint, she wasn’t perfect at all. But she was a very warm and real person.

This is what the book Audrey in Rome shows, too.

It does, really. My mother at home and my mother on the screen were very similar. Some artists are very good in changing their impersonation into different characters, but my mother usually stayed very true to herself. People often need idols who are very down to earth, and my mother very well represented that. She achieved a lot, but in the same time she remained very human. And everything she achieved she did it by simplicity.

How was it for you to see so many old photos with your mother, when you were working for the book?

I wasn’t born in the time the photos from the book were made, so it was interesting for me to see my mom and how my city looked like back then. The photo collection is a mix between her career and her private life. The main role of this book was to show that you can have a balance in your life. People want to hear stories, but I am trying to make a mix between the ones that mostly appeared in the media and the ones which tell who she was. And that brings me to a project I’ve been working on for the last years and which is almost ready, but won’t go to print until 2016.

What kind of project are you working on?

It’s a book I will call Audrey at Home, with private stories and photos, and cooking recipes, because my mother loved to cook and she used to share recipes with her friends. Many people were surprised to hear that, they would say to me: Your mother cooked? I didn’t imagine she would eat! It has to do with this image of the stars promoted in the media – that they don’t cook or they don’t go to the bathroom (laughs). Working on this project has been a psychological trip for me and also, it helped me show to my children this side of their grandmother.

What was your favourite food cooked by her?

There were the things that she always loved best – everything related to pasta, especially spaghetti al pomodoro. She used to eat pasta every time she traveled, but mostly she liked home food. She wasn’t very fond in excentric food or specialities; she always thought about food like something important for the family and she liked to keep things simple. The book will follow her evolution in this area – from the beginning of her marriage, when she really wanted to be a perfect housewife, and to the period when she become more sure about herself and what she knew about keeping a happy family. Her recipes became simpler and simpler in time.

Was she a good cook?

Oh, yes, she was a very good cook and she loved to cook! She complained that she didn’t have enough time for this, but when she was on holidays with her family and friends, she felt very good spending time cooking. She would go to the market, buy the groceries by herself. She liked going to the supermarket, this remained a special thing for her, because she remembered being a little girl, having almost nothing to eat during the war. When she discovered America, with the huge supermarkets and so many different products, it was such a surprise for her. She was European, she had a British passport, a Dutch mother, she spent most of her youth in Europe. She went to New York when she was casted to play Gigi on Broadway. And for every European then, America was a great discovery, with its huge supermarkets and expensive cars, it seemed to have so much to offer. In the eyes of a 20 year old European girl, America was so big and spectacular!

But still, after a while, she realised she loved Europe more.

That’s true. She was very secure about her choices, which is quite amazing. I am not so secure about my choices, I often have doubts. But she was sure about what she wanted in life, about the meaning of her family, of her home. The Hollywood career didn’t affect her at all. The thing that it brought to her – she would say – was that it offered her the possibility to help her children study and have a good education. She was always telling us that we were so lucky to be able to choose the university where we wanted to study and to choose our careers. Mostly she studied at home, with my grandmother, she didn’t have the opportunity to get a higher education. So this was important for her: having the chance to offer her family what they needed. She didn’t think about earning money and shopping for expensive jewelry or clothes.

That’s interesting, because one would think a star like Audrey Hepburn was more extravagant in these aspects.

No, everything she bought had to be practical and light. Of course, she liked clothes and jewelry, but not expensive jewelry that would become a burden. There is this story I always remember; one day a friend of her came to our house, and he had a Jaguar. My mother was very excited and she wanted to have a ride with the Jaguar. And I told her: I never knew you were so excited about cars! And she replied: I’m not, but the Jaguar has always been my dream! So why don’t you buy one?, I asked. And she asnwered: Oh, but I don’t need one. In a Jaguar the dogs don’t fit, the groceries don’t fit, the children don’t fit, so I’m perfectly happy just having this desire.

See, nowadays, when you like something, you need to buy it; it’s not enough to look at the shopwindow, people need to have things. But she had this old mentality, and she thought it was good to have wishes and dreams, even if you don’t complete them. She regarded buying a Jaguar as a waste of money, because it wasn’t of any use. She only bought what she needed. Many of the beautiful clothes she wore at special events were only borrowed from the designers, and then she would clean them and give them back. She always said: Imagine how it would be like to buy all these things, it would be a waste of money, because I only wear them once. She was very happy with what she had, she never wanted more. If she wanted more, it was regarding to her family, especially children. She could spend on a good school, but not on an expensive car.


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