House of Gucci – A scandal-ridden real-life family drama

Producer Giannina Scott chased Sara Gay Forden’s book ‘The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed’ down twenty years ago. Scott Free, the prolific production company of visionary director/producer Ridley Scott, optioned the feature film rights for House of Gucci. The glitzy rise and fall of the Gucci family through three generations, which included extravagance, greed, betrayal and, eventually, murder, was an irresistible subject.

From royal families and political lineage to media scions, the scandals and tribulations of rich and powerful dynasties has always exerted a fascination – fashion families are no different.

“Giannina was taken with the Gucci history and the power struggle and by what it’s like for a family to run a fashion dynasty. It’s a real testament to her as a producer that she stayed with the movie through to the finish line. This movie really got made because of her tenacity, says Kevin Walsh, president of Scott Free Productions and also a producer on House Of Gucci.

“Having spent half my life in Italy and being fascinated by fashion, I was intrigued by how full of passion this tragic story was. Even when they went wrong, everything the main characters did was full of passion,” says Giannina Scott.

“It was a fascinating family history. The Gucci dynasty was almost Italian royalty within the fashion industry and its destruction came from inside the family and spread. How could that not be interesting?” director/producer Ridley Scott,

Producer Giannina Scott
Director Ridley Scott and Cuba Scott on the set of House of Gucci. Photo credit: Fabio Lovino © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Crafting The Screenplay

Known for creating rich, unforgettable characters with complex narratives and memorable dialogue, Roberto Bentivegna is poised to become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after writers as he explodes onto the scene this fall with his brilliant and elegant script, House Of Gucci. Raised in Milan and London, Bentivegna adapted A.M Home’s ‘May We Be Forgiven’ for Lynne Ramsay and Artificial Eye; currently he is adapting Jo Nesbo’s novella, The Jealousy Man, and is developing a Turin-set thriller series, The Demons Among Us’.

In developing House Of Gucci, “the writer who finally got us there, script-wise, was Roberto Bentivegna,” says Walsh. “He did a ton of research but ultimately created his own character dynamics and relationships.”

“Roberto had a natural affinity for the material since he’s Italian and grew up in a fashion family himself,” adds Giannina Scott. “He put a lot of his own humour and heritage into the story and his ideas were totally in sync with Ridley’s vision.”

“I grew up in Italy and my mother was a fashion designer,” says Bentivegna. “I am also familiar with many of the glamorous places where the Gucci family lived and played. I remember reading about the murder and thinking, wow, this would make a terrific film.”

Roberto Bentivegna

Bentivegna immersed himself in Forden’s definitive account and pored over the hundreds of articles written about the Gucci dynasty as well as court records of the murder trial. “The Gucci family is very well known and there is a great deal of information on them,” he says.

“It was fascinating to sit down with the major Italian newspapers like La Repubblica and read what they had to say about the different individuals. I discovered so many little nuggets about them that I had not known before, such as Paolo Gucci’s (Jared Leto) obsession with pigeons. It provided additional insight into his character.”

As Bentivenga sees it, the Gucci dynasty is part of a tradition of the great Tuscan families of the renaissance period, like the Medici, or the Sforza clan. “They all picked at each other without realizing that what they were doing was bringing down the very thing they’d created,” he observes. “And I think that both from a literary point of view and a cinematic perspective, the story is ripe for narrative treatment. Because it’s all about betrayal. It’s about what people do behind the scenes to each other, and how they manipulate one another.”

So for the purposes of the story, Patrizia was “the architect of the drama that happens within the family. And some of that was factual and a lot of that was dramatic license, but it was very important to have a through line.” And telling the story around her rise and fall makes it “almost like a Shakespearean tragedy”; when it comes to her unchecked ambition, “be careful what you wish for.”

“Roberto got that the story is a comedy of errors that devolves into a tragedy,” says director Scott. “At the start, Maurizio is shy, introverted and under his father’s thumb, he adds. “Like a ghost, Rodolfo Gucci lives very much in the past, which his compliant son finds stifling. Maurizio can’t really live his own life, which explains why he ultimately rebels against his father and marries Patrizia. In Aldo Gucci, we find Rodolfo’s opposite, Bentivegna contends. Under his leadership, the Gucci family business seems to be thriving and ever-expanding. But it’s largely smoke and mirrors. Aldo is a sly fox and quite fraudulent, and that’s what eventually does him in,” he says.

“Aldo wants to commercialize the business,” says producer Walsh. “He wants to sell knickknacks and mugs and knock-off purses. He wants to open a mall in Japan. He injects commerciality into Gucci that not everyone wants. But when they cross him, they are met with great resistance.”

“Aldo’s son Paolo can be viewed as a noble fool. While Aldo loves his son, he considers him an idiot and isn’t afraid to say so openly, undermining an already fragile ego. As with Rodolfo and Maurizio, Aldo is such a big presence that Paolo suffers from constantly living in Aldo’s shadow,” says Bentivegna.

“Aldo really loves his son,” says Oscar winner Al Pacino, who takes on the role of Aldo. “But at the same time, he recognizes his inadequacies. As he says, ‘my son’s an idiot, but he’s my idiot.’”

While Rodolfo looks down on Patrizia, Aldo sees her as a kindred spirit. Someone who is aggressive and manipulative. Together they persuade the reluctant Maurizio to join the family business. With Patrizia pouring poison into his ear, Maurizio grows increasingly self-confident but also cynical and ruthless, eliminating all the other members of the family from the business, including Uncle Aldo.

“Eventually, he gets rid of Patrizia as well,” says Bentivegna. “Maurizio’s arc, Bentivegna points out, resembles that of another heir to a family dynasty, Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.” “As with Michael, there is a fatalism in Maurizio’s rise to power. He knows that, at some point, it’s all going to go horribly wrong. There is a sense of doom to his role in the family business and his acceptance of it.”

Jack Huston stars as Domenico De Sole and Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci. Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

House of Gucci not only depicts the end of the Gucci family’s control over its vast fashion empire, but the waning days of privately-owned fashion labels and the onset of conglomerate control of the industry

In that regard, says production designer Arthur Max, the film is a “rollicking romp with all the sounds and looks of the period and the world in which the main characters lived and played. As the story unfolds, however, you witness how these characters interact and how off-kilter their lives become. A sad tale really, but told in a very entertaining way.”

Added costume designer Janty Yates, “I think audiences will be astonished and totally gobsmacked about the complexities and twists and turns of this story. I mean, who knew?”

“There is something in House of Gucci for everyone,” adds producer Giannina Scott. “It’s an emotional roller-coaster ride with romance, fashion, great music, expert performances and a compelling dramatic story.”

“This is a film about power,” says Jared Leto, “and a film about family. It’s also a film about passion, art, creativity, of course, fashion. It’s about loyalty and, certainly, betrayal. I was really surprised and shocked, by the story and I think audiences will be surprised too. Those famous Gucci loafers are going to take on a whole new meaning, that’s for sure.”

Lady Gaga and director Ridley Scott on the set of House of Gucci. Photo credit: Fabio Lovino © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The care and attention that went into the film should provide the viewing public with pleasure on multiple levels, according to producer Kevin Walsh. “I hope audiences will take away a sense of enjoyment in the artistry of this film, which allows us to appreciate the work of a great troupe of filmmakers who take their work really seriously but also have fun in trying to create a piece of entertainment. Story-wise, I think they’ll take away the moral that money isn’t everything. That control and greed can really work against you if you focus on them too much.”

But first and foremost, says Lady Gaga, “this movie is a genuinely good time. A wild ride and every second is entertaining. Part of Ridley’s magic is that, with all his artistic ways, ultimately, he wants the audience to enjoy themselves.”

Director Ridley Scott’s vision for the visual style of House Of Gucci, according to production designer Arthur Max, “was one of elegance and luxury. The best of the best. A world of privilege with no expense spared – but on a budget and on schedule.”

The main locations in the script for House of Gucci are in Rome, Milan, New York and Alpine country though, in actuality most of the film was shot in and around the Italian capital with interiors at the famed Cinecitta. In addition, the production shot some exteriors and interiors in Milan, including one scene that is designed to look like downtown Manhattan. The production was also filmed at a villa near Lake Como. Italy’s Dolomite mountain range stood in for the Alps where the Gucci family spent their winter vacations.

Lady Gaga stars as Patrizia Reggiani and Vincent Riotta as Fernando Reggiani House of Gucci. Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bringing the characters to life

For the pivotal role of Patrizia Reggiani Gucci, Scott approached the global superstar, multi-hyphenate, Lady Gaga.

Among the elements that attracted Lady Gaga to the project was the complexity of Patrizia Reggiani, a fallible and, at times, morally compromised woman who is, at the same time, sincerely in love with Maurizio Gucci and eager to help him forge his way ahead in the family’s fashion business.

“Before they see the film, some people might think Patrizia is a gold digger,” says Lady Gaga. “But when they got married, his family had turned their back on him. So, she didn’t marry for money, she married for love.”

“It’s only after Maurizio has inherited half the Gucci fortune from his late father, that her ambition took hold and, even then, it emanated from a need for acceptance, according to Lady Gaga. “She wanted so much to be taken seriously by the family. She was smart and felt that she knew what to do in order to move the company forward. But their acceptance was only an illusion. They were all just using her to get to Maurizio and firm up their control. She was always an outsider, a was a woman in a man’s world and there’s only so much she could do, as many women know. Their power can often go unnoticed.”

Lady Gaga stars as Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci. Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

And while Patrizia’s retaliation proved to be tragic, the actress found a way to love the character for all her imperfections. “I believe that trying to better her station in life came from an innocent place, not a guilty place. Tragically, by the end, not only did she not achieve her goal, she wound up way below where she was when she started.”

Patrizia Gucci’s ambition and cunning are inherent in her personality, whereas Maurizio Gucci has a more complex dramatic arc. Initially, he is a bookish introvert, then a man in love and, eventually a powerhouse magnate. It’s a role requiring a unique presence and finesse to credibly convey a transformation that might, in less capable hands, seem melodramatic and overwrought.

“Seduction is a big part of the movie,” Adam Driver says, who plays Maurizio. “Maurizio is seduced by Patrizia, then seduced by power and then by pride. He starts off as kind of goofy and not very elegant. Then he becomes more elegant and, soon, he starts to feel more grounded, that he actually fits into the expensive suits he wears. But in fact, he is being seduced by the very thing he knows is bad for him.”

Adam Driver stars as Maurizio Gucci in House of Gucci. Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

At the start, his feelings for Patrizia are genuine, Driver asserts. “He disavows everything that would make his life comfortable but, eventually, he and Patrizia are both seduced by the unattainable. It’s not by design. He inherits it. He doesn’t have the faculty to claim the throne. But Patrizia does because she’s ambitious beyond her station.”

The character of Aldo Gucci is volatile, playful and unfailingly charismatic and who better to embody those traits than the multi-faceted and limitlessly talented Al Pacino who, over the course of his career has accumulated nine Oscar® nominations, winning for Scent of a Woman in 1993.

For Pacino, the House of Gucci script told many stories and expertly welded them together. “It’s about trust and betrayal and adultery and how things change,” he notes.

Al Pacino stars as Aldo Gucci in House of Gucci. Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

But first and foremost, he was attracted to the project to see how it came to life under a director he’d long admired. “Ridley’s a great filmmaker. He takes a script and brings such energy and drama and humour to it.” Though both are storied cinema veterans, Scott and Pacino had never worked together, hadn’t even met.

The role of the patrician Rodolfo Gucci, a man who dwells almost entirely in the past and, at the same time, seeks to prevent his only son, Maurizio, from moving forward, would seem to fit Oscar®- winner Jeremy Irons like a hand-crafted leather glove.

Irons was immediately drawn to the character for its complexity. “Rodolfo co-owns the family business with his brother, Aldo, but doesn’t have much interest in it,” Irons says. “He was an actor at one time and married to a German actress who was better than he was, so he quit. Then she died, and he became obsessed with her and the past. He spends all his time cutting up bits of her movies.”

Besides trying to control his only son and disapproving of his marriage, which he later comes to regret, Irons was fascinated by the Gucci family dynamic. “I think they were all suspicious of one another. There was, as with any Italian family, a basic love. But within that, there was a lot of muscle-flexing. I would not describe them as a happy family,” Irons says with his uncanny knack for understatement.

Perhaps the trickiest role in the film is that of Paolo Gucci. Aldo’s only son is a dreamer but also endearing and pitiably guileless. “Paolo is written in a very amusing fashion,” says Scott. “He’s nearly satire. I was pushing the film slightly in the direction of being satirical, certainly in regards to the relationship between Aldo and Paolo.”

Jared Leto was not the obvious choice for Paolo physically speaking, but that was also true for many of his transformative portrayals such as his Oscar-winning role Rayon, in Dallas Buyers Club. It was he who approached Scott for the role of Paolo. “I asked Jared, how are you going to do it,” says Scott. “And he said, well, makeup. We were fortunate to find a genius in Scandinavia Göran Lundström and there he was at 4:30 every morning for his makeup and he’d arrive on the set as a completely different person.”

Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci in House of Gucci. Photo credit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc. © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

So transformative were the prosthetics and makeup that the first time Leto walked onto the set as Paolo, his co-star thought he might be an interloper. “This guy comes up to me, this strange-looking person and he says ‘Hi papa,’” relates Al Pacino. “I looked around a little perplexed because I wasn’t sure he belonged there. And then somebody said, ‘It’s Jared.’ He was a totally different person. I mean, I’ve seen makeup before, but this was genius. I immediately wanted to get to work. It was so inspiring.”

As the enigmatic and eccentric psychic Pina Auriemma, Scott chose an actress he was confident could fully explore the character’s contradictions and appeal, Salma Hayek.

Hayek’s attraction to the role was immediate. “Pina was a very interesting woman,” she says. “She’s clairvoyant. A psychic. She can tell the future. When she and Patrizia meet, they immediately connect, and something that starts as a professional relationship becomes a very strong, important friendship for both of them.”

“Salma brought a real humanity to Pina, a woman who really comes to care about Patrizia. She could’ve been playing her in a very cynical way as someone who is just using Patrizia for her money,” says Bentivegna. “Instead, Salma and Lady Gaga developed real chemistry, both on-screen and off. It was fantastic.”

Like Patrizia, Pina comes from a modest background. “They are both lonely women in their own way, and Pina recognizes Patrizia’s potential and encourages her,” says Hayek. “But even at the point when Patrizia has everything, Pina recognizes that she is lonely and fragile. And while she is ambitious, it’s the loss of love that drives Patrizia to madness.”