Benigni became famous in Italy in the 1970s for a shocking TV series called Onda Libera, on RAI2, by Renzo Arbore, in which he interpreted the satirical piece "anthem of the melt body" (L'inno del corpo sciolto, a hymn to defecation). A great scandal for the time, the series was suspended due to censorship. His first film was 1977's Berlinguer ti voglio bene, also by Giuseppe Bertolucci.
Afterwards, he appeared during a public political demonstration of the Italian Communist Party, of which he was a sympathiser, and in this occasion he took in his arms and dangled the national leader Enrico Berlinguer, a very serious figure. It was an unprecedented act, given that until that moment Italian politicians were proverbially serious and formal (and Berlinguer was perhaps the most serious of them all). It represented a breaking point, after which politicians experimented with newer habits and "public manners", attended fewer formal events and, generally speaking, modified their lifestyle in order to exhibit a more popular behaviour. Benigni was censored again in the 1980s for calling the Pope John Paul II something impolite during an important live TV show ("Wojtylaccio", meaning "Bad Wojtyla" in Italian).
His popularity increased with L'altra domenica (1978), another TV show by Arbore in which Benigni portrays a lazy film critic who never watches the films he's asked to review.
In 1984, he played in Non ci resta che piangere ("Nothing left to do but cry") with the very popular comic actor Massimo Troisi. The story was a fable in which the protagonists are suddenly thrown back in time to the 15th century, just a little before 1492. They start looking for Columbus in order to stop him from discovering the Americas (although for very personal love reasons), but are not able to reach him.
In 1993, he starred in Son of the Pink Panther, directed by veteran Blake Edwards. There, he played Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau's illegitimate son who is assigned to save the Princess of Lugash. The film bombed in the US, but was a hit in Italy, his home country.
A serious role was in Federico Fellini's last film, La voce della luna (1989). In earlier years Benigni had started a long-lasting collaboration with screenwriter Vincenzo Cerami, for a series of films which scored great success in Italy: Il piccolo diavolo ("The little devil", with Walter Matthau), Johnny Stecchino ("Johnny Toothpick"), and Il mostro ("The Monster").
Although the story and presentation of the film had been discussed during production with different Jewish groups to limit the offense it might cause, the film was criticized by a minority of critics who accuse it of presenting the holocaust without suffering, and some who considered that "laughing at everything" was not appropriate.
Famously, in the midst of being so giddy with delight, he climbed on the back of the seat for his procession to the stage and applauded the audience after winning the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Also, after winning his Best Actor Oscar, he said in his speech, "There must be some terrible mistake, I used up all my English!" The next year's ceremony, when he read the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Actress, host Billy Crystal playfully appeared behind him with a large net to restrain Benigni if he got excessive with his antics again.
That same year, he gave a typically energetic and revealing interview to Canadian filmmaker, Damian Pettigrew for Fellini: I'm a Born Liar (2002), a cinematic portrait of the maestro that was nominated for Best Documentary at the European Film Awards, Europe's equivalent of the Oscars. The film went on to win the prestigious Rockie Award for Best Arts Documentary at the Banff World Television Festival (2002) and the Coup de Coeur at the International Sunnyside of the Doc Marseille (2002).
On 15 October 2005, he performed an impromptu strip tease on Italy's most watched evening news program, removing his shirt and draping it over the newscaster's shoulders. Prior to removing his shirt, Benigni had already hijacked the opening credits of the news program, jumping behind the newscaster and announcing: "Berlusconi has resigned" (Benigni is an outspoken critic of media tycoon and then former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi). The previous day, he led a crowd of thousands in Rome on Friday in protest at the center-right government's decision to cut state arts funding by 35 percent.
On 2 February 2007, he was awarded the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. On 22 April 2008, he was conferred the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Malta, celebrated by a Settimana Dantesca including Benigni's first stage appearance at a university and the premiere of him performing with Dante scholar Robert Hollander.
Benigni was given offers to bring his Dante show to Broadway, but he has since turned them down.
During 2006 and 2007, Benigni had a lot of success touring Italy with his live show TuttoDante (Everything About Dante). TuttoDante is a "one man show" centred upon the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri which stars Roberto Benigni. He is on stage for about one hours and half, combining current events and memories of his past narrated with an ironic tone, and then he begins a journey of poetry and passion through the world of the Divine Comedy.
TuttoDante went on tour and has been performed in numerous Italian piazzas, arenas, and stadiums, for a total of 130 shows, with an estimated audience of about one million spectators, of whom 120,000 in Rome only. Over 10 millions more spectators can be added to these, who have watched the TV show "Il V° dell’Inferno" ("The 5th of Hell"), transmitted by Rai uno on November 29th, 2007, with re-runs on Rai International on the following days. TuttoDante is a fascinating voyage that extends from current events to the Divine Comedy, from moments of pure comedy to moments of breathtaking poetry. The affection, the appreciation and enthusiasm demonstrated by the audience towards this show have been so strong that Benigni stated: "It’s been an incredible work, I’ll treasure this experience as one of the sweetest, most popular, and emotional memories of my life".
TuttoDante is currently in the process of preparation to cross the national borders, to undertake a journey (during 2008 and 2009) that will bring Roberto Benigni and Dante around Europe, the U.S.A., Canada, and South America.
|1983||Tu mi turbi (You Upset Me)||also starred|
|1984||Non ci resta che piangere (Nothing Left Do But Cry)||also starred|
|1988||The Little Devil (Il piccolo diavolo)||also starred|
|1991||Johnny Stecchino (1991)||also starred|
|1994||The Monster (Il mostro)||also starred|
|1997||Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella'')||also starred|
|2005||The Tiger and the Snow (La tigre e la neve)||also starred|
|1970s||Onda Libera||Mario Cioni||TV show|
|1977||Berlinguer Ti Voglio Bene||Mario Cioni|
|1979||I giorni cantati|
|Clair de Femme||Barman|
|Letti selvaggi||The Principal|
|1981||Il Minestrone||Il maestro|
|Anche i ladri hanno un santo|
|1983||F.F.S.S. cioè che mi hai portato a fare sopra Posillipo se non mi vuoi più bene?||Lo sceicco Beige|
|Tu mi Turbi||Benigno|
|1984||Non ci resta che piangere||Saverio|
|1986||Down by law||Roberto|
|1988||The Little Devil||Giuditta|
|1990||La voce della luna||Ivo Salvini|
|1991||Night on Earth||Driver (Rome)|
|Johnny Stecchino||Dante, Johnny Stecchino|
|1993||Son of the Pink Panther||Gendarme Jacques Gambrelli|
|1997||Life Is Beautiful||Guido Orefice||Academy Award for Best Actor|
|1999||Asterix and Obelix vs Caesar||Lucius Detritus (Tullius Destructivus/Catastrofus)|
|2002||Roberto Benigni - Chaos With Method|
|Pinocchio||Pinocchio||Razzie Award for Worst Actor|
|2003||Coffee and Cigarettes||Roberto||segment "Strange to Meet You"|
|2005||The Tiger and the Snow||Attilio de Giovanni|