MAMBO ITALIANO directed by Emile Gaudreault, written by Gaudreault, Steve Galluccio, produced by Denise Robert and Daniel Louis, with Luke Kirby, Ginette Reno, Paul Sorvino, Mary Walsh, Sophie Lorain and Peter Miller. 92 minutes. An Equinox release. Opens Friday (August 22). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 90. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Mary Walsh plants herself in a chair in the middle of a media whirlwind and makes her point clear. She's not Italian. Yet there she is in Mambo Italiano, fussing and wailing and tottering on heels as the mama of a young stallion shacked up with another man. It's a frenetic farce, but it's Walsh's particular no-nonsense madness that grounds the movie. Her years of balls-out comedy in CODCO and This Hour Has 22 Minutes have made her fearless.
"I'm too stunned to be afraid," she says during the Toronto film fest. "And all that sketch comedy we did, you're always doing different ethnic backgrounds - not that I was ever that good at it. But the convention was that you were allowed to do an Italian accent or an eastern European thing, or Irish.
"So I thought, 'This'll be good,' and then I thought, 'How am I gonna get that Italian accent?' I've got this tight little Irish jaw." In Italian, she says, "you open your mouth a lot more."
Ensemble comedy is a constant struggle, Walsh says, because "what you're constantly doing is trying to be funnier than the other person. You're trying to get the laugh, and everybody is very jealous of the laugh.
"If there is any chemistry between us in the movie, it's just luck and brilliant casting.
"What gets in my way of being funny," she confesses, "is when I'm afraid. I was a bit afraid of Mr. Sorvino, because he comes from a different background completely."
It's hard to tell if the honorific she gives co-star Paul Sorvino is ironic or strategic. But she barrels on.
"The Canadian industry is much more egalitarian, and the American industry much more star-driven, much more hierarchical. So he brings a whole other thing to the set. I found that overwhelming at first."
But Walsh found a solution.
"It's exactly the same as being dressed up in a ridiculous red suit with a plastic sword and having to talk to the prime minister," she says.
"If you actually get your hands on the prime minister, you realize that he's another human being deserving of respect the same way you are. Sometimes if you touch somebody, your fear dissipates. So that's what I did with Mr. Sorvino. I just grabbed hold of him, and he's a person, just like me. So that helps me," she laughs. "To touch people."
She lets the line hang in the air, then roars, "I'll be up on charges!"