Paola Gassman and Ugo Pagliai, together for 54 years: “Our relationship began between two theaters”

Paola Gassman and Ugo Pagliai, together for 54 years: “Our relationship began between two theaters”

by Emilia Costantini

The showman’s daughter: “I saw him and to get to know him, I stole an ice cream from him”. The actor: “Her father said: Marry her.” The rivals: “During dinner, a girl eyed him. I took a bunch of grapes and threw them in the pool in front of her and the water splashed all over her face.”

He’d seen her in a plaid skirt and spring blouse. She hadn’t even noticed him: thus was born a love story that lasted 54 years. Paola Gassmann and Ugo Pagliai, a tried and tested couple in private and professional life.

Pagliai: «We started getting together for a coffee, then we met for a week, then for a year, then thirty years and then… I think I broke all the records».
Gassman: «I broke all the records too».

How did you meet?

Pagliai: «I had my eye on her when I was at the Silvio d’Amico Academy. She had come to a show and I remember exactly how she was dressed: beautiful then, just like now, a few years older. I said to myself: What a beauty this girl is! I too was pretty then and had admirers.’
Gassman: «I attended the essay by the actor Luciano Virgilio, who would later become my first husband. Ugo sat in the hall and at the end of the performance we didn’t even introduce ourselves. We met again after three years and in the meantime I got married and also separated from Luciano».
Pagliai: «The new meeting took place one evening. I had attended a European soccer final with friends who we decided to party with in Piazza Navona. While I was enjoying an excellent truffle ice cream, Paola, with I don’t know with what courage, steps in front of me and snatches half of the ice cream out of my hand».
Gassman: “I was quite adventurous, I don’t know if I was more drawn to the truffle or his blue eyes.”

And from this tear is the story born?

Gassmann: «Absolutely not! Osborne’s A Debt Paid begins rehearsals at the end of the summer. The protagonists were Ugo and Mariangela Melato, I played a supporting role in my first writing».
Pagliai: “During the tour, our relationship begins in a very comradely relationship”.
Gassman: «When we arrived at the Teatro della Cometa in Rome, my father Vittorio came to see the show. That evening you could feel the cold in the room: not only because of the text, which amazed the audience, but also because of the presence of dad, which was intimidating».
Pagliai: «He was a giant, he monopolized the audience».

How did it end?

Gassman: «We all went out to eat together and Dad complimented us… especially Ugo».
Pagliai: “Vittorio felt that there was something tender between me and his daughter, and perhaps he made me understand that he was not sorry”.

Didn’t it scare you to play in front of a great actor?

Pagliai: “I never dealt with the “Gassmann monument”, I entered the normality of her family. Many years later, during a quiet dinner between him and me, I won’t say it scared me, but it was embarrassing. We were in Milan on engagements and decided to have dinner together: he didn’t say a word».

Did something happen between you?

«No, but Vittorio was like this: capable of an overwhelming vitality, of irrepressible joy, and then he suddenly shut himself up, as if he were putting on a black cloak in order not to live».

Then he wrote a text for her…

Pagliai: «Frank lies he signed as playwright and director».

Some kind of handover?

Pagliai: «When he proposed the project to me, I felt honored, but I said to him: Vittorio, I can’t have the charm that you have when you play Edmund Kean. He wanted to trust me and it was kind of a symbolic handover.”
Gassman: «Father was aware of my problems when I started living with Ugo. At the time when there was no divorce, I was already the mother of Simona, born from the union with Luciano, and when our son Tommaso was born there were also problems with his recognition by Ugo, which were later resolved ».

54 years together and you’ve never been married. Because?

Gassman: “I was shocked by the first marriage, which lasted only six months, and was reluctant to celebrate another one. Ugo more reserved than me. We said to each other several times: Then we’ll do it… It’s now a superstitious question: why do we have to change the state of affairs when things have been going so well so far?”.
Pagliai: «Vittorio said to me from time to time: Marry her… why don’t you marry her?».

And to think that he broke all records between marriages and cohabitation.

Pagliai: «Indeed… When she was expecting her fourth child, Jacopo, it spontaneously occurred to me to tell Paola that she exclaimed: It’s okay that you’re expecting a brother, but the worst thing is that I’m expecting a brother. in law!”.

What has been the secret of living together at home and on stage for over half a century?

Gassman: «We don’t have the magic wand to get along, we have to adapt to everyday life, the couple’s number one enemy».
Pagliai: «Paola is not just a companion, she is a sister, daughter, mother. Many different relationships between us, never routine.

Ever fought?

Gassman: “We made up and Ugo doesn’t like to argue anyway…”.
Pagliai: «Paola tells me I’m her punching bag…».

Never a betrayal?

Gassman: «There were female figures around him. Jealous? I might have been.”
Pagliai: «Well, don’t you remember that night at a dinner party there was a girl who gave me sweet eyes? You took a bunch of grapes and…».
Gassmann: Of course I remember. She was being silly. I grabbed that heap and forcibly threw it into the pool of water in front of her, splashing her face, and the little fool came to her senses.”
Pagliai: «I also nurtured a bit of jealousy. Paola has been openly courted on several occasions. But I didn’t throw water on my rivals… I’m too proud».

A great love you recently played playing “Romeo and Juliet”.

Gassman: “We’re certainly not old enough to embody two teenagers.”

Where did this belated Romeo and Juliet come from?

Gassman: «The director Enrico Castellani told us that he is working on the Shakespearean idea where the protagonists are not two young men but two characters with some white hair. An original idea and we asked him which interpreters he had in mind».
Pagliai: «He answered us: I am thinking of you. We? We were speechless. But the proposal amused us ».

They couldn’t resist portraying the most beautiful love story…

Gassmann: “We were not ashamed”.
Pagliai: «We were Romeo and Juliet who believed in it».

One last question. They live in Rome, in a building that houses Fratelli d’Italia’s headquarters. Is it difficult to live with Meloni’s office?

They answer with a laugh: “It’s a lot of chaos at the beginning, but we have other ways out besides the main door”.

January 18, 2023 (change January 18, 2023 | 07:38)