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'We Are Who We Are': Coming-Of-Age Story Offers A Different View Of Italy


The director Luca Guadagnino has taken audiences to Italy before in his summer romance "Call Me By Your Name" three years ago. His latest project is a coming-of-age story that gives audiences a different view of Italy.


FRANCESCA SCORSESE: (As Britney) Supermarkets in military bases are the same all over. Same aisles, the same stuff. Everything's in exactly the same place. They say they do that so we don't get lost.

SHAPIRO: It's about two American teenagers who live on a U.S. military base in the town of Chioggia. This eight-part series for HBO is also the first time Luca Guadagnino has ventured into TV.

LUCA GUADAGNINO: I didn't talk about, this is going to be TV, it's not cinema. I just thought that if this storyline, or at least the narrative arc, was what I wanted to do. If the way in which we could do this was not about the plot, but about behavior, that I would be going to be OK. And also if I could direct everything.

SHAPIRO: The show is called "We Are Who We Are," and Luca Guadagnino joins us from Sicily.


GUADAGNINO: Thank you. Thank you for having me here. I'm very happy to be here.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about your two main characters. It centers on two 14-year-olds, Fraser and Caitlin. And we meet Fraser first. His family arrives at the base because his mother, who's played by Chloe Sevigny, is the new commander.


FAITH ALABI: (As Jenny) The houses need constant maintenance. Col. McAunty is very concerned with tidiness.

CHLOE SEVIGNY: (As Sarah) Sweetheart, isn't this great? We're in Italy, the cradle of art.

SHAPIRO: And the cliche would be an archetypal teenager who audiences can easily fall in love with. But Fraser is not easy to love. At age 14, he drinks a lot. He gets physically violent with his mother. Why did you take the character in this direction?

GUADAGNINO: It's an interesting question. I think about the characters, but I don't - I almost immediately forget that they are characters in brackets, and they are people to me. So you know, like, Fraser is the son of Maggie and Sarah - actually the biological son of Sarah. And he has this kind of craving for finding his place in the world, and in particular, in finding who his father is. And so what a kid like that, who has a very powerful mother and who has been misplaced - how does a 14-year-old behave? Fourteen-year-olds, in general, are not likeable people.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Careful, I almost cracked my head open.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Oh, my God, you're so dumb.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) What? It's true.

GUADAGNINO: They don't know how to deal with the death of their infancy and the birth of their adulthood. It's a very complicated age. Likeability is for teen comedies. But I don't think this is a teen comedy.

SHAPIRO: Well, why is Caitlin the right foil for someone like Fraser?

GUADAGNINO: I believe in love at first sight, if you allow me this kind of sugar candy expression.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Of course.

GUADAGNINO: I think he sees her and he sees in her something that opens, like, a gigantic passage for him to go for her, and for her to go to him. And also Caitlin, unlike him, who is very opinionated, is someone who almost doesn't know anything, who almost needs to know more and more. And so they balance each other. But in a way, she's wiser than he is. So it's about, you know, like, how you can trade places all the time with the person you really love or love in the sense of brotherly love, friendly love or love in general.

SHAPIRO: I was going to say, it's a kind of love that we don't often see depicted. There's this very sweet moment in the third episode.


JACK DYLAN GRAZER: (As Fraser) What do they say about us?

JORDAN KRISTINE SEAMON: (As Caitlin) They think we're dating.

GRAZER: (As Fraser) I think they think we're weird.

SEAMON: (As Caitlin) Does that bother you?

GRAZER: (As Fraser) We're never going to kiss. Deal?

SEAMON: (As Caitlin) Deal (laughter).

SHAPIRO: They're so protective of each other and so close to each other. But it's not teenage love between 14-year-olds that we often see depicted.

GUADAGNINO: Well, because they are subjects. They are not, again, prototypes. So they have all the possible ways of feelings that we do as adults. Of course, they are probably confused. But they are somehow able to risk more than we do as adults. The sense of risk of a teenager is greater, and even if it's more dangerous, somehow delivers better outcomes.

SHAPIRO: Because your work so often returns to this kind of wistful teenage moment, I'm curious what that period in your own life was like. Can you tell us about what you were like as a 14-year-old?

GUADAGNINO: Yes, because it's NPR. Otherwise, I am shy.


SHAPIRO: Very kind of you.

GUADAGNINO: I don't know. I was a loner. I was a loner, and I was a dreamer. I was someone observing a lot. I always loved to have that position in reality, like, putting myself on the edge of the center and looking at things happening or people in particular happening. And this, in a way, was the foreboding of what I became - a filmmaker.

SHAPIRO: And so the representation of teenage life that is bloody and messy and people crashing into each other physically and metaphorically sounds like that's not a recreation of what you lived, but maybe a reimagining of what you might have lived.

GUADAGNINO: I learned that it's quite a revolutionary age in a sort of universal way, so that a teenager from China to Nigeria from America to Belarus almost feel the same sense of self. And I don't think I will withdraw from the age. I think I will make more stories about it, about that age.

SHAPIRO: OK, forgive me for asking this question. But I could not help but notice that there is a romantic scene involving a peach cake.


ALABI: (As Jenny) I baked a cake for the team. I know how important it is for you.

SHAPIRO: And given that one of the most talked about scenes in "Call Me By Your Name" features a peach, I have to ask whether you are financially supported by the big peach lobby.

GUADAGNINO: That is a cheeky question of a cheeky decision I made on the set. Because I have to say, arrogantly enough, that all the food in the show is very rigorously supervised by me and by my consultants. I hope it's very precise to the people and the social classes and the environments they live into. So when we discussed about what Jenny could prepare for the boys and her husband, the idea was pies because that's very American. And she wants to be American because she's Nigerian. And we - it was - the season was, like, June, July. So there were many different choices of fruit. And I said no, it has to be peach to make a little bit of self-referencing.

SHAPIRO: Well, Luca Guadagnino, thank you so much for talking with us about your television debut. "We Are Who We Are" is on HBO.

GUADAGNINO: Thank you. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.