At the center of Elena Ferrante's acclaimed Neapolitan Novels is the friendship between the narrator, Elena Greco, and her childhood companion, Lila Cerullo. The two are opposites in many ways, though both intelligent, thus the name of the first book, which has been adapted into an HBO miniseries. In order to do this faithfully, an intense casting process was required to find the girls at the center of the story. So who plays Lila in My Brilliant Friend?
There isn't a straightforward answer here, as there are actually two Lilas. For the first couple of episodes, Elena and Lila are children attending primary school together, when Lila essentially chooses Elena to be her friend. The fearless protagonist faces challenges as she grows up, forced to abandon her studies in favor of the family's cobbling business. Though this wasn't uncommon at the time, Lena's decision to continue with her education pulls the two girls apart at times and helps them find their way back to each other, in a story very different yet altogether relatable for most.
When the first Lila, Lila as child, appears onscreen, she is tiny — but conveys strength through her movements and sometimes prickly character. Ludovica Nasti, who, prior to this, had never acted before, is a natural Lila — My Brilliant Friend writer and director Serverio Costanzo called her "an unbelievable gem."
Not only does she resemble Ferrante's physical description for the character, which Constanzo remained faithful to, but she shares Lila's outspoken nature. In an interview with The Guardian, Nasti shows off her similarities to the character. She tells the reporter that she enjoyed the more intense scenes of the shoot, and she draws a comparison to her self and Sophia Loren, who are both from Pozzuoli.
Unlike the rest of the core four girls, the actress who portrayed teenage Lila did have a little bit of prior acting experience, though nothing that you'd have heard of. Gaia Girace came to her audition proving she's Lila through and through, confident in her dream of becoming an actress and even calling herself her favorite movie star. Arguably, this is the most challenging and defining role of the series, as the audience sees Lila grow up through the eyes of Lena, from a precocious child to a more calculated adolescent. Vanity Fair recapper Sonia Saraiya writes that Girace embodies the character perfectly, though the show suffers when she is not paired up with Margherita Macuzzo's Lena.
Girace didn't have the easiest time learning the specific Neapolitan dialect used in the script, and she also had to learn to dance, at which she called herself "hopeless." But ultimately, she was determined to play the character that she "fell in love with" from the moment she auditioned. And Girace completely understands who Lila is: Tough and edgy on the outside, but soft and sensitive underneath it all. More than that, she gets the friendship that Ferrante puts so much weight on, noting the balance in the "magical" bond that the two share as they grow into young women before our eyes. "Theirs is not a common friendship," she said. "There is always a distance, but they always end up getting closer."
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