Dario Argento Wasn't Really 'Acting' With His Role In Vortex

The acclaimed director Dario Argento made a surprising acting debut at the age of 80 in Gaspar Noe's "Vortex." According to Argento himself, though, he wasn't acting at all. The filmmaker is best known for his cult classic horror, "Suspiria." He never expected to be on the other side of the camera, but Noe ultimately convinced Argento by giving him lots of creative control. Argento based so much of his own character on himself that he didn't feel like he was performing at all.

The first time Noe ever saw Argento in person, he was sure that the director would make a natural actor. "He's very charismatic. I knew he would be great in a movie since I saw him introducing his movie at the French Cinematheque for one hour," Noe recalled to The Upcoming. "He was supposed to introduce the movie for five minutes but he started talking and people were laughing and applauding. I really felt he was a born comedian on stage."

When the French director got to meet Argento personally, he found him even more charming. "I love the director, but I also love the person. And I always thought he was one of the most charismatic directors that I have ever met. He's very funny and very playful," Noe told RogerEbert.com. "He's 81 but he's as funny as a young boy trying to make twisted jokes. I always loved his energy."

Noe found Argento to be such a compelling character, it was only natural that the director would play himself in Noe's film.

Argento turned the role down at first

Noe ended up giving Argento a lot of room to improvise in "Vortex." In fact, the script he initially gave Argento was only ten pages long, Vulture reports. "That's how I convinced him to do the movie. He said he would not [memorize] lines," Noe explained to Hey U Guys. "He really improvised all the dialogue in the film."

Argento initially had no interest at all in being in "Vortex." "When Gaspar came to my house in Rome to ask me if I would be in the movie, my immediate answer was 'No.' I didn't feel like being an actor," Argento recalled to Vulture. "But he spent the entire day at my house. He wouldn't leave. And then he said the magic words, that the entire film would be improvised. That word in particular, improvised, rang a bell. After all, I am a child of Italian neorealism, so I am sort of accustomed to the practice of improvisation."

The "Suspiria" director is referring to the films like Roberto Rossellini's "Rome, Open City" and Vittorio de Sica's "Bicycle Thieves." These films employed non-actors who would improvise their lines on the war-torn streets of Italy, a stark contrast to the heavily manicured Hollywood productions of the studio era. "That interested me, so I thought, Yes, I could do something improvised," Argento concluded.

Although he was given very little direction, Argento rejects the notion that he created his own character. "I didn't really shape the character. I tried to play myself," he explained. "I also don't feel like what I did was acting — I played myself. What you see in the film is me telling my story."

Noe let Argento improvise and it paid off

"Vortex" came out beautifully because Noe put so much trust in Argento. The director gave Argento the reins when it came to his character, from dialogue to emotional reactions to movement. "I didn't even direct him, he directed himself. That's what I told him, you're gonna direct yourself. I'm gonna operate the camera and do the editing afterwards," Noe told The Upcoming.

When convincing Argento to do the film, Noe assured him that his decisions would even dictate the movement and framing of the camera. In other words, Noe and the rest of the crew would take their cues from Argento. "I said 'Hey, Dario, if we do this movie... I'm just a young film student operating one of the cameras that's going to be on set. You take care of your character, I'll take care of my framing and my editing," Noe recounted to Hey U Guys. In the end, Argento did not require much direction, even when improvising lines in a second language. "His French is very good, I barely ever corrected him," Noe admitted.

People have asked Noe if his casting choice was a subtle nod or reference to Argento's films, but the director was quick to dispel those rumors. "There was no cinephilic or film buff intention," he assured RogerEbert.com. He simply found Argento to be "a natural born comedian" and thought he would make a compelling film character. He could not have been more right. "Vortex" was easily one of the most moving and engaging films of 2021, a perfect combination of Noe's distinct style and Argento's unmistakable cheek.