Stefano De Martino: “The right key”

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This article is published in Vanity Fair issue 30-31 on newsstands until August 3, 2021

There is no father who has not been a son and there is no son who does not look to his father. With the young Stefano, Signor De Martino, the patriarch, was “severe”. A severity “born of an absence” because “my father had not had a father and within him that lack, that impossibility of dealing with the strengths and weaknesses, the insights and mistakes of those who should have raised him had changed something forever.

Without example and without memory he proceeded with me by experiments. He started treating me as an adult very quickly. And he chose to take responsibility and expose myself to risks without forbidding me anything with some degree of awareness. He knew that putting myself under a glass dome would not protect me from dangers and that prohibiting at the origin always leads to wanting to break prohibitions. He decided not to set myself limits so that my limits, and therefore my borders, could define them by myself. He put me in front of reality and daring hit the mark ».
With Santiago, 8 years old, the third generation De Martino he had with Belén RodrÍguez, Stefano shows that history tends to repeat itself and that every mythology is the sister of rhetoric. If in the stories of a few years ago, perhaps by suggestion, Torre Annunziata took the forms of his native land that knows no nuances between good and evil, heaven and hell, I sink and re-emerge, today, after the time of maturity in Stefano De Martino it seems that no place carries within itself the stamp of predestination. So Milan, where Santiago grows up, is worth in perspective the Campania of the origins and a more elaborate analysis effort that always returns the same result with respect to its tasks: being a parent, at any latitude, is among the most difficult professions in the world.
«Not only Milan, despite being light years away from the place where I was born, seems to me very similar for traps and temptations, but since I became a father the reversal of perspective is impressive. As a son you judge, condemn and before reconciliation you look for, pursue and almost demand with those who took care of you the clash and the rupture. As a father, you understand for the first time what your parents felt when you did not answer the phone and made them worry unnecessarily or you rebelled on the side. And of that know-how, knowing that the error is around the corner, you have to force yourself because an escape route does not exist anyway. The door is tight and the lock is defective. To enter into a real relationship or a sentimental exchange you need the right key and it is not certain that the deck contains it “.

For being so young, Stefano De Martino has the wisdom of someone who has already gone through at least five lives. That of the dancer who gets on the platform at ten to learn a trade. “I wasn’t extraordinary and I didn’t have the grace of an étoile. I had the professionalism and I held the job in my fingers, but let’s be honest and let’s face it: if I had stopped suddenly no one would have noticed ». That of the emigrant who arrives in America as soon as he comes of age to refine his dance steps. That of the young promise who, strengthened by experience, struggles to enter the universe of Maria De Filippi. That of the television presenter first uncertain and then safe and now, while Raidue entrusts him with the evening for his sixty years (broadcast on November 4, 2021), that of the designated heir in the wake of the great presenters of the small screen that was.
Of them, as a biographer who not only cites the exhibitions on the subject of Francesco Vezzoli, but really studies, he knows every detail. Living up to the noble fathers will be another story. But Stefano knows that his children have to prove themselves worthy. «In my path there was sacrifice, a desire to reach at any cost and a hunger for success that represented a social redemption. One thing is clear to me: the point is not getting to a goal, but how to get there. I came from a theatrical background and I found myself on TV having to unhinge, myself, a prejudice that, like all prejudices, is superficial and foolish ». Superficial by definition could also be the affection of the fans.
But in apparent contrast to the curiosity that has surrounded him for more than a decade, De Martino flies low and works with minimization and irony: «I have become known, but not famous also because now they give you notoriety». He delineates two, five, ten professions together with dialectical enthusiasm. The one as part of the whole. «I’m interested in creativity, writing programs. The construction process of which production and management are only the last steps. Perhaps the most mechanical of the entire marathon. It is a path that I have chosen to undertake in a very personal way and that I do not yet know where it will lead me ».
Waiting for Samarkand, a promised land where dreams can be realized, De Martino analyzes the present and the past without rhetoric: “At first, measuring myself with people’s affection was complex, then I realized that entering people’s homes every evening it means communicating with them. Create an alchemy that thanks to simplicity makes you one of the family. I feel grateful to people. He will never hear me complain about the invasion of privacy, about a photograph or an autograph: for the ease I enjoy and the goals that I could never have dreamed of achieving, I am asked for a minimum price. In Santiago I explained it. And I had to do it because he, unlike me, did not work for fame and consequently suffers that of his father ».
At the age of Santiago, life was a prolonged summer: «An endless’ 90s summer made up of smells and images. Sun creams, sandals, the path to the sea on foot, round trip, every day. In Torre Annunziata my grandfather had a bar. The stage of my childhood and my adolescence. I put my hand in the ice cream fridge, fished in the freshly opened carton and with the ice flakes between my fingers, the beach mat under my arm and my trophy in my hand, I went towards my perennial vacation. Indeed towards the season, as in Naples they call the time of the sun and late evening sunsets ».

It was a time marked, says Stefano, “by freedom. The first boats with which to set sail, the first girlfriends, the first cigarettes ». A time that for him has turned into a mirage and which is now all in front of his son. “For the few days of vacation that I will take this year I took him with me to Procida.” The island of one of his favorite novels. The book in which it is explained that there is no purer virtue than courage: “There are a lot of people who are scared as soon as they are born and are always afraid of all things.”
Stefano was not like that. “I was cheerful, lively, wild. In class I struggled to control myself. I don’t know if I already harbored an aptitude for the show, but I certainly didn’t have a passion for school. I was not completely out of the established rules, perhaps, but I did not want to stay on the tracks and I skirted the limit with pleasure and a taste for risk. At one point, in the fourth year of high school, I dropped out of school because I knew they would fail me. I was not a champion of consistency or attendance. “But now”, I said to myself, “with this sunny day, do I really have to sit behind a counter?”. I always answered no to myself but exposed myself to indefinable consequences. In fact, in my house, where for my father and my mother, a teacher, school failure is in the balance between shame and mourning, such a fall would not have been forgiven me. So I played early and prepared the private exam. I passed that exam, but in my own way. ‘
It went like this also later and today De Martino, a living paradox, pauses on the edge between modernity and tradition, today’s words “daytime” and “gym”, social exposure and vintage films: “Saying it seems almost opinionated, but seeing some clips with Noschese or that masterpiece of All back inspires me. I don’t believe in revival, but I believe in the goodness of reinvention that does not upset its own era, but knows how to take the good, assimilate and evolve ideas, and there are many, of yesterday “, Neapolitan school (Giovanni Benincasa) and Lombard lesson , has yet to see the effect it has. Without anxiety.
The lesson is that of Maria De Filippi, “A person who sacrifices every other aspect of his life when working. Perfectionist to the point of maniacality, but always extremely true and natural that he answers the phone, drinks a coffee or leads. He struggles, but lives effortlessly because he tackles his job with fun and passion. It is his secret, I have stolen it from him and I aspire to do the same thing ». Love and theft. The base of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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