Alessandra Mastronardi and her manager find me in the lobby of the Gramercy Park Hotel just a couple of minutes after our appointed meeting time. They’re carrying shopping bags and colorful juices and are happily flustered the way all good tourists in New York City should be. And before I can ask a single question, they offer me “Coffee, tea, a drink, anything? Are you sure? Not even tea?”
The suggestion is on theme. If you watched season one of Aziz Ansari’s hit Netflix show, Master of None, you’ll remember that his character, Dev Shah, is obsessed with food. So it’s fitting that the actress who stars as his love interest in season two, the Italian-born Mastronardi, has some strong culinary opinions as well. She’s also just as charming and breezily confident as her character. It’d be easy to talk to her all day, about whatever—something Dev discovers about Francesca too. Of course we didn’t have all day; instead, we used our 15 minutes to talk about her love of Eataly and Sex and the City, the nickname she gave Ansari on set, and the season’s ambiguous finale. Read on.
(Careful: Spoilers for Master of None season two ahead.)
Glamour: So catch us up. Who is Francesca?
Alessandra Mastronardi: So Dev, at the end of the first season, moved to Italy to learn how to make pasta. He has a little group of friends that live in Modena, and Francesca is there as well—with her boyfriend, Pino. Then with the episodes, the relationship grows a little bit more and more and more. It’s actually a little bit like it happens in real life, when you meet a person you don’t immediately…if it’s not like a heart crush or whatever, you don’t think this person could be the love of your life or your next lover. You just enjoy the company of this person. Then suddenly you realize that actually, it means much more to you. For my point of view, I wanted to give Francesca the reality of a young person who is in the middle of a big choice. It’s not just about who is the perfect guy for her, but what she really wants for her life, not just from the boy next to her. So even if at the end she chooses what she chooses, it’s not a happy ending. It’s still painful.
Glamour: How did you get involved with the series? Had you seen it before? I know there’s Netflix in Italy, but did you watch it?
AM: We have Netflix, but it’s just now coming, so I didn’t know [Ansari] before. I was a fan of Master of None; I saw one part of the season when I was living here with my friend in L.A., but I forgot about it. So when I did the audition, I didn’t really know him. I remember he asked me, “Do you know me?” And I said, “No.” And he said, “Do you know the story? The TV show?” I said, “A little bit.” I thought that I f-cked up everything, a really bad start. So we did the audition, and the audition was not only about reading the scene [but also about improvising] the scene. I thought that was a really cool way to do auditions. I didn’t know that was his way to work. I had no clue that that was my future. And I won the audition, and here I am.
Glamour: You’ve worked in Italy, in London (where you live), and now in America. Have you noticed a difference in the industries? How the sets are run or auditions or…
AM: Well, yeah, there are a few different things. It’s just because, well, you have to think, that this industry here, the cinema industry here, is an industry. That’s the first giant difference. If I’m on set, I cannot just move this table myself. I have to ask a person who has to ask a person who has to ask the head of the props department if I can move the chair. There are more people on set; the budget, obviously, is different. When I did Life, the first time I arrived on set, there was this girl the same height as me, with my same hair color and my same dress, and [I asked], “What is she doing?” “She’s standing in lights!” I asked, “It’s me, here, why can I not take my light?” They said, “No, no, no, you can wait in the greenroom.” I said, “What’s a green room?” I was looking for a green room. I didn’t know the greenroom is just the name.
Glamour: It’s very confusing!
AM: I was looking for a f-cking green room! I was walking in this house, a little bit concerned because there was this other girl taking my lights, looking for a green room. There was this assistant, I loved him because I spent like 30 minutes walking around the house, and then he explained to me that a greenroom is what you call a relaxing room. We don’t have this [in Italy]. We do everything. We have to wait for the marks, we have to wait for lights, and it’s actually lucky. Americans are luckiest. You can relax and just think about your own business. When we are part of the crew, there are positive and negative things at the same time.
[At this point we are briefly interrupted by her manager, who offers to get us tea and coffee. I decline.]
AM: Oh, sorry, we ask too many times.
Glamour: No, that’s OK!
AM: We’re Italian. We love to see people eating. We want to make sure you’re fine. It’s a very Italian thing, like, “Are you OK? Everything fine?” This is us, don’t worry about it.
Glamour: It’s so funny, the Americans won’t let you be your own stand-in, but the Italians will keep you fed. A different way of taking care of people.
AM: I have to say, that’s another magic thing about the American set: the craft [services] corner. Like, if you cannot find me on set, I was definitely at the craft corner because we don’t have it. We have breakfast and lunch break. That’s it. Maybe a little bit of pizza going around 11, white pizza. There is a coffee machine and tea machine. If you are starving, it’s your problem. Go and buy yourself a drink or something to eat at the bar! But here there is a craft corner, every time!
Glamour: One of my favorite moments with your character is when she comes all the way to New York [from Italy] and wants to get Italian food.
AM: Yeah, that’s an Italian thing. My dad is like this. He’s so Italian that when he [travels] outside the country, he just wants to eat Italian. He gets really frustrated when he cannot have exactly what he wants.
Glamour: If you come here, it’s not going to be as good!
AM: I have tried to explain this to my father for 30 years. We are really spoiled. But here in New York, there are many good Italian restaurants. Even the pizza is good. And you have Eataly! It’s really good. When we were working here and I missed Italy, I’d go to Eataly and buy a few things. I love it.
Glamour: Did you guys have a good time on set?
AM: It was really fun. It was difficult to know when we were shooting and when we were having fun sometimes. This way to work was absolutely new to me, this kind of improvisation all the time. I’m in love with Eric [Wareheim, who plays Dev’s friend Arnold]. I love him, I told him. Everything he says makes me laugh, even if he looks at me and then says, “Ciao.” I just laugh. And he’s really good as a director too, because that really was my first experience doing comedy, and in another language. Comedy is such a private thing; it’s not always easy to translate something funny from one language to another. It’s very personal and cultural as well. So Eric helped me a lot. He told me, “Do this in this way,” but always in a really, really, really, really friendly way.
Glamour: Have you seen his show Tim and Eric? It’s very dude-heavy.
AM: Yeah, they do dude jokes, even in this season. I mean, come on, we can say that. But it’s really fun. I don’t know if you remember the first season, there is an episode where [Arnold] goes to check a sofa that he has to buy, or he has to sell a sofa, and I just remember that he was jumping on the sofa or he was in love with the sofa. I ask him to just do it for me because it was so hilarious. It’s so fun.
Glamour: You and Dev have such a tragic love story. You’re so right for each other, but you’re engaged to someone else and live in Italy. It’s so sad!
AM: It’s so sad. Did you watch the last episode?
Glamour: I tried to! I ran out of time. I’m going to watch it right after this.
AM: It’s one of my favorite ones, the tenth episode. I have to say, I didn’t watch all of [the episodes], but I know the scripts. I’m so curious to watch the tenth and the one, the New Yorker one [“New York, I Love You”]. I think it’s such an amazing idea that you [leave] all the [main] characters out and you just lead with the city. That episode is one of my favorite because it’s about how much Aziz and Alan [Yang, Master of None co-creator] love New York and how much they love New Yorkers. It’s a message of love, of the city. That’s really nice because literally, there is not one of us in the episode. I don’t know if that has ever happened before. I don’t think so. It’s like watching Sex and the City without [Charlotte, Carrie, Miranda, and Samantha].
Glamour: Have you seen Sex and the City?
AM: Sure! What a question!
Glamour: Well, if you just got Netflix…I don’t know…
AM: I mean, seriously, obsessed. Me and all my friends. It’s such an amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing show. I grew up on Sex and the City. I had the box set. I don’t know how many times I have watched it from the beginning to the end. When I’m sad or broke up with my boyfriend or I’ve had a tough day, I know exactly which episode to choose. I think I fell in love with New York because of Sex and the City
Glamour: When did you first visit New York?
AM: Eighteen, 19. That’s why I went so crazy my first time in CVS.
Glamour: Oh, so [the scene in the show at a pharmacy] is based on you?
AM: A few things are, unfortunately, based on my life. Aziz and I were building the character together; that was actually really cool. I mean, he knew where he wanted to go with the story, but he wanted to create the character with me. And he said, “Well, I’m American, and I live in New York. I honestly don’t know what emotions you would have [if you came from another country.]” So we started talking, and every time I was talking about it he was like, “What? No? Really?” And the CVS scene came out of that. Many scenes, actually.
Glamour: What did you do during your time off while you were staying in New York?
AM: Walked around. I don’t know how many kilometers I walked when I was here. I really like New York, so it was a big gift, especially because we started in September and finished in December. I think I had the most beautiful part in September, and then Christmastime arrived! And Halloween, and the pumpkin pie arrived. I mean, seriously?
Glamour: What did you think of Thanksgiving?
AM: I love it, but you guys don’t eat anything salty. Everything’s sweet, even the turkey. This family, I was on my own so they said, “Come with us.” It was this giant dinner. For me, dinner is at eight. So they said, “We’re going to have a dinner at three.” I said, “What?”
Glamour: American dinner is before Italian dinner, but then Thanksgiving dinner is for some reason before that?
AM: It’s at THREE! They started eating at three! I said, “Guys, no, I’m Italian. It’s not going to work.” We started eating at three and finished at 11:30. I was so full of food, I couldn’t move my finger. It was so funny. But I really needed something salty, so I came back to New York—we were upstate—and I bought french fries because I needed salt. I was desperate.
Glamour: And now, you’re also modeling?
AM: No, I’m too tiny. I’m an Italian ambassador for Chanel.
Glamour: Oh, I see. But it works because Aziz is short. In scenes together, you fit in the same shot.
AM: He always says, “You’re small.” I’m like, “You talk?”
Glamour: And Eric’s so big. I love the way they look together.
AM: In Italy we said “the article” because in Italy we have il, la, ile, when you write it down….
[She takes my pen and writes: “il.”] That’s them. Aziz [the “i”] and Eric [the “l”]. Such a stupid joke. But they are really good together. “The petite one” I was calling him, piccoline.
[At this point, I turned off my tape recorder because our conversation was nearing an end. I promised to let her know what I thought of the finale episode, but she told me not to spoil it for her because despite what she’d indicated earlier, she didn’t know how it ended either! The sneak! So our on-the-record convo resumed, below.]
AM: There were three different ends, so I don’t know. We talked about it a lot. We shot two different ends. We had three in the script, but two shot. I don’t know which one he chose.
Glamour: When are you going to find out?
AM: I think when I go back to London. In my little room, with my headphones, I’m going to watch everything on my own, by myself with probably ice cream or popcorn, it depends. Ice cream is if something is going to be really terrible, and popcorn is if I am joyous.
Glamour: Because you like salty things! There’s a scene in the show where you’re like, “We need a movie food.” Is that from you?
AM: Yeah, that’s a movie food. If it’s something like drama, chocolate. If it’s a comedy, popcorn.
Glamour: Is that an Italian thing or is that just you?
AM: It’s my stupidity. It’s my craziness.
Glamour: Do you ever do the thing where you put the candy in the popcorn?
AM: That’s my boyfriend’s thing, and I’m obsessed now. Because we do salty, not salty, and sweet. We just have the salty one, the butter one. We don’t put all the creamy stuff that you put in. But my boyfriend once put the little Maltesers, the little chocolate thing, and I’m obsessed now. Even if sometimes it just melts inside, so if you go and pick one of them, you have melted hands. But it’s really good too.
Glamour: Do you have a way you hope it ends? You’re going t text him and be like, “Aziz, you picked the wrong ending.”
AM: Yes, I actually have a preference. I like the end that we shot. I’m going to tell you, it’s fine. It’s in a bed. We are both in bed, and it’s night. Obviously, something happened before, but we don’t show anything, and I came back. I was about to leave with [Francesca’s fiancé] Pino, and I came back. And then during the night, she just woke up and walks to the window on her own. He wakes up and stands at the window by himself. It’s a kind of, um, a really sad end. They are together, but they’re not happy. I like this kind of end because it gives you the possibility to choose what happens the day after. It’s not easy when you choose something so important, to be happy in one second. When you see a movie and there is this happy ending, it’s not true. Even when you choose something, you’re happy that you had the choice, but at the same time, you hurt the person, you lost kind of everything. It’s not that easy. So that’s my favorite one.
Glamour: It’s like the ending of The Graduate. They’re together, but they’re not happy, and she just left her fiancé.
AM: There are so many little…how do you say it in English? “Homage,” I would say in French.
Glamour: We just say that; we don’t have our own word for it.
AM: So international! This homage to many movies. There is The Graduate at the end, The Bicycle Thief at the beginning. And a lot of [Michelangelo] Antonioni; [Ansari] loves Antonioni, and that was really a shock for me because I don’t even know how many actors or people from my generation know Antonioni. There is a big scene where [Dev] sees himself doing an Antonioni scene, in the blizzard, and that’s really nice because it’s [a scene from] one of my favorite movies. That’s my favorite actress, my favorite Italian actress, Monica Vitti. She’s the best. She’s sick now, but she’s the best. And yeah, that’s it!
Master of None season two is now streaming on Netflix.