The Young Montalbano: Reinterpreting the detective

Friday 4 October 2013, 10:29

Michele Riondino Michele Riondino Actor

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Accepting the offer to play Salvo Montalbano in The Young Montalbano all happened when I was on the set of We Believed.

I played a soldier from Garibaldi’s army and I had a very scruffy look: unkempt beard, matted hair, mud stains on my face.

The film producer was Carlo Degli Esposti, the same producer of Inspector Montalbano, who seeing me in that state had, as he puts it, an intuition.

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A rocky start for Montalbano (Michele Riondino) and his deputy, Mimi Augello (Alessio Vassallo)

No one knew he was looking for a little-known actor up to the challenge to take on the role of the detective at a younger age. 

No one knew that among his projects lay that of shooting the prequel of the iconic character, based on the very first novels by Andrea Camilleri.

A few days later I received a phone call from my agent who told me about a phone conversation with Degli Esposti and how he had been impressed by my look.

He told me that Carlo had in mind having young Montalbano as somewhat of a Che Guevara and that my red shirt soldier had convinced him I could be him.

I was extremely flattered by the proposal but I didn’t accept immediately. It took me several months before I managed to convince myself.

Montalbano was always Luca Zingaretti. Anyone in Italy and abroad thinks of him when picturing the character.

Needless to say he always interpreted Montalbano perfectly, giving back all the complexities of his personality.

Salvo Montalbano isn’t a simple character, many ambiguities distinguish him.

He really loves women but always ends up running from them, they make him uneasy and insecure.

Livia Burlando (SARAH FELDERBAUM), Salvo Montalbano (MICHELE RIONDINO) Livia (Sarah Felderbaum) starts dating Salvo after they meet through one of his investigations

All the while he is a stable and tenacious person, and stubborn, just like the typical Sicilian stereotype. He finds it extremely difficult to respect hierarchies, particularly men having more important roles than him.

Yet he is an impeccable detective, who learned everything from his inspector, who gave him all the necessary tools to be an incredible cop.

He also has a tendency to stand up and take care of the weaker, even if they were to go against a law that in some instances to him, was arguable.

Basically Montalbano isn’t just a policeman, but he also is a citizen, a defender of the polis, of the civil life.

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Montalbano suspects a notice board stolen from the town hall spells trouble for an engaged couple

I feared some sort of media attack, since changing the face of the detective was almost blasphemy to some.

So I raised two requests: the first was to meet and discuss the idea with Andrea Camilleri, the second was to have my own freedom regarding the use of the dialect, meaning I wanted to feel free to not worry about the “understandability” of some terms.

In the novels, the Sicilian used is a very archaic dialect, a mix coming from various places in Sicily. I was keen to keep it as it was, after all the books didn’t provide notes or explanations either.

The production accepted, Andrea was happy to meet and approve me, and he kept me talking about the character for hours. I listened and stole as much information as possible.

It isn’t every day an actor gets to talk about the character with the person that created him. In other words, I accepted the challenge.

The desire to do as well as Zingaretti and his team gave our whole team a particular energy that accompanied us for the whole six months of production.

Michele Riondino plays Salvo Montalbano in The Young Montalbano.

The Young Montalbano continues on Saturday, 5 October at 9pm on BBC Four. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

More on The Young Montalbano
The Independent: The Weekend's Viewing: Subtitles should stop no one warming to this compelling Italian
Metro: The prequel to Inspector Montalbano is a treat for fans of European drama
Mrs Peabody Investigates: The Young Montalbano is on his way...

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC. 

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  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this series, as I did 'Montalbano'. Hope we see more. It also helps my Italian which I though I'd forgotten. How about a series in Spanish too (on the same calibre at Montalbano & Young Monalbano) please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Could not believe the Young Montalbano is over! I have loved this BBC 4 series from the start and recommended it to friends and family; I have a nephew who is the spitting image of Luca Zingaretti! Michelle Riondino brilliant as well in characterisation of this intriguing detective and the rest of the supporting cast great.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Hi Serene, thanks for getting in touch, I’m the researcher on the TV blog. I'm sorry to hear you missed the last episode of Young Montalbano but programmes are generally available to stream on BBC iPlayer for seven days after broadcast. The last episode of Young Montalbano was available until Saturday, 19 October, seven days after it was broadcast.

    You can find out more about availability on the BBC iPlayer FAQs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    In response to Lee Scoresby's comment (no.76) about a miscalculation in relation to the passing of time, The Snack Thief, in which the little Tunisian boy Francois appears for the first time, was written in 1996, and the episode filmed in 1999, so there's no miscalculation. He's now the age he should be.
    You can hear Olivia Sellerio (daughter of Enzo and Elvira Sellerio, founders of the publishing house that publishes Andrea Camilleri) "Vuci mia cantannu vai", Curri, curri" and other Sicilian songs on YouTube. Not the same as having your own CD, but next best thing.
    Like so many others, I think Young Montalbano is wonderful.As a great fan of Luca Zingaretti's Montalbano I was prepared not to like it, but have been won over by Michele Riondino's intelligent and charming interpretation. I was sad to see the departure of Fazio senior, the relationship between him and Montalbano was so well done, warm, but with an edge from Salvo's irascibility that prevents sentimentality.
    Something people don't seem to have remarked on is the brilliance of Camilleri, the director of both series and the actors, in representing old people. I simply love all those old actors, real characters, not stereotypes. Camilleri is of course one of those old characters himself!
    A note for flyingMuckspreader,(no. 52) in the south of Italy the "passato remoto" is not a literary form, it's used regularly in speech in place of the "passato prossimo". There's a glossary of Sicilian on the Camilleri Fans (sic) Club site.
    Those of you who have the time, opportunity and motivation (ok, not so easy!) should learn Italian, and read Camilleri in the original. He has a wonderful sense of humour and use of the language that gets a bit lost in translation.You soon pick up the written Sicilian and your ear gets accustomed to the spoken Sicilian in the tv episodes (not nearly so easy to understand in real life or films, such as the wonderful "Baarìa" directed by Giuseppe Tornatore).
    If you're entranced by Sicilian gestures, which for me are one of the delightful elements of Montalbano, there's a fascinating film made by Luca Vullo, The Voice of the Body (La Voce del corpo) demonstrating and explaining them. I have the DVD, which has English subtitles, and there's a short extract on Youtube, no subtitles, but worth looking at.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Salvo is the most gorgeous man on TV more please. we love him

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I am quite addicted to Montalbano, having watched it in Roma before this country. I think some of the spirit is lost in translation and find it makes more sense in Italian to me. However, its a good role interpretation with one slight element, he is a bit too stiff or hostile towards his staff. As an actor I think Michele Riondino has done a sterling job of a difficult, demanding role against the role played by Luca Zingaretti.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    I have enjoyed watching Young Montalbano very much! Everything has been so thoughtfully put together and the casting is just right and it really works going back in time. I get the feeling that a real effort has been made to give a real integrity of Montalbano and well done to MIchele Riondino . Please let's have some more Italian charm gracing our tv screens. I am missing the show.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Great series. I loved the original series but Young Montalbano is even better. I can't wait for a second series. All those people who can't be bothered to watch it because they would have to read the subtitles (and I know a few), don't know what they are missing!


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