Sunday, June 25, 2023

Interview with Alberto Dell'Acqua, a circus artist lent to the cinema

 Passion Cinema

By Angelo D’Ambra

June 18, 2023

“I am a circus performer lent to the cinema, son of Fausto Dell'Acqua and Giovanna Huesca, sister of the great clown Nené, unforgettable star of the Togni Circus, an artist moved by a special force that, advanced in years, still pushed him to perform at the Medrano”. This is how Alberto Dell'Acqua begins. With great availability he accepts our questions and begins to navigate in memories, in that dreamy sea of images of memory and emotions of the heart. This star of Italian cinema, a well-known face of the Spaghetti western, still carries all the determination of the circus people: "My family in the years of the Second World War had its own circus, rather large, the Circo Impero which went bankrupt. Slowly, associated with Leone Martini, they got back into the game with Circo Demar and it was there that my brothers and I debuted.

He says that he started performing under the tent as a very young age, following his family and dedicating himself to a plurality of disciplines: “I debuted as a juggler in a troupe number with my brother Arnaldo and my sisters Clara and Fernanda, who later became trapeze artists. My other six brothers and sisters also became artists in our family circus. The feedback from the audience was exceptional. I remember that in 1961, with two troupe numbers, we were awarded as best jugglers and cyclists at the Teatro Sistina with the Silver Mask, on an evening attended by prominent actors such as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Over the years I had also dedicated myself to acrobatics, perfecting myself as a trampoline jumper paired with my brother Roberto, aka Ridolini. We were a very close-knit couple, so much so that we put on another lucky number of fallers, but we dedicated ourselves to every circus discipline so much so that in Portogruaro with Roberto I also presented a number of rings. Ours was a family circus and we had to adapt to doing more numbers. Cinema burst into my life in 1964, but I wouldn't be far from the circus. In 1977, in fact, returning from Colombia from my last film, I reunited with my family on a caravan trip to Calabria. It was supposed to be a simple holiday, just relaxation and fun at the Camping "Le Mimose", instead we came across the posters of the Royal Circus of my cousins and the call of sawdust was so strong that we decided to go and spend three days with them. Those three days became seven years."

He found his roots. "Yes, the joy of when I was a child returned to me. I was under a tent again, back at the circus, again with my family. My children integrated perfectly, and I began to teach them. With some tips and a lot of work, in a few months they managed to express excellent artistic qualities. In the meantime, with my wife and sister, I returned to juggling and we also set up a rag woman number. I was the presenter of that show. Over the years my daughter Doriana became a talented trapeze artist. At the age of thirteen she performed in London enjoying great success. She worked at the Robert Brothers Circus, where my great cousin Gianni Fumagalli was also paired with his brother Daris. Back in Italy we worked at the circus of the Huesca brothers, also my cousins, the Budapest Circus which, unfortunately, near Arezzo, exactly in Camucia, a hamlet of the municipality of Cortona, was overwhelmed by a violent storm. It ended up being destroyed. I can't deny that the impact of certain events on the morale of a circus is devastating, but we rolled up our sleeves and put on a fun show called "Long Live the Laughter." The Lazio Coast responded with great participation. Our paths diverged there. My cousins under the direction of the Circus Medrano of the Casartelli brothers reached Greece, while my family and I returned to the Royal Circus of Loris and Rudy Dell'Acqua. We stayed there for a few years refining and retouching the juggling and trapeze numbers of my daughter Doriana. While My son Massimiliano perfected himself with a juggling number with clubs, balloons and cigar boxes. The result was a number worthy of Kris Cremo that literally amazed the audience. We planned to open our own circus, but, after buying all the material, my daughter married Massimo Carbonari and, a few months later, Massimiliano married Debora Orfei, daughter of the great Amedeo. My grandchildren renew the great family tradition, Yasmin, the daughter of Maximilian, for example, is an important antipodist awarded with the Silver Clown at the Monte Carlo Festival. Now the energies of my family are all in the Enchanted Circus, a fresh formula poised between the classicism of circus expressiveness and theater».

Let's talk about cinema now. How did it all start? "I owe my move to cinema to the great master of arms, Freddy Unger. It was he who wanted me as a stuntman for the first time in a feature film entitled "I malamondo", in 1964, produced by Titanus and set to music by Ennio Morricone. I was eighteen years old. Freddy took me under his wing and that same year he proposed me to the director Antonio Margheriti for the part of Publio Valerio in the film "The Giants of Rome", with Richard Harrison. So, the doors of the cinema opened to me. I remember that the assistant director of "I malamondo", Franco Giraldi, who in the meantime had become a director, the following year had Alfio Caltapiano search for me among the circus people. When it became known thanks to Rinaldo Zamperla that I was with my family's circus at La Storta, a village in Rome, I was reached by Giraldi with a proposal to audition for a western. It was the movie "7 Guns for the MacGregors". Everything went well, he liked me, and he took me for the film we went to shoot in Spain."

I remember that movie well... "Wait. There I had my first serious work accident. While I was galloping with one foot in the stirrup, to shoot a scene, the girth of the saddle broke, I fell hitting my head and I was trampled by the horses of the other actors, that is, the other MacGregor brothers. One of them, Nazzareno Zamperla, who shared with me a circus origin, rushed to help me, but I yelled at him not to touch me because I was all broken. I remember that Giraldi and the whole crew ran towards me, they remained there waiting for the ambulance that then took me to the hospital of Guadix, where they found the crack of five ribs and two fractures to the skull. By a special train they then transferred me to Madrid to the "Victoria Clinic" they discovered that I also had a fracture of two vertebrae of the cervical spine. They tied me to the litter box and told the producer to hope the night would pass without problems. Thanking God, it was so. After a few days I was plastered, and I was transferred to Rome in a traumatology center in Garbatella. The doctors removed the cast made in Madrid to make a new one from head to bust that I wore for four months. The film had been suspended until my recovery and when we resumed shooting, on the first day at Cinecittà, apart from the celebrations of the whole crew, the director Franco Giraldi, as terrified, explained to me that I would not ride. He said to me, "Do you see Alberto? Now we're going to shoot the scene where you're on horseback, but you're actually riding a scaffolding and it looks like you're on horseback." I gave him my assent, but when I approached the horse, I climbed on his back and got into position to turn. The crew cheered me on. We shot the scene without any problems and finished the film."

Fortunately, everything went well, he risked a lot. What about the directors, what can you tell me about them? He quoted Giraldi Margheriti. What relationship did you have with them? "I had a professional, natural and trouble-free relationship with everyone. I worked with Gianfranco Baldanello and Fernando Baldi, with Mario Siciliano I made three films, "Trinità e Sartana figli di...", "Quel pomeriggio maledetto" and "Alleluja e Sartana figli di... God." I didn't feel good with only one director, it was Giuseppe Colizzi. With the directors you always compare yourself to give luster to the character you have to play, to give it greater depth. All this is very important, it is rewarding for the actor because it helps him to express himself at his best. For example, in the film "Texas Addio", produced by the great Manolo Bolognini and directed by Professor Baldi in 1966 with Franco Nero and Elisa Montes, I had the opportunity to play a character that gave me so much satisfaction, the gunslinger Jim Sullivan. I can say the same for "Ammazzali tutti e torna solo" by Enzo Girolami Castellari.

Thenhe  reveal to me a curiosity about the language used. He has shot films in Spain, Colombia, Turkey and with artists of various nationalities. What language was he acting in? "In some films I used English as in "The Long Days of Hate" and "Son of Sandokan", but in general on the set you play each one in his own language. So, it was also in Turkey where I played three action films as a protagonist, with good Turkish actors. In one of the three, among other things, I broke my wrist while doing a deadly jump in pirouettes. I also shot two adventure films in Colombia and in one of them I came out of one and went to work on the other, a wonderful feeling a thousand meters high.

Speaking of these action shots, I consider him, especially with regard to spaghetti-westerns, a much more important figure than you might imagine. Proof of this is the fact that in all films, even when he had no leading roles, his presence was characteristic, he was a brand, he became an element of distinction of the entire film. As if the director was fascinated by his acrobatic skills. In all the films there is always the scene of the jump or the somersault, the most dynamic moment, the liveliest sequence. You are an actor who has left his mark because you know that when there is a film with Alberto Dell'Acqua you will find certain characteristics. "As far as the action scenes are concerned, Castellari is really a great director, perhaps because he too was an athlete. I made eleven westerns, including two as a protagonist "Trinity and Sartana Sons of...Bitches" and "Alleluja and Sartana Sons of... God" and yes, in fact in all of them my acrobatic skills emerge. The action scenes in the films I played were invented by me and my master of arms, Freddi Unger first of all, Nazzareno Zamperla, with whom I made three western films, and then Nando Poggi, to whom I was very attached and who worked with me in six films. A great man as well as a master of arms. I also made a couple of films in which I am a circus artist as in "Boot Hill". I also found the detective stories "Il braccio violento della mala", where I am the protagonist, "Quel pomeriggio maledetto", with Lee Van Cleef, and the very nice "Il figlio di Zorro", with Fernando Sancho».

At the end of this long chat, if I had to ask him to choose between cinema and circus, what would you say? "It's a question that puts me in difficulty. Cinema has given me a lot of notoriety and money. It allowed me to travel the world, but my love for the show is called circus. What I experienced, what I knew and what I still draw from circus life is a complete feeling and, in many ways, difficult to communicate. And even today, with an age and its ailments, I live the circus through my children and my grandchildren, protagonists of the beautiful show of the Enchanted Circus”.


  1. I assume that during this interview Alberto Dell'Acqua, who is 79, had to have a translator on hand because his English is not very well. He speaks little to no English and whenever he DOES do an interview, it's almost always in his native tongue of Italian. We need to get him on the Spaghetti Westerns Podcast pretty soon and see if we can find somebody who can translate Italian otherwise it's gonna suck. Hopefully he agrees to come on. We would love that. Alberto, if you're reading this, we love ya. Keep up the good work, friend. You have made us very proud.

  2. The original interview was printed in Spanish and I used Google Translator to translate it into English.

  3. It's a good thing you used Google Translator, Tom. Otherwise I woulda never known what Alberto was saying.