Introducing Alba: Discussing Venice International Film Festival Entry AMERICAN NIGHT with its Rising Star, Alba Amira
American Night, the first feature from writer-director Alessio Della Valle, has just premiered at the Venice International Film Festival. A neo-noir thriller simmering then exploding within a corrupt New York art milieu, it stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emile Hirsch, Paz Vega, and Jeremy Piven. Notably, American Night also represents the feature debut of actress Alba Amira, with whom it was my pleasure to speak prior to the premiere.
As the film features an infamous pink original Warhol, I attempt to warm us up by congratulating Ms. Amira on co-starring with “Marilyn Monroe,” an overture she fields courteously. Having thus dispensed with my attempt at talk-show-host gimcrackery, we promptly proceed to how she got involved with American Night.
“I got the chance to meet the producer and the director through some connections, and went in for an audition,” Alba reveals. “This was 2017 — for quite a small role — and it worked out well. I wasn’t done with school yet at the time, so I actually said no to the film. I said, ‘Look, I would love to do this, but I can’t because I still don’t have my high school diploma.’
“And then a year later, they got back to me and they said, ‘We still haven’t started shooting, we would have a bit of a bigger role for you, would you still be interested?’ By that time I was done with school, so I said of course. It was super exciting. Then I got prepared and went to Bulgaria, and shot there.”
New York City in Bulgaria! Fascinating.
“They had these huge sets of New York, like the outside of these buildings, and it actually felt like you were you were in New York.”
And has Ms. Amira, a truly global citizen of Albanian and German stock, multilingual, growing up and studying in Germany, Spain, and England, done the actual New York thing?
“Not a lot,” she acknowledges. “I think I’ve been twice. But you did get a feel of New York on the set. It was kind of funny because the set was huge, so when you walk through you have to remind yourself: ‘I’m not in New York.’ It kind of felt like a very empty Soho, almost, at times.”
We carry on to discussing how Ms. Amira felt working with her director, Mr. Della Valle:
“Alessio was really great,” she enthuses. “He was super calm and professional. Before I even started shooting, I went through the script with him, through any questions. He has a way that makes you feel like you’re listened to all the time. And if he has any comments, even while you’re shooting, he takes you aside, and he explains what he thinks and listens to what you think, so it was always a very safe environment, which was really good, especially as a young actress.
“You obviously want to adhere to his vision of the film and of your character. But at the same time, it felt very much like he was giving you the professional freedom to experiment and to kind of really feel the character.
“I was given quite a quite a lot of freedom, but we were very much on the same page from the start. Olivia [her character] was, I felt, quite close to my own kind of nature. And so I tried to bring a lot of myself into the character, which is a good tip that I got from Jonathan and Jeremy actually — Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Jeremy Piven. It worked out really well.”
And how did it go, working with such seasoned actors?
“Most of the screen time I have is with Jonathan, because I play his assistant. And it was great. I remember the first day on set, I was nervous because this was my first film, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I met Jonathan, and I told him that this was the first time I’m doing this and he said, ‘Look, it’s fine. Any questions you have, I’ll be by your side, I’ll be with you.’ That calmed me down immediately. And Jeremy Piven, obviously, is a really funny guy, so any time that I was on set with him, he lightened the mood immediately. Paz [Vega] was wonderful too, because we both speak Spanish, so we connected that way.”
She adds: “I actually do a British accent in the in the film. I think Alessio tried to portray the different cultures and the different languages of New York, which comes across nicely. He did a good job with that.”
American Night includes lots of bang-bang, pyrotechnics, and stunt action. So did she…
“I unfortunately didn’t get to do any stunts,” Alba admits, smiling. “I would’ve loved to. But I was on set the day that they filmed a huge explosion. They filmed it with Jonathan, and I was allowed to go on set and witness all that. It was crazy, because something actually exploded, when you don’t think that that happens. There’s a lot you can do with CGI, but they blew up a building! It was really wild to see. It’s amazing because you do get that real feel when you watch the film, and Jonathan’s acting is great, so it made it a lot more real.”
Ms. Amira notes that the aforementioned scene exposes the vulnerability of the characters, discussing further her own portrayal.
“So my character is quite layered,” she states, not revealing too much. “I spent a lot of time trying to give her a bit of a deeper layer without giving too much away throughout the movie, and have a bit of a mysterious element to it.
“The film does have a lot of twists, a lot of going back and forth and stuff. There is a lot of mystery and surprise to it, which I just think is amazing.”
Did the project illuminate the art world for her?
“Quite a lot,” Alba beams, citing the movie as expanding her interest. “Paz Vega, her character works for a museum, and looks at fakes versus real art. And Alessio and I actually got to talking a lot; he created his own art for the movie, you know, some of the art you see was actually made by the director. We all got involved in that part of the film, and everyone was super interested. It was quite a passion project, I think for all of us towards the end, especially with the art.”
We turn to Ms. Amira’s inspirations, first behind the camera…
“I really love films in general. One of my favorite directors is Wes Anderson, because he’s so different. [And currently prepping a new film in Spain.] I love David Fincher, I would love to play something deeper, a bit of a darker character. Christopher Nolan, too, I really love, and you’ll see American Night has a bit of a Christopher Nolan-y feel, with the jumps back and forth, so that’s what I loved about the project.”
…then in front of the camera:
“The performance that always stuck with me was Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted, I thought was really great. I look up to a lot of up-and-coming artists now, and Zendaya is someone that I admire, especially for her development in her career: I think you can really see that she’s taking her craft to the next level right now. Margot Robbie I really love, I think she’s quite versatile: if you look at Suicide Squad versus her in Focus, or her in The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s very different. So yeah, I love anyone that’s versatile and takes their art to a new level, which is something that I really aspire to do.”
Alba balances acting with academics, as she’s currently working on a law degree. Yet in school she and her friends were into theatre, and she worked with a coach for American Night, of which she proclaims:
“When I was on set, I realized: This is my passion. This is what I want to do. It felt very natural to me. I’m trying to develop my skill more and more, because I think the more you work on yourself, the better you become, as an actor.”
Sage words. Ms. Amira also has a philanthropic side.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Mallorca, in Spain, and there’s a wonderful charity that helps in a disadvantaged community, and I’ve been teaching kids and adults some English, so they can have better job prospects. And for the kids especially so they can get their high school diplomas. It’s been nice to see someone that’s willing to learn and someone that’s grateful for your time, but I would love to get involved in more charity work.
“I have a huge interest in human rights especially, also through my law degree, which has been focused on human rights. I think there’s a lot to be done in the world, and if I were to have a following, or anyone that’s willing to listen, I would love to do more charity work, more work for human rights.”
With no shortage of ambition, in the midst of celebrating the release of American Night, Alba is also appearing in director Paolo Ruffino’s Rido Perche Ti Amo, in which she speaks, and emotes, in yet two more languages, which most Americans only know as salad dressings: Italian and French. Here’s hoping that the world is ready for this global citizen, because she’s certainly ready for the world.
In closing, when everyone gets to see American Night, are there any nuances she wants us to perceive?
“Oh, wow,” Ms. Amira ponders. “To me, what I think is there’s a bit of irony in the film. After seeing bits of it or seeing the whole movie a few times, you see a bit of irony and a bit of the cliche of American action and art. So if you look a bit deeper, there’s some kind of funny, ironic moments in there.”
Saban Films releases American Night October 1st in select theatres and on demand.
This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
Photographer: @nicolodemarch, Getty
Producers: @louamgram, @iamtheodumont
Dress: Elie Saab
Hair/makeup: Sabine Hoegerl