In the highly acclaimed gay-themed movie Ciao (which just recently came out on DVD after premiering in 2008), hunky Italian Alessandro Calza plays, well, hunky Italian Andrea, who comes to the United States to meet up with Jeff, the best friend of a man who Andrea had been dating online—and who is now dead. (Did you get all that?) Calza called Windy City Times from Italy and talked about the movie, his home country and a bit more—and said some surprising things.
WCT: (Windy City Times) I saw Ciao, and I discovered it’s a very quiet movie.
AC: (Alessandro Calza) You have to take the director, Yen Tan, into account. He’s been an U.S. citizen for about 12 years but he’s still Asian. He was born in Malaysia and speaks Chinese, and his background is in Asian cinema. And being indie, you can be pretty much true to what you want to do; you can have your kicks. If you see people like Ang Lee, they work with studios so even if they have their own style, they still need to conform to be commercial. But that’s why the movie is very quiet and the pace is pretty slow, which is probably unusual for an American gay movie.
WCT: Plus I was thinking since you’re European—and there is supposedly a more laid-back approach regarding the body—that there would be nudity in the film, and there isn’t. The movie is very ... tender.
AC: Let’s put it this way: I think there are some similarities between Italian and Chinese culture because we’re traditional; we live very close to where we were born; we rarely move; we’re very connected to family; and community; we’re traditional in terms of food; and we’re reserved about sexuality. So I think that some of those ideas were channeled through the Italian character. If you look closely, Andrea (as a character) is not very Italian at all; maybe there is that “Guido” stereotype, but there is a tenderness. But I, as a persona, am completely different from Andrea; I’m totally energetic and very animated.
WCT: You also seem to be very comfortable with your body, judging by the photos you sent me and what’s on your Facebook profile.
AC: The thing about Europeans being comfortable with their bodies and being more “laid-back” about sexuality is true and not true. America is very complicated because there’s a very strong difference, depending on where they live; but in Europe, it’s a bit more homogeneous. In the U.S. you can have extremes, like a person who might be from a small town in Texas and a person who grew up in a lesbian family in San Francisco; here, we don’t have [those extremes].
Compared to people in small-town America, Europeans are probably more comfortable—but I have to say that Europeans are learning a lot from America’s gay community. Images from porn, for example, come from there. We have to remember that America is a leader in a lot of [ways], especially when it comes to things that are gay. Even with fashion, it comes from America—nothing from Europe, nothing from Australia or South Africa.
Religion here is not taken so seriously; you’ll never find people with religious issues here whereas it’s a big deal in the United States.
But there is another aspect that’s interesting. America is a country of pioneers; everyone pretty much came from the outside and conquered the land. But there is a mindset that Americans had to go through a process of growth. So the average gay guy in the United States—even if he has a religious background—knows that there are certain things he may go through in the city: circuit parties, three-ways, then having a boyfriend, husband, blah, blah, blah.
You can find someone who’s 40 and married who discovers he’s gay and then breaks up with his wife; here, that’s very rare. Americans are more ready to challenge themselves. Here, people don’t move much and they don’t change jobs. The way that you are, you remain. Most guys in the U.S. go through a process.
Going back to your question about my pictures, I’m actually not comfortable with my body at all. That’s why I do a lot of photography; for me, it’s training. Up until I was 20, I was ashamed to take off my clothes. [Calza will be 40 this year.] Even now, I’m still pretty critical about my body. I wish I could see myself through the eyes of other people, because they usually give me compliments. But people usually see themselves through their own hang-ups; I’m not taking off my T-shirts in clubs or anything like that.
I’m reading this book suggested by a friend; it’s called The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World. It’s an amazing book; it’s seems like it’s written for any gay man. It focuses on the problems that gay kids deal with in traditional families. One of the issues is being comfortable with your body; it’s [connected] with being accepted by your family.
WCT: What was it like growing up gay in Italy? Pardon me for assuming you are if you’re not.
AC: No, I’m completely gay; I don’t know anyone who’s gayer than me. [Laughs] Plus I have a lot of history, since I’m 39. My story comes from very, very far. I realized what I was attracted to even before I knew what sexuality was; I was 5 or 6, collecting pictures or being attracted to books because of their content. It was a painful process when people make you realize that you’re different—but it’s worse when you were never part of anything. I never lied and said I had a girlfriend—ever. That froze me out on some level.
It’s especially difficult in Italy, because [people] are always bringing up sexuality. They’re always bringing up girlfriends and there’s this pressure to feel more masculine and macho. It’s a very sick environment—but Iraq is worse.
WCT: Yes, some places are worse.
AC: I always said that if I get bored with everything, I’m going to open a gay bar in Iraq; it’s the most extreme and brave thing you can do.
WCT: It’s either brave or crazy. Are you becoming a U.S. citizen?
AC: I don’t know. I currently work as a graphic designer, but what I want to do is live part of the year in the United States because I’m really freaking out here. The economy is a little bit better than in the United States but things are still pretty difficult. Right now I’m in the process of acquiring new clients in the States so I could get a place in New York and then go back and forth.