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Mafia Mamma Director Catherine Hardwicke on Godfather Homages, Shooting in Rome, and Sequel Ideas

Catherine Hardwicke‘s new action comedy Mafia Mamma takes plenty of inspiration from The Godfather and its Oscar-winning sequel, and as a fan of both of those ’70s classics, it was a lot of fun to watch a film parody and poke fun at them — and mob movies in general — given their sacred status in cinephile circles. But that’s what comedy is all about — punching up and attacking sacred goats.

Mafia Mamma stars Oscar-nominated actress Toni Collete as Kristin, a woman dealing with a sexist boss and a tumultuous home life, as her husband is cheating on her and her son is about to leave for college. When her grandfather dies, she’s eager to escape to Rome for his funeral, but when she arrives, she learns that her grandfather was a Mafia don and that his final wish was for her, his last living descendant, to assume the role of boss for a powerful Italian crime family.

Above the Line spoke with Mafia Mamma director Catherine Hardwicke over Zoom and discussed some of the film’s homages to The Godfather, what it was like to shoot in Rome, and what could be a fun idea for a sequel should Bleecker Street ever decide to make one.

Catherine Hardwicke
Catherine Hardwicke photo via Dave Allocca/StarPix courtesy of Bleecker Street

Above the Line: Mafia Mamma owes a lot to The Godfather and pays homage to it several times — you even replicate certain scenes — and while I think I picked up on a good amount of references, I was just curious if there were any homages or references to that film and other crime films that maybe I missed?

Catherine Hardwicke: Well, um, what did you think about the oranges? Did you feel the oranges? Because [in] The Godfather, you see at the end, he’s [Vito Corleone] peeling the orange, and of course, we have the oranges at the market. And then of course, the last scene, you know, where Diane Keaton says [to Al Pacino‘s Michael Corleone] “Is it true?” and the door shuts on her. We had the door shutting on the son (played by Tommy Rodger).

ATL: The score in that last scene kind of reminds me of The Godfather’s if I’m not mistaken, so did you sample it, or was the composition just very close?

Hardwicke: Oh, we did not sample it, but our composer, Alex Heffes, he, of course, listened to it and made his own crazy “Balbono Family Theme.” He made a “Romano Family Theme,” you know, and then it keeps twisting around.

ATL: I know you shot on location in Rome, so what was that experience like, and did you have time to kind of take in the city when cameras weren’t rolling and maybe enjoy some gelato?

Hardwicke: Oh yes, I did, of course [laughs]. Oh my God! Well, Rome is so fun and I got to stay right near the Piazza del Popolo, so there’s great gelato all over.

But when you’re doing a movie, one thing that’s cool [is that] you get to go location scouting and [you’re] looking at a lot of places that most people can’t even go because [they’ll say] “Come look at this villa,” you know, “come look at our estate,” you know, and, “you might be able to film there,” so you get this incredible tour of a city. And of course, the little town where we shot the funeral, that’s Bracciano — that was beautiful. That castle’s where Tom Cruise got married, so we saw all these cool things.

Mafia Mamma
Catherine Hardwicke and Toni Collette on the set of Mafia Mamma/Bleecker Street

ATL: So how long was the shoot? How long were you in Rome?

Hardwicke: I was there [for] about four-and-a-half months because of prepping, finding all the locations, and then you kind of get a lot of details for the movie by being there and having a real Roman crew, real Roman actors, they tell you things [like], “We wouldn’t eat this way, we would wear this in the Mafia,” so it gets more authentic, in a way.

ATL: I know you mentioned there were some details you got from those in the crew from Rome, but was there anything that you learned while shooting that directly influenced the film in any way?

Hardwicke: Well, it’s funny because, like, everywhere [we went], I [would] learn a lot about the history. Every 400-year-old villa you went in, they’d say “The Pope slept here,” you know? Or, “That cow head on the wall? That cow gave milk to the Pope during World War II,” so I’m like, “Oh my God, there [are] so many layers of history.”

So, a lot of times [that] the Italians are talking, sometimes they’re talking Italian in the background, [and] it adds all those extra layers.

ATL: I believe you’ve worked with Toni Collette before, and this is your second collaboration, right? I know that your other film, Miss You Already, was almost a decade ago, but I’m curious how your working relationship has grown or maybe changed from that first time to your second time working together on this film.

Hardwicke: Oh yeah, okay. That one, that movie Miss You Already with Drew Barrymore, we did it in London and we had a lot of fun. I mean, Toni is a fun person. And that was kind of a comedy, too, even though it has a sad twist.

Toni Collette Mafia Mamma
Toni Collette in Mafia Mamma/Bleecker Street

But Toni is the one that reached out to me and called to see if I wanted to be involved in this movie, and that’s a pretty cool compliment. I mean, I was like, ‘Wow, yes. Go to Rome? Yes, I do [want to be involved].’ This time we got to hang out a lot more. Like on the weekends, we would go down to the coast and go swimming, getting stung by jellyfish, that kinda thing [smiles]. But she’s a great collaborator. I mean, she’s very open. She has a lot of cool ideas. She’s great with casting, so it was really fun to work with her — she’s [also] a producer on this movie.

ATL: You mentioned that she’s good at casting — did she help a lot with casting this film?

Hardwicke: Oh, yeah. Sometimes we would be on a Zoom because you have to do a lot of casting by Zoom now, [and] we would do a chemistry read with her and some of the other actors. And of course, she has great instincts [about] who’s being truthful [and] who’s present, you know?

ATL: I’ve talked to other directors who have done casting stuff over Zoom like that, and I assume the actors aren’t always in the same room, or maybe ever, which has to be a little difficult, so can you walk me through that process?

Hardwicke: I know, I mean, honestly, it was sort of, like, famous, for me, that Rob [Pattinson] and Kristen [Stewart] came to my house [for] Twilight and I got to watch them firsthand, and on Lords of Dogtown, and all my other movies, [including] on Thirteen, I had the people in the room — Evan Rachel Wood [and] Nikki [Reed]. So I just couldn’t believe that I couldn’t do that.

But actually, it can work, because you know, you see the person, they see you, [and] you get a vibe if the people can work together. So you know, if you have to do it, we make it work and we’re doing it right now. So I think it’s working decently well.

Mafia Mamma Catherine Hardwicke
Monica Bellucci, Eduardo Scarpetta, and Catherine Hardwicke on the set of Mafia Mamma/Bleecker Street

ATL: You mentioned that during the casting of Twilight, you had Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart over. Do you have any further memories from those chemistry reads?

Hardwicke: Yes. I mean, I had already cast Kristen because I saw her in Into the Wild and I thought she had that perfect longing. When you see her in the trailer with Emile Hirsch, you’re like, “Oh my God, she really is in love with him [and] wants to be with him,” and so I thought she would be perfect for Bella.

And so then I’m trying to [figure out], who’s gonna be Edward? I mean, we did a whole search, [and] there were a lot of cute guys — a lot of ’em looked like the dude next door at your high school — but this was supposed to be this ethereal vampire [who] had been alive for almost 100 years. So we had this casting thing where everybody came to my house [in] two-hour increments, [and] my top five guys all came over and worked with Kristen for a couple [of] hours. And when Rob came you could just tell. We did the biology scene, we did the kissing scene on my bed — Rob got so nervous that he fell off the bed [laughs], but it was really a magical day. When you saw the two of them together, they both were like, “Oh, we’ve gotta do it.”

ATL: My family is full of fans of your Twilight film, and one of the defining things about it is that blue-tinted aesthetic, which I think you’ve employed in some of your other films. So I’m curious what makes you gravitate toward that aesthetic?

Hardwicke: Yeah, I think when you read the book Twilight, the vampires are not supposed to go outside in the sunshine because then they sparkle, right? And sparkle costs a lot of money in visual effects [laughs]. So we really wanted to create that moody atmosphere, like when you go to the real Forks or you go to the Pacific Northwest Rainforest, you are in like this moody, foggy, cloudy vibe. So that’s what we were trying to give the whole movie — that feeling. It’s the cloudiest place in the United States, Forks, and so we weren’t trying to go blue, but we were trying to [make it feel like] you’re in this dense water almost [laughs].

ATL: Speaking of The Godfather, I was curious if you’d ever do a Mafia Mamma Part II that would follow a parallel storyline, whether it be a younger version of Kristin (Collette), or maybe Lorenzo (Giulio Corso), and then continue the story of somebody else. Is that something you would consider?

Hardwicke: Oh my God, we would love to do more [smiles] because now that we have the three women, her lawyer (played by Sophia Nomvete), Monica Bellucci, and Toni together, I kind of wanna see how they would run the Mafia, right? That would be really cool [smiles] — [a] little trio [of] power women.

ATL: Well then, in that case, just playing along with The Godfather Part II format, if you continued that story of Toni and the girls in the flashback storyline, would you still tell Monica Bellucci’s story or someone else’s? Who would be your choice?

Hardwicke: Oh, like go back? Oh yeah, that would be cool. Go back and do the flashbacks… [gasps] Oh, I like where you’re going. Oh, maybe we should do that. Just parallel The [Godfather]. Okay, thank you for that!

Mafia Mamma is now playing in theaters nationwide courtesy of Bleecker Street.

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