Two Women: Magnani Refused to Play Sophia Loren’s Mother

An opportunity to work with Anna Magnani again seemed to materialize almost immediately for George Cukor after directing her in Wild Is the Wind, for which she garnered a second Oscar nomination.

In late l957, agent Lazar made a deal for Cukor to do two more pictures at Paramount: Two Women and Heller in Pink Tights. Based on an Alberto Moravia novel, Two Women tells the heart-wrenching story of an Italian mother and her shy daughter, who are both brutally raped by Allied Moroccan soldiers during WWII.

“It’s my Italian period,” he joked. To get a sense of the picture’s desirable look, Cukor requested photographs of Italy during the War. He planned to go to Rome for preliminary work on Two Women, which he hoped to shoot the following spring with Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren. However, casting difficulties prevented him from doing the film with the two stars.

Magnani felt that Loren was physically too strong-looking to make the mother-daughter relationship convincing. If Loren were definitely set for daughter, Magnani would reluctantly decline the mother role. Magnani wrote, “I like and respect Cukor and Loren, personally and professionally. I believe the role of the mother in the book is perfect for me, but I shouldn’t play it if Sophia plays daughter, because no matter how great both our performances, the wonderful and unique qualities which the book gives to mother-daughter relationship and which is its most important essence, would be largely lost.” Magnani hoped that Cukor would believe that her decision had nothing to do with the size of her part.

Cukor thought that Magnani made a valid point, but that the problem could be resolved with Loren’s performance and makeup. In his view, the daughter’s part was passive and too one-dimensional. If anything, it was her role that needed to be given other facets for dramatic tension. Fearing that the picture might be thrown to Loren, Magnani demanded approval of the script and final cut. Cukor held it would be “fatal” if she were in the “driver’s seat”; Magnani’s demands were totally unacceptable to him.

But he also felt Magnani was not acting in good faith, because when she sent her agent to express her concerns, she knew that Loren was set for it. Cukor resented Magnani’s playing hard to get, trying to jockey them into a position where they’d be on their knees. He didn’t know the history of her enterprises, but he suspected that they always started with refusals, counter-offers, and shenanigans.

For Loren, the prospect of playing Magnani’s daughter was a coup. Excited to work with Cukor and with a star that at the time was “the doyenne” of Italian actresses, Loren tried to persuade Magnani, but to no avail. Magnani’s rejection was persistent: Loren was too tall and she refused to perform with a daughter she had to look up to.