In between on-the-nose homages to Antonioni and shots of Aziz Ansari annihilating massive bowls of pasta, you may have noticed another Italian fixture on this season of Master of None: Alessandra Mastronardi, the delightfully charming actress who plays Ansari's star-crossed love Francesca. Mastronardi, who currently lives in London, is already famous in her native Italy for roles on TV shows like I Cesaroni, and has also starred in Woody Allen's To Rome With Love as well as the James Dean biopic Life. But Master of None marks her zeitgeist-y American debut, with Vulture calling her "your new crush," Racked penning odes to her "flawless" style, and me, writing this, right now.
In a Master of None–worthy twist, Mastronardi almost lost her shot at smooching Ansari through a glass door due to poor timing. Ansari was screening potential Francescas in Italy, but Mastronardi was at home in the U.K.; it was only after Ansari missed a flight back to New York and got stuck in London that the two were able to meet. "In Italy, we say that you're supposed to be at the right moment at the right time, and that's what happened," says Mastronardi. "We did the audition at the last second in this weird place — a room in a restaurant — and it went well, actually. I couldn't believe it." I called Mastronardi on her slowly dying cell phone a few days after I finished bingeing Master of None — and only a few hours after she did, too — to ask her about the complications of making out onscreen with one's boss, hear her fresh reactions after watching the show in full, and get the details on the alternate season finales that Ansari ultimately scrapped.
We'll try to make this quick so your phone doesn't die in the middle. Where are you calling me from?
Alessandra Mastronardi: I'm calling you from London, where I actually live. If something happens, I'm just gonna find a place where I can charge my phone batteries!
Are you filming there?
Mastronardi: I'm not filming at the moment, but I'm gonna film in Italy again in the next few months. I moved here a year ago, so I'm based here. I try to make London like my house, my home.
You auditioned last-minute for the part of Francesca — what was the audition like?
Mastronardi: Aziz told me when we were doing the audition that I should improv, that the script wasn't ready yet. There wasn't an idea of the lines, so I had to be free to improvise and make the scene feel good and right. For me, it was actually better. I was too scared [in] the moment. I have this weird thing with auditions where I feel a lot of pressure. So to say to me, "Do whatever you want," I felt much better. We started improvising, and what we did actually [ended up being] the idea of the relationship between Dev and Francesca. We actually built it over there, and I didn't know that. I discovered that after.
So you helped develop the character from scratch?
Mastronardi: Yeah, we improvised a little bit, and we had the idea from there where the relationship between the characters would go. I don't want to say that I did it, because that sounds too selfish, but we started it together, to build the characters. And that was actually what happened when I started working with him on the show — we created something together between me, Alan [Yang], Aziz, Eric [Wareheim]. It was a proper, huge collaboration between all of us. That's the first time it happened to me, something like this. Usually you have the script, you talk to the director about his idea, and that's it, you have to follow the lines and his direction. In this case, it was a privilege to make something coming from myself and everybody else.
What are some Alessandra-isms that ended up being part of Francesca?
Mastronardi: Little things, actually. One day Aziz and I talked, and he said to me that he couldn't be able to describe New York from the eyes of somebody who'd never been there before. He'd been there for too long, he loved New York too much, he didn't know what it was like for somebody who'd never been before to New York, he didn't know how a person could feel the first time. So he asked me for my feeling. And I started talking about how freaked I was when I was 19, when I came for the first time to a CVS. I told him I was crazy, I went crazy for the CVS. And I'm still a little bit insane about it [laughs]. He couldn't believe it. He was like, "You are crazy." I was like, "You don't understand! We don't have these kind of pharmacies in Italy!" So he put it in the script. I was happy, and afraid that maybe everybody would see that I'm insane.
Movie food is something that I introduced him to. When there's a drama, you better have a huge ice cream box, and when there's a comedy, it's definitely a popcorn thing. It's just these little things he put into the character to make her seem more real.
Was it odd for you, as an Italian woman, to have this non-Italian dude come into your country and film a story about being obsessed with your culture, your food, your movies?
Mastronardi: It wasn't strange. I mean, it was a little strange that [Aziz] knew so much about Italian movies. It's this amazing thing. He knows Italian directors that I barely know. In the show, there are a lot of homages — do you say "homage"? I'm, like, lost in translation with all of this [laughs]. We had a scene where it's definitely an homage to Antonioni, homages to Vittorio De Sica. As an Italian actress, it's amazing that he could bring back this magic period that we had in cinema. As a modern Italian actress, living again in this kind of story — it was an amazing gift. I am absolutely proud to be in it and of him for making it happen.
[Aziz and I] always talk about food. Well, we don't always talk about food. But in the show, it seems a little bit like an obsession [for us]. We don't talk so much about food. We talk, but not so much [laughs].
Did you have to correct him on anything, like references or words or whether a situation would really happen that way in Italy?
Mastronardi: Not as much as I thought [laughs]. But yeah, in the beginning I had to tell him a few things. But he was the first person that was asking me if there was something too strong, or too much. He was really picky. He's really focused on what's real, what's not, what's too much. Especially when he had to translate the Italian language and the English language. Obviously, for the crew, the first episode was in Italian, so he was really concerned with everybody having the right translation. His Italian as well is not perfect, but actually it's so cute that it's OK, it's fine. I think we made a deal, because every time that I tried to correct him, he was kind of offended by it, and I was the same thing when he corrected me in English. So we said, OK, it's cute, it's us, it's fine, whatever. So we didn't correct each other anymore.
What is it like playing the love interest of the person who's also the director, writer, producer — essentially, making out with your boss?
Mastronardi: At the beginning I was really scared about it. Because of what you said — it's your partner, and your director, and your boss, because he's also a producer. I didn't know how much I could say to him, if I was free to say everything I thought. It was a little tricky at the beginning. But I got to know him better and better, and I realized that even if he was all those other figures, he was still Aziz, a person who was asking me about me, making me feel comfortable. He makes everything more easy than what I thought it'd be. I'm an easygoing person, so I don't really care about anything, so it wasn't that different to work with him.
What's your relationship been like since the show wrapped?
Mastronardi: Oh, we're friends. We're definitely, totally friends. I'm a very real person, I keep my friends, and I'm sorry for him, now he's stuck in my life [laughs]. I call him when I need advice. We had this thing when we were filming, we were obsessed with food, so we were sending each other pictures of food. When he was in Japan and I was in Paris, we'd send each other [photos] and debate which had the best plate. He's a great friend and an amazing person to know in your life. I'm still looking for him and trying to talk to him, because finally I watched all of the show. I didn't see anything before. I'm dying to talk to him about it. Maybe he's afraid of my judgment [laughs].
You just finished watching today?
Mastronardi: Yes, I finished today. When I film a movie, I never watch anything back, so I didn't know anything. When I asked Aziz to let me see something, he was really serious, like, "No, you're gonna watch when it's done!" So I watched when it was out on Netflix.
What did you think?
Mastronardi: I literally watched it this morning, it was 5:30 in the morning when I finished. I loved it. I really, really loved it. I think he did a really, really good job. It's really good! I have to say, he's a good director.
I know you filmed a few endings. Is this the one you wanted?
Mastronardi: I actually like it. There were a few options, and maybe they were options that were actually more of a proper finale. One was a happy ending, one was sad and bad. I actually like this one, because it was kind of open-ended. A lot of people are concerned that it's kind of ... not sufficient. I prefer this one because it gives you the opportunity to prove to yourself, to choose what you think is the best for those two characters. When we're with them in bed, and she opens her eyes, she doesn't look very happy at all, even if they are together. It's an ambiguous smile, like a Mona Lisa smile. You don't really know if they're happy or not! And I like to think that they are happy together, but when you make this kind of a decision, to break up with a person you've been with for 10 years and choose a different life, it's never easy. Even if you choose, maybe you're still not sure. It's so honest.
What were the other endings?
Mastronardi: I think I can tell you. One was a happy ending: They were together, and they were happy. One was that she chose Pino, and Aziz was on the plane thinking about something else, and then he found the phone he lost in the first episode, so he found Sarah's number. And he had Mario's picture, too. It was another open one, but it would have been interesting as well.
You're already well-known in Italy. Is it strange to sort of become famous twice?
Mastronardi: Well, not strange. I hope I can have [a career] in America as well. It's not my first movie over there, I've done a Woody Allen movie and the movie Life. I always believe that an actress is an actress, and there's no nationality for acting. I always thought I'd be able to build bridges between countries. People build walls, but I always believe in bridges. That's why I have an agency here and another in America. I hope I can have work over there as well. If it's not happening, it's fine. We'll see. Fingers crossed.
Are you being recognized yet?
Mastronardi: Not yet! Not yet. I have gotten a bunch of Instagram followers. But I'm not being recognized yet.
I have to know: What was the best pasta you ate while filming?
Mastronardi: Did you say "pasta," or was that just me? [Laughs] You can tell we're really obsessed. I'd say ... the Osteria Francescana scene. We went there to eat, and Massimo Bottura was actually cooking for that scene. I was there, and I got to taste. That was the best moment. That scene was hilarious, because that room is really tiny, and we couldn't enter inside, because there were too many wines, and it's a famous, Michelin-starred restaurant, so we couldn't bother the people actually eating there. So there was just a small crew inside the restaurant, but the big crew was outside the restaurant, waiting outside the kitchen door. [The small crew] finally came outside and we were all there, eating the food. That's a really beautiful memory, actually. I really like it.