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Marcello Mastroianni: Italy's 'Common Man'

Screen actor best known for 'La Dolce Vita'

Marcello Mastroi -- Anni, the internationally known actor who died in Paris yesterday, was regarded in his homeland as the most dignified and talented representative of Italian cinema.

Self-deprecating to the end - "I am a charlatan, a buffoon, a liar," he said three years ago while receiving the French Legion of Honor decoration - he was fond of portraying himself as director Federico Fellini's alter ego, with whom he worked on five productions including "La Dolce Vita" and "8 1/2."

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Fellini himself loved Mastroianni's "common face" as well as "the ironic detachment" he displayed on the set, making him a sort of "anti-De Niro," vehemently opposed to "method acting." "Acting is an extremely undemanding thing," he said once. "Sometimes it gets either too hot or too cold on the set, and that's about it."

Mastroianni's career spanned 40 years in the most creative period of Italian cinema. He acted in 120 movies and theater productions, won two best actor awards at Cannes Film Festival (for "The Pizza Triangle" and a Russian film, "Dark Eyes") and was nominated for three Oscars (for "Divorce, Italian Style," "A Special Day," and "Dark Eyes.")

He made his debut in the movies in 1948 with a small part in "I Miserabili," by director Riccardo Freda. His first starring role came three years later, in his 20s, as one of the boys in "Le Ragazze di Piazza di Spagna," by director Luciano Emmer.

His international fame began with Federico Fellini and "La Dolce Vita," including the famous frolic with Anita Ekberg in Rome's Fontana di Trevi. It was then that he acquired the mystique of the quintessential Latin lover mixing indolence and charm. Robert Altman paid ironic tribute to that in "Pret-a-Porter," in which Sophia Loren, his partner in 12 movies, tries to reenact a famous seduction scene and stops once she realizes he has fallen sound asleep.

He worked with the finest directors Italy has to offer - Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni, Dini Risi, and Fellini - as well as with Greek director Theo Angelopoulos ("The Flight"), Russian moviemaker Nikita Michalkov ("Oci Ciornie"), and Pal Sander ("Miss Arizona").

Interviewed by Italian State TV two years ago, Mastroianni related an anecdote that has since become symbolic of his modest, melancholic approach to fame.

"I was in Rome walking my dog and met an old friend whom I hadn't seen in 40 years," he said. "We stopped to chat, and I asked him about his life. He said he had quit school young, started driving trucks, married, and had two children. He then asked me about my life, and before I could say anything, he said: 'I see you got yourself a dog, good for you'. Did I need to add anything more?"

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