by John Larkin
FATSO (1980) is one of those obscure films that has a very specific cult following: Italian Americans. Growing up as an Italian American, FATSO was a staple in my family's film rotation since I was very young. It was the only film Anne Bancroft ever directed and it was the first film under Mel Brooks's BROOKSFILM banner.
Bancroft imbued the film with a darkly humorous, authentic Italian American sensibility that is truly unique in cinema history. It was also the first major motion picture to be lensed by a female director of photography, Brianne Murphy.
Recently I was fortunate enough to connect with Candice Azzara, who played Dom Deluise's love interest in the film. Our conversation focused purely on looking back at her work on FATSO and all the major players involved.
JOHN: Hi Candice, it's a pleasure to connect with you. Me and my family have been watching FATSO together on an annual basis for the last twenty five years. We used to rent the VHS out of our local library every summer and keep renewing it so we had it to watch all summer long.
CANDICE: Oh that's sweet. Well, I never thought my life would turn out the way it did. My whole career I've been guided by something powerful. I really believe God has a plan for all of us and puts you where you need to be at the right time.
JOHN: So, to start, how did you first get involved with the project FATSO?
CANDICE: Anne Bancroft had seen me in an A-1 steak sauce commercial and later told me, she said to herself, "I want to work with that actress." From there she ended up casting me in the short film version of FATSO when she was at The American Film Institute. In the short film version Anne cast Doris Roberts as Antoinette, Dom's sister, which was the role Anne ended up playing in the feature version. I played the same role in both, and Dom as well.
JOHN: What were your thoughts on doing the feature?
CANDICE: Well what was amazing was, I was just about to quit the industry when Anne came to me and offered me the role in the feature version. I had surrendered myself to God and asked for his guidance and then Anne called and it was like God telling me to continue in the industry. What's also interesting is that Anne later described my character as a kind of angel from heaven who comes down to help and love him and didn't see him for just being overweight. So it was actually a very spiritual experience in many ways.
JOHN: I'm curious about Dom Deluise on set. What was it like working with him?
CANDICE: Dom was amazing. We got along so well and we were both serious about being prepared. Dom had tremendous respect for Anne [Bancroft]. Dom was an incredible actor who could do comedy and drama so well.
JOHN: I think his role in this film is the best performance he's ever given. It's very unlike the characters he typically played.
CANDICE: And that was because of Anne. She really directed him well and wrote a fleshed out character for him that allowed him to hone his abilities as an actor.
JOHN: I think it's so special that this was Anne Bancroft's only film as a director. What was she like to work with in that capacity?
CANDICE: Well she really trusted me. She trusted my instincts. She never had to say anything to me before a scene. She would just let me go. We were both from the theater and she had us rehearse scenes at our house and we would hang out there. She was so wonderful, we got along so well.
JOHN: And on that note, what are your memories of her husband Mel Brooks. FATSO was BROOKSFILMS first production, even before ELEPHANT MAN (1980). Did he hang around on set?
CANDICE: Yes, he would come by. He was lovely. He was so respectful of me and so supportive of Anne. Anne was crazy about him. I remember her telling me: "He looks like my father and reminds me of my mother and I still get those butterflies when he walks through the door."
There's a scene where I kiss my scapula, a religious necklace and [Mel] kept telling Anne "You're not gonna get away with that, it's not gonna work." Mel thought the audience would look at it in a dirty way, but it did work. Anne knew the audience would see it spiritually.
JOHN: That's so great. Is there anything else you want to add?
CANDICE: I always loved acting for the craft. I was never about the money. My manager used to turn down roles for me because of the money. I would have done FATSO for $2. It's about the process and I love doing character work. FATSO is very special to me and I'm forever grateful for it.
And now Films in Review is pleased to present the short film version of FATSO. Written & Directed by Anne Bancroft at AFI in 1978. Starring Dom Deluise, Estelle Reiner, Doris Roberts and Candice "Candy" Azzara.