Based on the bestselling novel by Wally Lamb, the HBO limited series “I Know This Much Is True” follows the struggles of Dominick Birdsey as he goes to great lengths to protect his identical twin brother, Thomas, who is suffering from severe mental illness. The series stars Italian-American actor Mark Ruffalo in a bravura performance as both brothers.
In the fifth episode, Birdsey’s efforts lead him to a book written by his grandfather, a Sicilian immigrant. Calabrese actor Marcello Fonte, who is featured in the June issue of Fra Noi, gives an outstanding performance as Domenico Tempesta, a ruthless, violent man who will let nothing stand in the way of achieving the American dream. When his wife dies during childbirth, her sister places a curse on Tempesta and seven generations of his family. When Birdsey discovers this, he wonders if this curse is behind all the misfortune that his family has faced.
Fonte has made a career out of effortlessly transforming himself into every character he plays and Domenico Tempesta is no different. The final episode of the series aired on June 15, and all episodes will be available soon on HBO’s streaming platform.
The following is excerpted from our magazine profile of Fonte:
Born in Melito di Porto Salvo at the southern tip of Calabria, Fonte learned his craft on the fly while working a variety of jobs, including fruit vendor, butcher and barber. During those years of balancing day jobs with small parts, he landed roles in Alice Rohrwacher’s “Corpo celeste” (Heavenly Body) and Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York.”
In 2015, Fonte stepped behind the camera to co-direct as well as act in “Asino volo” (Donkey Flies), a coming-of-age story about Maurizio, a headstrong 7-year-old who has to fight to realize his dream of playing the snare drum in the town band. He does so with the counsel and support of a wise donkey and in the face of resistance from his mother, who views music as a luxury the family can’t afford. The film made its North American premiere at Canada’s Junior Italian Contemporary Film Festival in 2016. It isn’t available stateside, but the film’s website, www.asinovola.it, features videos of traditional celebrations in southern Italy as well as pictures that children can download and color.
Fonte’s breakout role came in Matteo Garrone’s 2018 thriller “Dogman,” which tracks the downward spiral of Fonte as Marcello, a single father who owns a small dog grooming business in a poor suburb. A timid, isolated man, Marcello gets mixed up with the wrong crowd while trying to make extra money selling drugs. His close relationship with his daughter and his passion for harboring animals are jeopardized when hoodlums begin taking advantage of his kind nature.
The constant torment at the hands of an unstable, violent neighborhood bully, magnificently played by Edoardo Pesce, soon becomes unbearable, and Marcello loses everything. After serving time in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, he finally reaches the breaking point and does what no one ever thought he was capable of doing. This suspenseful modern masterpiece offers an unblinking view of the emotional damage wrought by bullying as seen through the fear and desperation of the victim. Both actors give harrowing performances — Fonte as a meek loner and Pesce a brutal antagonist who drives his victim over the edge. The film premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where Fonte took home the prize for best actor.
Fonte recently portrayed Ciccio Italia, the village poet, in Mimmo Calopresti’s “Aspromonte: La terra degli ultimi” (Aspromonte: Land of the Forgotten). Adapted from Pietro Ciriaco’s book “Via dall’Aspromonte” (Away from Aspromonte) the story brings to light the catastrophic consequences of southern Italy’s socioeconomic woes during the 1950s. The film made its Italian theatrical premiere in November. I was fortunate to be in Rome at the time and attended a screening at Cinema Intrastevere, where the director and actors were present.
I spoke with Fonte about this very Calabrian story and the tragic chapter in the region’s history the film captures. He acknowledged that the Calabria we see in the film is the “old country” that so many residents fled when they came to America. He had a special message for these hardy immigrants: “For those Calabrians who left for America, go and see this film, see our Calabria. Experience again the flavors. It will reconnect you with your roots, your memories here.”
“Aspromonte” was scheduled to be shown at the Italian Film Festival USA, with Calopresti and Fonte presenting it in several cities. Due to the coronavirus quarantine, however, the events were cancelled. We will keep you posted regarding upcoming screenings of the film.
In the meantime, check out Fonte’s award-winning performance in “Dogman,” which is available to stream on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu and Hulu. And follow Fonte on Instagram (@fontemarcello), where he often shares images and videos of his life in Calabria.
Click here for trailer for the series.
Click here for a trailer for Episode 5.