Stardom came suddenly for Michele Morrone. The 365 Days actor woke up on the morning of June 7 and – as most of us do – reached for his phone to go through his social media.
"When I went to sleep I had no more than 700,000 followers [on Instagram]," he tells The National. "I woke up and I had more than 2.2 million followers. I was like, 'Wow, what's happening? What's going to happen?'"
That was the day Netflix released the Polish drama on its streaming platform, throwing the Italian actor into the spotlight. Just over a month later and the R-rated 365 Days has already become one of Netflix's most streamed films of the year.
“I expected the movie to become a hit in Poland and the UK because it was being released in cinemas there,” says Morrone, 29. He never thought the film was going to become such an international sensation, however.
The day after the film was released on Netflix, Morrone left his home in Rome to go and buy some bread. “People were running after me,” he says, recalling the crowd flocking around him, wanting to take pictures.
It was a stark contrast to the life the Italian actor had been leading. Only two years ago, he was broke, recently divorced and depressed, working as a gardener in a small Italian village in the north of the country.
“The film changed a lot of things. I was getting more attention and there were also a lot of business requests,” Morrone says. “But in many ways I’m the same person I was 10 years ago.”
Morrone is settling into fame quite easily. Since his arrival in Dubai on Sunday, July 19, the Italian star has been spotted lounging in Dubai's Palazzo Versace and cruising around the city in a red Ferrari. But Morrone is actually in town on business.
Money from his videos will 'be going to orphanages'
He was recently appointed as brand ambassador for Halahi, a new UAE platform that allows fans to request personalised video messages and shout-outs from their favourite celebrities.
As well as Morrone, those already signed up to the service include actor Luis Guzman, beauty mogul Mona Kattan, footballer Bobby Duncan and, of course, Morrone.
Prices range anywhere from $5 (Dh18.30) to $700. A message from Morrone will set you back $200. However, the Italian star says most of the money he makes through the platform will go to charity.
“It will be going to orphanages,” he says. “I wouldn’t have done it if I was going to get the money. I don’t like the idea of doing videos and messages for money. But with Halahi, there’s a positive twist to the project.”
He says he has already been getting hundreds of requests since the service went live two weeks ago. “Most of them have been ‘happy birthday’ messages, but then there are some unique ones,” Morrone says, recalling a message he received from a hospital worker fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“They asked me to send something positive, a message to give them strength, power, to show appreciation. I told them how much I appreciated their efforts, and that they were working for all our sakes.”
Morrone was back home in Italy when the pandemic took hold. He says he spent more than two months isolating in his home in Rome. The country was one of the worst affected, with more than 35,000 deaths.
“It was terrible,” he says. But during that time he tried to stay positive and concentrate on making art. “I locked myself at home for two months, writing new songs and painting. The pandemic was something incredibly bad for the whole world. But there is an opportunity in the experience, too, to help us understand who we are."
What's next for the actor?
The Italian star has a number of other business ventures in the pipeline: he tells us he is working on a perfume line, as well as a swimsuit and kimono line for women.
He is also working on a follow-up to Dark Room, an album he released on Valentine's Day. Four of the album's songs were featured in 365 Days, and have collectively garnered more than 100 million plays across streaming platforms.
The inclusion of his music in the film, he says, also happened by chance.
“One night I was having a dinner with the director [Barbara Bialowas] and she asked me what else I wanted to do besides acting. I told her I liked making music and showed her a recording I had done on my phone. She said, ‘Wow, this is going to be in the movie’ and that’s how it started.”