Film critics are quick to compare Monica Bellucci to previous Italian beauties, but she is her own brand of sultry icon. With roles as a topless vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a taciturn war widow in Malèna (2000), a charmed courtesan in Le Pacte des Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf) (2002), and a sci-fi vixen in the Matrix sequels (2003), Bellucci has proved to be a bold blend of earthy and ethereal, actress and star.
Born on September 30, 1968, Bellucci grew up in the small Italian village of Citta di Castello, where her father owned a trucking company. At 18, she enrolled at the University of Perugia with plans to study law. To pay her tuition, Bellucci started modeling. Two years later, she dropped out of school to relocate to Milan, where she signed with Elite Model Management. Besides strutting the cat walk in fashion shows, Bellucci appeared in international advertising campaigns for designers such as Dolce & Gabbana. With her modeling career in full swing, she began to take acting classes and made her screen debut in the television film Vita Coi Figli (Life With the Sons) in 1990.
After acting in several Italian features, Bellucci graced American screens for the first time as one of Dracula’s (Gary Oldman) brides in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), which also starred Keanu Reaves and Winona Ryder. She subsequently returned to Italy to appear in the heist film I Mitici (The Heroes) (1994) and the children’s movie Palla di Neve (Snowball) (1995). As time passed, Bellucci grew increasingly frustrated with the failure of Italy’s film industry to promote its projects abroad. She starred opposite Ben Kingsley and Dominique Sanda in the American television movie Joseph (1995), before looking for work in French films.
Bellucci made her French-language debut in 1996’s award-winning romance L’Appartement (The Apartment). She earned a César nomination for her performance in the role, as well as began dating her co-star, French actor Vincent Cassel. The couple (who married a few years later) re-teamed onscreen immediately, portraying comically troubled lovers in the gender-bending romance Come Mi Vuoi (As You Want Me) (1996) and murderous bank robbers in Jan Kounen’s infamous thriller Dobermann (1997).
In 2000, Bellucci returned to Hollywood to play Gene Hackman’s estranged trophy wife in Under Suspicion. The film’s director, Stephen Hopkins, had seen L’Appartement on a transatlantic flight and requested that she star in the thriller. That same year, the actress earned unprecedented worldwide acclaim for her performance as the title character in Malèna. Helmed by award-winning director Giuseppe Tornatore, the film featured Bellucci as a quiet young bride who is left alone in a small Sicilian town when her husband goes off to fight in World War II. Stunningly attractive, she struggles to keep her dignity as she is spurned by the female villagers and preyed upon by the men. Bellucci followed up Malèna’s success with another international hit, Christophe Gans’ genre hybrid Le Pacte des Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf) (2002). The stylish cross between period piece and kung-fu flick (which also starred Cassel) was the fourth most successful film of its year in France. After conquering Europe, the film became an art house hit in the States and Bellucci received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress from the U.S. Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.
The subject of numerous fan sites and men’s magazine articles, Bellucci went on to star as the seductive Queen of the Nile in the comic book adaptation Astérix & Obélisk: Mission Cléopâtre. In 2001, she joined Dracula co-star Keanu Reeves in the cast of the highly anticipated follow-ups to The Matrix (1999), The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003). Soon after, Bruce Willis personally chose Bellucci to play a humanitarian doctor whom he must save from war-torn Nigeria in Tears of the Sun, director Antoine Fuqua’s follow-up to his hit Training Day (2001).
In 2004, Bellucci’s momentum continued to build when she starred as Mary Magdalene in The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s self-produced blockbuster retelling of the final 12 hours of Jesus Christ. In the wake of that film’s success, Bellucci teamed with two other renowned directors, Terry Gilliam and Spike Lee, with roles in The Brothers Grimm and She Hate Me, respectively