Ex-Mafia hitman woos Cannes

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ANIELLO ARENA, the winsome Neapolitan in the running for best actor award at Cannes, is a former Mafia hitman serving a life sentence who got his lucky break in a prison theatre company.
Arena, 44, has won over critics with his performance in Matteo Garrone’s Reality as a struggling Naples fishmonger and minor con artiste who becomes obsessed with becoming a contestant on the reality TV show Big Brother.
With his roguish smile and playful air, Arena reveals little of his dark past as a member of a hit squad which shot dead rival clan members in the grimy suburbs of Naples in 1991, and wounded an eight-year-old child in the process.
“Arena’s a quiet type. He’s not at all flashy and he never shows off, not even now he’s getting all this attention,” Armando Punzo, the theatre director in Volterra prison where the actor is serving out his time, said.
“But when he gets on stage something happens, he’s completely transformed. He’s an incredibly versatile actor, doing everything from Hamlet to Alice in Wonderland,” said Punzo, who has been working with Arena for 11 years.
“I think many people would be surprised, watching the film, to know that he is a convicted criminal,” he added.
Arena, who passes most days in rehearsals with around 40 other prisoners, has said discovering acting saved him.
“I turned that black page in my life over a long time ago and I am no longer that man,” Arena told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. “I would never have imagined that I would open a book, let alone recite Brecht or Shakespeare.”

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