She is friends with the greatest stars. And in view of the Oscars, where everyone expects a new episode of the war between the world of cinema and President Donald Trump, the former actress and now TV presenter is preparing to tell what you will never see on the red carpet. From Nicole Kidman's tears to wizards who can decide fate
Jo Champa is in her third life. In the 90s she was an actress and model in Italy, then she became the wife of Joseph Farrell, a powerful Hollywood manager in Los Angeles, and today, at the age of 49, she is the mother of Sean, 12, and a television journalist for Sky Cinema. Here, from February 18, she will be the host of Jo's Hollywood, the program of documentaries and interviews with the stars that anticipates the night of the Oscars on February 26. It will be a special evening, given that the whole world, after the exploits of the Golden Globes, expects a new episode of the now daily war between the Hollywood stars and President Donald Trump, increasingly contested after his restrictive measures against 'reception of migrants and foreign citizens. We will also talk about this with Jo, the Italian who, like a petite and elegant phoenix, reinvented herself at every turn, was reborn and launched herself into a new version of herself without looking back.
"When I was Joe's widow (died in 2011 at 76, ed), I wanted to get into bed and sleep forever," she says, snuggling up, in leggings and no shoes, on one of the cream-colored sofas of her bright home. Santa Monica, a few blocks from the beach. "But I didn't. Failure was never an option for me. My son has never seen me cry for his father, who was also the absolute love of my life. Every morning I accompanied him to school, then I got into the car, parked in front of the sea, turned on the music and screamed alone for hours ».
She is keen to emphasize that she has never felt like a victim of life, even in the worst moments: «I always tell Sean. You are not a victim. You are privileged. Sure, you lost your dad, but you still have me, and you have, we have, a beautiful life, with this house, wonderful travels, dear friends. After Joe's death, instead of stuffing myself with pills and alcohol, I chose to roll up my sleeves, "says the actress.
With Jo's Hollywood, your show on the Oscars, you propose to tell the world of entertainment like no other. What do you offer more?
“I know Hollywood very well, not only the creative side, but also that of the producers, who are the ones who write the checks. So I want to convey my experience, which is different from anyone else's. I want to make it clear who has the game in hand, who are the ones who make Hollywood move. For example: I interviewed producer Jenno Topping, who is not only beautiful and likeable, but also one of the most powerful women in film. So I put her next to actresses like Jessica Chastain, who is crazy, or Viola Davis. And it is not a case. Then I talk about unknown aspects, for example the experience in the Hollywood Forever celebrity cemetery, where films are screened, parties and picnics are organized and, at night, real meetings are held. Who has ever seen such things in a cemetery in Italy? Or I'm talking about the phenomenon of Hollywood mediums. They are a very popular category. Writers, actors, big producers, who consult with the sorceress before making a decision. Everyone goes there, but no one admits it ».
How did you come to be so introduced?
“Above all thanks to my husband, but also to my ability to move, to make friends. He taught me how it works here. He told me: “Hollywood is a pyramid of power, but it is also a chessboard” ».
And what pawn would you be?
"I am the queen. From my vantage point I can reach anyone, really. And not only can I involve names that wouldn't normally make themselves accessible on a television broadcast, but also ask them questions that a journalist, no matter how connected and known, will never be able to ask. Because these people are my friends for real, they trust me. They are willing to show their vulnerability, their human side. And I don't betray them, they know it ».
How do you keep your balance?
“Let me give you an example: I recently interviewed Nicole Kidman. Nicole and I have known each other for many years, and we haven't met since her marriage to Tom Cruise ended. When she saw me, tears came to her eyes, because we both knew how she felt the last time we were face to face. Then we spoke for the program, and she opened up to me as she would not have done in a normal interview. I was able to ask her about loneliness, precisely because I knew she had been a very lonely woman for a long time. But I also saw that she was being moved and I diverted the conversation, to help her recover. Because I'm still the friend. I do not put you in trouble in transmission. I already know that these people are continually judged and I want to protect them.
You also know the world of Italian cinema very well. Where do you see the difference with America?
"In Italy I only worked as an actress, I was not Joe's wife. However, I had a narrow view. Here, with him, the main doors opened to me. In any case, I can say that these are two completely different worlds. To understand this, Italy represents a small orbiting moon, while Hollywood is Jupiter. It is really a question of the size of the turnover. In Italy, $ 200 million films will never be produced. But this also means that, instead, here the technological changes are felt immediately and can have unforeseen effects ».
In what sense?
"For example, Hollywood is in turmoil today, because we have moved very quickly from cable TV to the digital age. The whole production structure must change to adapt. But the round of money also leads to a stagnation of ideas. The stories are missing. Billions are risked for each production, and therefore it is often preferred, instead of a new film, to shoot a sequel to be on the safe side ».
You were born in America, raised in Italy, returned to America. Can you tell me your path?
“I'm from New Jersey, but my father is from Calabria. He was a heart surgeon and when I was 7 he decided to return to Italy, he wanted to give back to his country what he had received. He was a kind of Robin Hood: if you were rich, he made you pay, but if you were poor, he operated on you for free. We have been in Catanzaro for two years, but there dad was not well seen, he was perceived as a threat by many colleagues. So we went to Rome. Now my father is 93 and still lives there. I stayed in Rome until the late 90s, then I came to Los Angeles. Within two months I met my husband and we fell in love. Ours was a fairy tale. We seemed so different, by age, by culture, and instead we were the same, the same values, the same vision of life. From Joe I learned everything, even to interact with anyone, actors, politicians, powerful of all kinds. My husband loved my ability to adapt to any context ».
Do you feel more like a classic Italian or American mom?
“I'm one hundred percent Italian. And I'm proud of it. If anyone tries to touch my child, they have to contend with me. I defend it with my nails. At the same time, I try to be very open with him. I tell him: if you want to try to smoke, to drink, come here, do it at home with me. I want you to tell me. Here in America there is a certain puritanism, a moralism that worries me in its implications. Then it ends up like in the television series like Twin Peaks, where everything happens in secret. I am for things in the light of the sun. I also teach my son that it is important to understand who really cares about you and who will only harm you."
How did Sean experience the loss of his father?
“After my husband died, my son was bullied at school. I had to change everything in our life: I ditched the Bel Air mansion, too big and isolated for the two of us alone, and I came here to Santa Monica, where there are sidewalks to play on the street and make friends easily. In those months I understood who it was worth opening up to and who was definitively eliminated from our life ».
How do you reconcile the privileged life you offer him with the need to understand the world?
“It's not easy, because we really live here in a bubble of privilege. I try to open his eyes ».
Hollywood is on a war footing over President Trump's latest immigration restrictions. What do you think?
“This week I financially supported a project in favor of Syrian refugees. So I said to Sean, "Over the weekend, let's go to San Diego to meet some of them, to see how those kids live." Because it is important to know that the Hollywood community is not only capable of speaking well during galas, but they have a big heart, they are committed, compassionate and generous. I want to teach my son not to see the color of a person, but to look for his character. And he already does it ».