Rumanian postcard by Casa Filmului ACIN, Lei 2. Publicity photo for La Salamandra/The Salamander (1982).
Blue-eyed Italian actor Franco Nero (1941) was discovered by legendary director John Huston. His best known role is the coffin-dragging gunfighter in one of the best Spaghetti Westerns, Django (1966). Nero appeared in masterpieces of European directors like Luis Bunuel, Sergei Bondarchuk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but he also played the villainous opponent of Bruce Willis in the Hollywood blockbuster Die Hard 2 (1990).
Franco Nero was born Francesco Sparanero in San Lazzaro, Italy in 1941. He grew up in Bedonia, a northern Italian provincial town as the son of a strict police sergeant. Nero got on the scene at six-years-old. He studied briefly at the Economy and Trade faculty of Milan University, before leaving to study at the Piccolo Teatro di Milano. During that time, he was also appearing in popular Italian photo-novels. His film debut was an appearance in Pelle viva/Living Skin (1962, Giuseppe Fina). He then played bit parts in such comedies as La ragazza in prestito/Engagement Italiano (1964, Alfredo Giannetti) with Rossano Brazzi, and La Celestina P... R.../Celestial Maid at Your Service (1965, Carlo Lizzani) with Assia Noris. A year later, Nero’s handsome face was noticed by John Huston who chose him for the role of Abel in the extravagant production La bibbia/The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966). But his breakthrough was the role of the lonely gunfighter, dragging a coffin behind him through a muddy and featureless landscape, in Django (1966, Sergio Corbucci). The coffin, his dark coat, and the mystique around Django make him appear like an angel of death. That year Nero starred in a total of eight films, including also the Spaghetti Westerns Texas, addio/Adios, Texas (1966, Ferdinando Baldi) and Tempo di massacro/The Brute and the Beast (1966, Lucio Fulci). Nero made his Hollywood debut as Sir Lancelot in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loew’s musical Camelot (1967, Joshua Logan). During the filming he met actress Vanessa Redgrave, who became his long-time partner. A lack of proficiency in English tended to limit his Hollywood roles, although he would appear in more English language films including The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970, Christopher Miles) and Force 10 from Navarone (1978, Guy Hamilton) starring Harrison Ford.
Handsome Franco Nero appeared opposite the equally beautiful Claudia Cardinale in the mafia film Il giorno della civetta/The Day and the Owl (1968, Damiano Damiani). In the late 1960’s and during the 1970’s, Nero often appeared in such political thrillers, which criticized the Italian justice system. Then he played with Catherine Deneuve in Luis Buñuel's Tristana (1970). In the war drama Bitka na Neretvi/The Battle of Neretva (1969) he starred with Yul Brynner and Russian actor-director Sergei Bondarchuk. Later, Bondarchuk cast Nero for the role of famous American reporter John Reed in the two-part epic Krasnye kolokola II/Red Bells (1982, Sergei Bondarchuk). Although Franco Nero was often typecast as the hero in Italian action films he also has attempted an impressive range of non-heroic or psychologically complex characters. He starred as a strict and possibly psychotic young officer in Marcia trionfale/Victory March (1976, Marco Bellocchio), as a white ninja in Enter the Ninja (1981, Menahem Golan) and as the gay lieutenant in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle (1982) in love with the sailor Querelle (Brad Davis). At the beginning of the 1980’s, he also began producing, writing and directing. He both wrote and starred in Jonathan degli Orsi/Jonathan of the Bears (1994, Enzo G. Castellari). In 1990 he played terrorist General Esperanza, opposite Bruce Willis in Die Hard 2 (1990, Renny Harlin). He starred in Hungarian director Gábor Koltay's Honfoglalás/The Conquest (1996), and subsequently in his Sacra Corona/Holy Crown (2001, Gábor Koltay). During his career, Nero appeared in over 150 films, and in between he participated in various theatrical events. He also works for charitable organizations. Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave separated for many years, during which they both had relationships with other people. In 1987, while filming in Cartagena, Colombia, he was involved in an affair with Mauricia Mena and fathered a son named Franquito. Nero and Redgrave reunited and married in 2006. Their son Carlo Gabriel Sparanero (1969) is a screenwriter and director, known professionally as Carlo Nero. Francio was directed by his son in Uninvited (1999). Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave appeared together in the romantic comedy Letters to Juliet (2001, Gary Winick). In 2011 Nero can be seen in the horror film The Rite (2011, Mikael Håfström) with Anthony Hopkins.
Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Tzvetislav Samardjiev (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.