Roberto Benigni (born October 27, 1952) is an Italian film and television actor and director. He was born in Misericordia, Tuscany, Italy.
Benigni is probably best known for his tragi-comedy Life Is Beautiful (La Vita è bella), filmed in Cortona,about a man who tries to protect his son during his internment at a Nazi concentration camp, by telling him that the Holocaust is an elaborate game and he must adhere very carefully to the rules to win. Benigni's father had spent two years in a concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, and La Vita è bella is based in part on his father's experiences; the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor (Benigni directed himself).
Benigni also directed The Monster (Il Mostro), Il piccolo diavolo (with Walter Matthau) and Johnny Stecchino. With the very popular comic actor Massimo Troisi, he played in Non ci resta che piangere (nothing left for us, but crying), a fable in which the protagonists are suddenly thrown back in time up to 15th century, just a little before 1492, so they start looking for Columbus in order to stop him before discovering the Americas, but obviously they are not able to reach him.
Benigni's wife, Nicoletta Braschi, has starred with him in most of the films he directed.
Benigni has starred in two films by American Director Jim Jarmusch. In Down By Law (1986) he plays Bob, the innocent abroad, convicted for murder, whose irrepressible good humour and optimism help him escape and find love (also starring Braschi as his beloved.) In Night on Earth (1991) he plays a cabby in Rome, causing his passenger, a priest, great discomfort by confessing his revolting sexual experiences. He also starred in the first of Jarmusch's series of short films Coffee and Cigarettes (1986).
Benigni is also a well appreciated improvisatory poet (poesia estemporanea is a form of art popularly followed and practiced in Tuscany), and is appreciated for his recitations of Dante's Divina Commedia by memory.
Very popular in Italy, Benigni became famous in the 1970s for a shocking TV series called Televacca, by Renzo Arbore, in which he interpreted a particular hymn on specific biological functions. A great scandal for the time, the series was suspended due to censorship.
Little after, 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 dandled the national leader Enrico Berlinguer, a very serious figure. It was an unprecedented fact, given that until that moment italian politicians were proverbially serious and formal (and Berlinguer was perhaps the most serious one at all); it represented a breaking point, after which politicians experimented newer habits and "public manners", started frequenting less formal happenings and, generally speaking, modified their lifestyle in order to show a more popular, "familiar" look.
Benigni was censored again in the 1980s for calling the Pope John Paul II something impolite during an important live TV show. His famously mangled English is a put-on, apparently.