As we move further and further into quarantine with seemingly no hope of making it out to the other side, I’ve found that people are developing new, often bizarre obsessions to stay sane in COVID-induced solitude. For some, these obsessions are healthy—productive even: Learning to cook or knit, or developing an aptitude for woodworking. For me, it’s mostly been trying to binge watch as much film and television as I possibly can to numb myself to the outside world, and the more I watched, the more one actor began to pop up over and over again. While my 2020 may have been a year I’d like to forget, it’s been an outstanding year for the dreamy, insanely talented Italian actor Luca Marinelli—whose filmography has recently become my latest COVID obsession.
I’ll be honest, it’s a bizarre fixation to have. This time last year, if you’d mentioned Marinelli I’d have had no idea who you were talking about, but now I’ve seen the light, learned the error of my ways, and fallen down the Luca rabbit hole at the best possible moment for us both. While most of us are just praying that 2020 ends as soon as possible, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Marinelli has made 2020 his year. If you’re like I was last year and the name “Luca Marinelli” (tragically) means nothing to you, let me paint a picture.
It’s July. You’re scrolling through Netflix for the thousandth time this week, when suddenly you stumble upon Charlize Theron’s new movie, The Old Guard. Bored out of your mind and enticed by the image of Theron wielding a battle axe, you decide to bite, and there he is: Luca Marinelli, in all his beautiful, blue-eyed, Roman-nosed Italian glory. It feels like the world is in slow motion. Time has stilled around you. Was there life before this moment?
I mean, of course there was, but you weren’t truly living, because you didn’t know about Marinelli and his intimidatingly impressive filmography. Yes, most American audiences were likely introduced to him for the first time this summer with Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Netflix action flick The Old Guard, where he played Nicolo di Genova AKA Nicky—a priest-turned-immortal-warrior who’s also the lover of Joe (Marwan Kenzari AKA live-action Aladdin’s hot Jafar), who fought opposite him in the Crusades. Nicky is just one of six leads in the film, but his quiet intensity, wise, seemingly all-knowing demeanor, and yes, his looks, had me instantly curious about who this actor was and why I didn’t know about him until then. Nicky and Joe may have been the ones fighting in the Crusades, but it felt like I was the one having a religious experience. Getting to see two out and proud gay superheroes wax poetic about each other’s beauty is a moment I still come back to whenever I need a distraction from the real world.
Both Marinelli and Kenzari give The Old Guard their everything, and are obvious standouts in the film. While Kenzari’s Joe is instantly likable thanks to his sunny personality, easy smile, and fierce devotion to his lover of 900+ years, it also doesn’t hurt that he looks good cutting down baddies with a scimitar. Then, of course, there’s Nicky, who’s much more quiet and reserved—his cool, collected demeanor hides a wealth of compassion and warmth that bleeds out in little moments across the film. In the hands of another, lesser pair of actors, Joe and Nicky may have felt forgettable or even like token fodder, but thanks to Kenzari and Marinelli, there’s humanity, depth, and intense passion for each other that’s impossible to look away from.
After the credits rolled on The Old Guard, I hopped right over to IMDb, where I discovered that the film is just one of three starring Luca Marinelli to come out this year. Following The Old Guard in July was Martin Eden in October, a film for which he’s received quite a bit of critical acclaim. A number of those critics also waxed poetic about his face, which only served to both fuel and validate my recent revelation that Marinelli has got to be one of the most beautiful actors alive. The Chicago Tribune Katie Walsh said of him: “Marinelli has a face that could, and should, be carved in marble. His Roman nose is practically a supporting character.” If that doesn’t give you an idea of the sheer power of his beauty, I don’t know what will.
Where he played an introverted, ruminative mercenary in The Old Guard, his role couldn’t be more different in Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden, an Italian adaption of the Jack London novel of the same name. Marinelli plays Eden, an illiterate sailor who abandons a life of traveling and brawling to teach himself how to become a writer. The film is an epic, sweeping tale of Martin’s journey from penniless nobody to world-famous author haunted by fame, and Marinelli is at the center of it all.
With a mesmerizing physicality that propels the movie forward, he engrosses the viewer in Martin’s inner turmoil. His physical transformation as Martin rises to fame is also incredible—he almost looks like a different person by the time all is said and done. Gone are his bright eyes, youthful glow, and determination to be known, replaced by unkempt hair, waxy pallor, and a deadness behind the eyes that borders on unsettling. Marinelli’s performance here already beat out Joaquin Phoenix and more for the coveted Volpi Cup at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and its awards prospects are looking fruitful this year as well. Eden’s already picked up both Best Actor and Best Film nominations at the European Film Awards and, thanks to the film’s American release, it’s eligible for the Academy Awards.
Starring in one of the biggest Netflix films of the year and winning critical acclaim in an Oscar-buzzy drama wasn’t enough: Marinelli’s year still isn’t over. His newest film, Diabolik, will hit Italian theaters later this month. Though the title may not ring a bell with American fans, it certainly does in Italy. Diabolik is perhaps the most iconic character in Italian comic book history, an infamous masked thief who dons a latex catsuit(!) to pull off ambitious heists. The character’s influence over Italian comics is so vast that the series is often credited as single-handedly jumpstarting the Italian “fumetti neri” movement—comics that dealt in the dark, the gritty, and the erotic. Basically, comics’ answer to the exploitation film. Though perhaps not a one-to-one comparison to being cast as a new version of Spider-Man, Diabolik is certainly someone with whom an Italian pop culture fan is familiar.
With three major films all released in the same year, a year where we’ve all been stuck with nothing to do but watch movies, there’s never been a better time to familiarize yourself with Luca Marinelli and his filmography—and man, what a filmography it is. From embodying singer-songwriter Fabrizio Di Andre in Il Principe Libero to playing the psychotic, Joker-esque “Gypsy” in the superhero flick They Call Me Jeeg and the demure, endearing romantic lead of Tutti I Santi Giorni, Marinelli’s career is as impressive as it is varied. Whether you’re in the mood for a romance, a drama, a thriller, or a superhero flick, I guarantee there’s a Luca Marinelli film that fits the bill.
Lauren Coates is a freelance entertainment writer with a passion for sci-fi, an unhealthy obsession with bad reality television, and a constant yearning to be at Disney World. She’s contributed to Paste since 2020. You can follow her on Twitter @laurenjcoates, where she’s probably talking about Star Trek.