From Addis to Hollywood
Alberto Frezza is a noted actor of Italian ancestry but grew up in Ethiopia. He has been in a number of TV series including Dead of Summer and in films such as Born to Race, Angel Falls in Love and the Battle Force. In the midst of a busy career, he opens up to The Reporter’s Samuel Geachew on how he felt an Italian in Ethiopia, an Ethiopian in Italy, his booming career, impression on the local art and finally gives advice to those who want to emulate his career. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Alberto, you have an interesting biography as an Ethiopian Italian. Please reflect with me the highlights?
Alberto Frezza: Well, if I would write an autobiography about my time growing up in Ethiopia, I would highlight the fact that I had a childhood like no other. I was immediately immersed in very different types of cultures from a very young age also thanks to the fact that I went to the International Community School (ICS). In that regard, I consider Ethiopian culture to be one of the most fascinating. My identity is something I struggled with.
In Ethiopia I was considered Italian, but in Italy I was considered Ethiopian. So it took me a number of years to just accept that fact that I was lucky enough to say that I came from two different places.
Many people are often surprised when they hear you speaking Amharic. How important is that heritage to you?
People are definitely surprised when they hear me speak in Amharic. It’s an important fact for me to be lucky enough to speak the language, given that it dates back to the 12th century. I consider it to be very poetic. I know a lot of people that were raised in Ethiopia and don’t speak the language, which makes me proud that I had parents that pushed me to learn it, and friends who I could speak it with. I have to confess that living away from Ethiopia for a number of years has made it more difficult to remember.
But when I go back, I pick it back up very quickly. It also made it much easier for me to be accepted.
What are some of your memories of growing up in Addis?
One of the places that I keep closest to my heart, and I consider to be one of the most wonderful places on this planet is Langano. I have made the best memories with the best of friends there that I will carry with me forever. Unfortunately, it has changed a lot throughout the years.
The building of all the resorts and overfishing has destroyed the ecosystem of the lake, which makes me worry for the future generations in that area. I also made great memories in Addis, playing soccer at Circolo Juventus, and going out in places like Rock Bottom and Samet.
How did you venture into acting?
I didn’t start acting until after high school because I wanted to play soccer before that, but acting is something I always wanted to do ever since I was little. When I saw the possibility to actually move to the US and do it, I went for it.
I ventured into acting thanks to the movie Stand By Me. It was a movie that my parents had on VHS. I know the lines of the movie by heart still today. I started watching it a very young age (maybe too young), to the point where my parents had to confiscate it from me because I started acting like the kids in the movie. River Phoenix, who plays one of the lead roles in the movie, was my inspiration. He definitely is the one who opened the doors to acting for me, and I will forever be grateful to him for that performance. It changed my life.
Share with me the highlights of your movie career?
One of the highlights of my career is working with Kiefer Sutherland, who was in the movie Stand By Me. My other highlight would be playing a serial killer on Criminal Minds. I gravitate towards really complicated and broken characters and I can say Criminal Minds was my favorite thing I’ve done so far.
What is your impression of Ethiopian movie making and its progress?
I’ve seen a lot of progress in Ethiopian movie making in the last eight years. When I drive around Addis I see queue’s that go around the block for the movies, which I don’t remember seeing when I was a kid. There have been some films doing very well at festivals which I am happy to see. There are so many stories to be told about Ethiopia that we could potentially make a series out of it. I hope I can film a movie or a show in Ethiopia one day.
Who is your favorite movie star?
My favorite actors are River Phoenix, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Nicole Kidman, and Ben Mendelsohn but not necessarily in that order. I have more but the list would be too long.
What advice do you have for an Ethiopian actor who wants to break into mainstream movie making?
My advice would be to really take your career into your own hands. Make your own stuff. Write, direct, act! Do whatever you can to do things yourself. It has become so much easier to create your own content nowadays. I think the demand for foreign projects will keep growing in the next few years. But most of all, you need to be 100 percent dedicated to the craft. You can’t think of it as a side job that you can work on whenever you have time. It must be the center focus of your life.
What is your wish for Ethiopia as we welcome 2010?
Peace and Prosperity!