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Franco Nero

The once and future “Django” is still a star 55 years after being cast in his first Western role.

Henry C. Parke

The term “Spaghetti Western” creates a specific image in most American minds: Clint Eastwood in a serape, gunning down a sea of bearded bandits. But in much of the rest of the world, Spaghetti Western doesn’t mean Eastwood; it means Franco Nero. In 1965, the Italian-born international star was spotted by director John Huston while working as a set photographer on The Bible and was quickly cast in the role of Abel. The rest is cinema history: the star of more than 200 movies and TV shows, Nero has appeared in every genre, and from 1990’s Die Hard 2 to 2017’s John Wick: Chapter Two, has played every sort of suave villain and hero imaginable. Notes Nero, “I think I’m the only actor in the world that played characters of thirty different nationalities.”

Before Django, and his career-making performance as the gunman who walks from one mud-drenched town to the next, dragging a coffin behind him, Nero had only played small roles in a fistful of films. But suddenly he was popular, he said, “because I was the discovery of John Huston.” Sergio Corbucci, known in Spaghetti Western circles as, “the other Sergio,” had already directed 25 movies when he offered Nero the role in Django. Nero said yes, but that wasn't the end of it. “Corbucci wanted me, but one producer wanted Mark Damon, another one wanted Peter Martell.” Finally, they went to Fulvio Frizza, the distributor, with three photos, “and he looked at the three faces and he pointed his finger on my face. That’s how it happened.”

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October 2019