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EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Legendary ‘Suspiria’ actress Barbara Magnolfi

Suspiria - Poster

Suspiria (1977)

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is one of my all-time favorite movies. I remember seeing it as a teenager and being struck by the beauty of it. It was horrifying yet engaging and electric. I was in awe of the feverish color palette of bright reds, neon greens and fuchsias. And then there was Olga (played effortlessly by Barbara Magnolfi), the coolest of the cool. I don’t know if I’d call her mean, indifferent seems more appropriate. She was confidence personified, a cheeky misfit with raven hued Rapunzel-like hair. Olga might have not been a lead role in Suspiria, but definitely was one of the most impactful roles. 

Stefania Casini as Sara, Jessica Harper as Suzy & Barbara Magnolfi as Olga

Fast foward to September of 2018. Guadagnino’s Suspiria is about to come out and Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood is screening Argento’s Suspiria. To top it off, Barbara Magnolfi who played Olga will be speaking at the end of the film. I of course jump at the chance to hear Barbara speak about Suspiria. I go to the theater and at some point I get up to use the restroom. It was on this fateful trip to the bathroom that I run into Barbara Magnolfi in the lobby. We end up chatting for the next hour until she had to do her Q&A and have been close friends ever since. As cool as Olga was, Barbara is even cooler and one of the most humble people I know. I’ve seen fans cry when they meet her and big-time producers being reduced to stuttering 12-year old boys when they come face-to-face with their adolescent crush. Yet it never gets to her head even in the slightest, she is still genuine and kind. To give you a small sliver of her extraordinary life that goes well beyond Suspiria, she used have coffee regularly with Fellini at Cinecitta! Federico Fellini! 81/2-La Dolce Vita-Fellini! And is so cool and nonchalant about it. 

Recently, Cinematic Void screened Suspiria to a full house at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, followed by a Q&A with Barbara moderated by James Branscome. After the Q&A, I sat down with Barbara and we talked about the impact of Suspiria, working with Dario Argento (whom she remains close friends with) and her plans for the future. 

James Branscome & Barbara Magnolfi at the Egyptian Theater
Photo: Jennifer Ortega.

Jennifer Ortega: Your fans are so loyal! What’s your favorite thing about your fanbase?
Barbara Magnolfi: They are loyal and actually some are really devoted to me as the character Olga. Olga stands outs. 
JO: Olga is such an iconic character. I’ve told you this, but Olga has always been not only my favorite character in Suspiria, but one of my all-time favorite characters period.
BM: I think it’s because Olga has such a…you know she’s so cheeky and she doesn’t give a damn. She’s so independent in a way…even from the other witches in the film. Some people don’t realize that she is a witch, the little witch. 
JO: The baby witch.
BM: Yes, the baby witch. That’s what Dario used to call me, my little witch. In Italian it’s la mia streghina.
JO: La mia piccola strega, I love that.
BM: I think Olga is confident, sassy and fearless. It resonates with women of today and I think that’s why the fan base is so strong amongst young woman. 
JO: You don’t need a man, you don’t need anything; you are just confident on your own.

That’s what Dario used to call me, my little witch. La mia streghina.

-Barbara Magnolfi

BM: Yes, confident and not afraid to say it as it is. When Susy gets to the school Olga comes right over  like hey you are my tenant and you owe me fifty bucks in advance right now. And when Suzy gets frazzled Olga goes, “Alright don’t get so hot under the collar. That’s how things are done here right.”
JO: The way you do the lines are so great!
BM:I think that Suspiria to me it’s like a good song. A good song that you will never get tired of listening to, it’s like a song..,like I don’t know, but like Hotel California by The Eagles, right? And you never get tired of that song. It never ages or feels like an old song. It’s like a piece of art.
JO: It is art, definitely, yes absolutely.
BM: It is art right? It’s a bit like, I used to compare Suspiria with a canvas with this flash of color you know like an artist would paint a painting. So I think of it as a work of art that doesn’t get old. A true really beautiful work of art – and of course it became a classic, and there is a reason why it became a classic. It’s among those films like Dracula and The Shining. Those films will never get old and they make a mark in the history of cinema. 
JO: I really love the small details that you brought to the character. It’s all the small intricacies and mannerisms that really fleshed Olga out for me. The way she paints her nails, holds the cigarette, all these little movements…
BM: I did that and like I’ve sometimes said in Q&As is that the audition process was kind of strange. It was all about the way I move. I saw this character, but Dario didn’t give me any preconceived notion of Olga when I met him. He basically said how do you see her and I came up with this and he loved it. I don’t remember, but I reread the script not so long ago, a few years ago I had the script and I reread it. I was like wow I really got something out of this character. I really molded this character.
JO: To me she’s the most three-dimensional character in the story. I understand her.
BM: Yes, and I think that appeals to a lot of people. Although she was mean, she also had a childish side, like a playfulness and yes it was an interesting character. I think it was an awesome character to play, I completely got into it.

Barbara Magnolfi signing posters for fans. Photo: Jennifer Ortega.

JO:  I don’t know how much you can talk about it, but you are also producing some films now.
BM: Yes, I mean I think that when you are an actor you have a limited space for decisions, and a limited space for—sometimes you have to do what’s written because the writer gets upset or the director wants it a certain way.  I mean you contribute to it, and as long as you actually understand what the message should be and you understand the director what he’s trying to get across and so forth. But you are an element in the movie. I like the process of creation and creating something from completely nothing, from just an idea. And then put it all together. So I think that’s an amazing process and of course it’s more responsibilities and it’s more things. I am a baby producer right now, but I have been in the industry long enough that I know a couple of things. I know also what I like and the way as an actor how I like to be treated. I love to direct, as well. I am planning to direct something because I want to bring Giallo back.
JO: I love that because there’s really not been very many modern Giallo films and even less female directors of Giallo.
BM: I know which will be fantastic,. There’s been authors. Agatha Christie could be considered a Giallo – crime and mystery, that would be so awesome. But I see that and especially here where there is such a broad field within entertainment. I believe in a way the American dream is still possible and especially in the entertainment industry here. Although I will always love acting. In fact, I would like to get back to my roots with theater. I would love to do theater.
JO: I knew you have a dance background, but I didn’t know you did live theater.
BM: Well I started off with theater, yes.
JO: I would love to see you on the stage, that would be fantastic.
BM: I used to have such a thrill being onstage. That’s where the love of the stage came from and the dancing on the stage. I was really enamored with the feel of a live audience. It’s completely different. I think that’s why I like doing conventions so much because you meet the audience.
JO: Oh yes and it’s always interesting. Just earlier at the Egyptian Theater, there was a couple that were fans and came up to you to show you a song. There’s a band I think called Atmosphere that sampled you as Olga in their song,  you know your quotes from Suspiria.
BM: I know that was hilarious. I need to contact them. I always had a – to be honest with you when I performed on the first film it was like a Deja Vu like I’ve been doing this forever. I felt it. It was a very powerful feeling. I was where I should be and I felt it was right. I felt like I was more at home acting then anywhere else.

Barbara speaking with fan and stylist Damaris Valverde                            Photo: Jennifer Ortega.

JO: Have you met Quentin Tarantino before? I always feel like you should know him. 
BM: I bumped into him briefly.
JO: But you never had a meeting? I still think that he’s really missing the mark here with that, without putting you in a movie, but that’s just my personal opinion.
BM: That would be great.
JO: I feel like he could write a really good role for you, like he would get your vibe. 
BM: Yes, I feel that Quentin Tarantino and I will get along definitely. Because he’s such an eccentric guy and you know wild and I am the same way, imagination wise and unique in a way. I am unique in a way that I don’t fit, it’s like Olga is unique in Suspiria but I am still in that way unique myself, because I don’t feel like I fit in any category.
JO: Yes, but Olga is such a small part of your everything, like  people don’t even realize these incredible things in your life.

When I performed on the first film it was like Deja Vu, like I’ve been doing this forever.  I was where I should be and I felt it was right.

-Barbara Magnolfi

JO: Are there any  horror or sci-fi directors that you would like to work with?
BM: In general, who would I like to work with?
JO: Yes, or if there’s an actor that you’d like to direct?
BM: Yes, as an actor I admire directors, but I go by roles. I find characters that I fall in love with. And I am not putting any restriction as to where they come from, but of course if it’s a character and with a director that I like, then that would be a match made in heaven. But I don’t have any specific directors. It will all depend on what kind of situation. As a director myself, I would not necessarily go with a name. I would go with the part and the talent. Because there are so many talented actors, so many, so many. And some that are in the background that are really talented.
JO: Oh yes, it’s all about just like a matter of luck and timing, There is so much talent.
BM: So much yes, and as an actor you know that’s how I would like to be treated as well. For what I can do and so forth. Of course, I already have a career so I am not so – I am at a different age of my life. I feel like I’m in a different spot right now.
JO: When I write I always want to write for women that are not 20 years old because it’s more interesting of a part to me.
BM: You know my outlook on my career and all of that and at first I really wanted to succeed and I did that and I got to the top and so forth. But you know my purpose as an actor was always, always-always-always to inspire and to give people a different point of view.  And almost like helping them finding the truth in a way. So that’s always been underlining my career. It has been always the goal for me and I did it with being an actor. Somehow I happen to inspire. I inspire with Olga and I inspire with some other roles.
JO: People are so excited when they meet you, but I completely understand their excitement because like 20 years ago I am watching you as Olga and thinking you are beyond amazing. And when I met you, you’re even more amazing in person. 
BM: I like connecting with people. I am writing my autobiography for that reason. And my autobiography is going to be written in a way that is completely unlike any other biography. It’s not going to be the regular biography. It’s going to go all over the place and it’s going to go by moments.
JO: I love that, it’s kind of written like, The Alchemist, you know? From moment to moment. 
BM: Yes, so it’s going to be a different biography, something that would completely Inspire. It was like when I had a bad period in my life and you know there is the beginning of that – I was going to show you that picture that my friend just sent me. I wrote a quote around the picture. 
JO: That’s gorgeous, Barbara I love that.
BM: What I wrote here…it’s in Italian, but I’ll translate.  I said remember not to ever believe in reality, but in the illusion. Because it’s in the illusion that we have forgotten the body.

Jennifer & Barbara at the Egyptian.
Photo: Jennifer Ortega.

Barbara recently produced and co-starred in two films being released later this year and is currently in pre-production for her next project. 

To find out about Barbara Magnolfi’s appearances, new films follow her:
Instagram: @barbaramagnolfi_official

Jennifer E. Ortega
Jennifer is a host, producer, screenwriter and journalist based in Los Angeles. She is known for her humor, pop culture knowledge, candor and authenticity that make her on-camera interviews stand out. As an entertainment journalist, Jennifer has published film & television reviews, exclusive interviews and event coverage for various online publications. As a screenwriter, Jennifer has written pilots, screenplays and has acted as a story consultant. She originally got her start working for an esteemed producer in New York and went on to work in television production for various reality shows. Jennifer is a true Valley Girl, born and raised in Encino and will be happy to talk about the wonders of the Valley for hours on end. She also really loves Twin Peaks & Matzah Ball soup.

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