Caterina Murino's beauty can perhaps only be rivaled by her place of origin — she was born in the prodigiously stunning island of Sardinia, in the Mediterranean, just off the coast of Italy.
While she's Italian, Murino, best-known for playing the Bond girl Solange Dimitrios in Martin Campbell Casino Royale, considers herself as a global artiste. Over a little more than a decade, she's done films in France, Canada, and China.
Add India to that list. Murino is all set to make her Bollywood debut in Rajeev Jhaveri's upcoming thriller Fever, along with Rajeev Khandelwal and Gauhar Khan.
"I see this as an opportunity to make more Europeans open to watch Indian films. I was speaking to my best friend in France the other day and she had seen only one Bollywood film. I have seen only a few – Jodhaa Akbar and Bombay Salaam [Salaam Bombay, I correct her]. Angry Indian Goddesses is something that's releasing now in France."
The fact that she and people within her social circle has seen such few Bollywood movies is part of a larger point Murino wants to make.
She says, "Isn't it ironical that yours is one of the biggest film industries in the world and yet so few people outside of India are watching it? I am not saying Indian stars need international visibility to boost their stardom, but it's important for cinema to transcend boundaries and reach and move as many people it can."
Murino hopes that Fever, her Bollywood stint will help change that what with its international cast. "What's also depressing is that most of the time, an exotic looking Italian or French woman is cast as a cliché. I'm happy that in Fever, I'm not just reduced to a clichéd role but have a layered part."
But does she look at her Bollywood debut as something that'll pave the way for a potential career here? "Well, I know my limitations as an actor and to make it big in Bollywood you need to be fluent in Hindi and I am not. Neither am I going to be an actress who has a passing role in a film as a 'foreign woman.' So if it has to happen, perhaps it will be an international collaboration."
The actress recounts her experience on a Chinese film set where none of the crew members, including the director, spoke English, save for one hapless translator who struggled with both languages. "When an actor is directed, he/she needs very specific instructions and here I was being instructed animatedly with broken English! Nonetheless, we pulled through and the film turned out to be very beautiful."
The same wasn't the case here, but the troubles were very, umm, Indian. Murino says in most industries of the world, actors are handed out details of the particular shot that's going to be filmed a night before.
"But here we didn't know what we were going to shoot until we reached the set! I was having breakfast and asked what scene were we going to shoot and the crew is like 'we don't know yet' and I was like 'ok, then, this is SO weird.' However, unlike in Italy where it takes forever for an actor to wait if their shot is done, and another character is being filmed, here things went pretty smoothly and on time," she recalls.
When I point out that such a practice is not entirely unheard of in Bollywood, the film's director Rajeev explains that it was part of his 'process' to decide 'spontaneously' what to shoot as he likes to turn things around and see the result.
Contrasting the three film industries, Murino reveals she finds India's hospitality and culture "very, very similar' to that of the Italians. "However, the warmth and respect that I found here, the way you people manage to connect with other people's hearts is unique perhaps to India itself."
And the heart-to-heart connection is probably why movie stars enjoy God-like reverence here.
When I attempt to explain the star-system of Bollywood and how that makes it very difficult for any non-starry film to get enough screens for exhibition in India, Caterina finds the concept strange.
Is it about the money, she wonders. But the director is quick to point out that even if a small-time producer has the money, it is quite a challenge to reach, for instance, the Khans, give them a narration, and convince them to do a film if you don't share a good relationship.
He adds that he reached out to the agents of Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lopez for another character in Fever and got a prompt reply, something he doesn't feel can happen in Bollywood.
"Script here is secondary," Rajeev says. That, says Caterina, is the reason why the Khans "stay here" and are unable to crossover.
"Which is why Bollywood has a bad reputation abroad. In Europe, we say that Bollywood makes a lot of numbers, but is often of bad quality."
Despite several other projects that she's been associated with, it's Casino Royale that helped her breakthrough globally.
Ask her how does she feel about being only known for the Bond movie, she says, "It feels great. You could do whatever in your career but nothing gets bigger than acting in a Bond film. I have done an interesting series for the BBC called Zen which got me great reviews but can it match the explosion of a Casino Royale? No way! There is no franchise bigger than Bond, it's been around since 52 years."
She adds, "Barbara Broccoli is a genius. An actor or even a technician associated with a Bond film can perhaps live off their whole life just by appearing in a Bond film. Even Daniel Craig, it sucks that he's no longer going to be Bond, but he's always going to be remembered for those films. The ones he did in the middle weren't very good films."
Who is she hoping becomes the next Bond, a casting decision that has fans across the world crazy curious? "I'd love to see Tom Hiddleston as the next Bond. He has it in him."
Fever hits theatres on August 5.