Sophia Loren on Refusing to Get a Nose Job Early in Her Career: “When I Believe in Something, It’s Like War”

"They were saying that my nose was too long and my mouth was too big," says the Oscar winner, who is being feted at AFI Fest on Nov. 12

Sophia Loren is the face of this year’s AFI Fest: A dazzling photo of the actress, taken in 1965, beckons from this year’s event poster. And on Nov. 12, the festival will hold a special tribute to Loren, 80, that will include a screening of one of her most memorable movies, 1964’s Marriage Italian Style, in which she played opposite her frequent co-star Marcello Mastroianni under the direction of Vittorio De Sica; a presentation of the short film The Human Voice, directed by Edoardo Ponti, one of her two sons by her late husband, producer Carlo Ponti; and a conversation with the actress, who, says festival director Jacqueline Lyanga, is still “so beautiful, radiant and glamorous.” Speaking by phone from her home in Geneva, Loren says of her latest honor: “It gives me a kind of security and the sense that maybe what I’ve done in my career I did in a good way.”

When you were starting out, as hard as it is to believe, some people told you to change your appearance, right?

I always tried not to listen to these people. They were saying that my nose was too long and my mouth was too big. It didn’t hurt me at all because when I believe in something, it’s like war. It’s a battle. But even Carlo said, “You know the cameramen, they say that your nose is too long. Maybe you have to touch it a little bit.” And I said, “Listen, I don’t want to touch nothing on my face because I like my face. If I have to change my nose, I am going back to Pozzuoli.” At that time, they used to do noses like a French nose with a little tip at the end — they liked that. Can you imagine me with a nose like that?

Was working in Hollywood always a goal of yours?

That was my dream. Can you imagine me, from Pozzuoli, Naples, and hunger, the war and everything — I go to Hollywood and I see Rita Hayworth and Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis? I mean, what is this, a dream? I’m always afraid to wake up. I had a wonderful time learning a lot about the business, but of course, when you go back to where you were born, you always give the best. That’s where I was really the best.

You were welcomed to town with a big party at Romanoff’s. There’s a famous photo of you there eyeing another guest, Jayne Mansfield …

Yes. She was very beautiful, my god. But in these pictures, I was worried that everything was going to come out! I said, “My god!”

You were the first person ever to win an acting Oscar for a performance in a language other than English when you won best actress for Two Women in 1962, but you weren’t at the ceremony.

I didn’t think I was going to win, but not only that: I said to myself, “If I win, I am going to faint. It’s better if I faint at home so nobody sees me do that on a stage.”

What is your life like today?

When you are 20, you don’t think that one day you’ll be 80. When you are, you still can’t believe it. I don’t consider my career closed; if I have a good opportunity for a good role, I’m really ready to do it and to put all my vitality — whatever’s left — in the story that I have to do.

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