Toni Servillo, Italy's everyman, in limelight at Venice

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He's one of Italy's most familiar faces, but even by Toni Servillo's standards it has been a busy week, with no less than three films premiering at the Venice Film Festival.

The 62-year-old's expressive face has lent itself perfectly to everything from larger-than-life politicians like Silvio Berlusconi to a mob boss in "Gomorrah".

He is perhaps best known abroad for his decades-long collaboration with director Paolo Sorrentino, including his starring role in the Oscar-winning "The Great Beauty".

Sorrentino, who describes Servillo as an older brother, cast him once again in his latest film, "The Hand of God", which premiered to strong reviews in Venice last week.

It sees Servillo take on the role of the director's father in the autobiographical film set in Naples during the heady years when football legend Diego Maradona delivered big dreams to the gritty southern city.

Twenty years ago, the pair were together in Venice with Sorrentino's feature film debut, "One Man Up", and they have worked together on almost all the director's Italian projects since.

On Wednesday, he was back again for the premiere of "The King of Laughter", directed by Mario Martone, in which he plays famous turn-of-the-century Neapolitan actor Eduardo Scarpetta.

Both "The Hand of God" and "The King of Laughter" are competing for the Golden Lion this year.

And Servillo also stars in "Ariaferma", playing out of competition, as a prison guard in a facility awaiting imminent closure.

Asked by AFP about his omnipresence on the red carpet this year, he gave one of his trademark smiles, saying: "Despite myself."

While the movie business has certainly kept him busy, Servillo said he was anxious to return to the theatre as soon as possible.

"Like many of my colleagues, Covid blocked my theatre activities. As soon as it's easy, I will return to the theatre," he told AFP.

"I'm not one of these actors who considers theatre a waiting room for film. I am a theatre militant!"

Born in 1958 in Naples, Servillo honed his craft in experimental theatre in the 1970s and 1980s in Naples before going on to win acclaim in films.

"The King of Laughter" was a chance to tap those theatrical roots, while giving a nod to the rich comic tradition of his hometown.

"I've been on stage for 40 years," he said. "I've done thousands of parts all over the world, so I know the life of the theatre.

"It's the story of a particular epoch in which Naples was... a capital of culture, not only Italy but Europe, and Scarpetta was a hero of this city.

"He was a comic who inspired joy and enthusiasm."

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