Free spirit

Free spirit

By Michael Pickard
December 6, 2023

The Writers Room

Italian drama Anima Gemella (Soul Sister) follows a widower searching for answers about his wife’s death with the help of a phoney medium. Writer Laura Nuti tells DQ how the series brings comedy and elements of the supernatural to the popular mystery-romance genre.

In Anima Gemella (Soul Sister), doctor and widower Carlo meets Nina, a chaotic con artist who masquerades as a medium and has a gift for impressions. But when a strange event takes place during a fake séance, he becomes convinced she can interact with the spirit of his late wife Adele from the afterlife.

From that moment, Carlo and Nina go on to form an unlikely partnership – as Nina wants to rid herself of what she believes to be Adele’s spirit and Carlo wants to reconnect with her, leading them both to question the existence of the afterlife and the circumstances that led to Adele’s death two years earlier.

Carlo also begins to question his relationship with fiancée Margherita, Adele’s best friend, while being drawn closer to Nina.

Produced by Endemol Shine Italy for Mediaset’s Canale 5, the four-part drama made its local debut in October, boasting a stellar cast that includes Daniele Liotti (Carlo) and Chiara Masatalli (Nina). It also stars Alice Torriani as Margherita, alongside Stefania Rocca, Barbara Bouchet, Alice Mangione, Matteo Sintucci, Davide Iacopini, Valentina Corti and Roberto Accornero.

Laura Nuti

The series marks the first project from writer Laura Nuti, who teamed up with Peter Exacoustos and Magda Mangano to pen the scripts. Development started back in 2018, but with progress held up by the Covid pandemic, production finally took place in and around Turin in 2022 before the show’s launch this year.

“There was a risk was they would cancel it,” Nuti says about the project’s fate during Covid. “Thankfully the broadcaster supported our ideas from the very beginning.”

After completing a degree at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, Nuti went on to earn two master’s degrees in screenwriting and journalism at the Italian National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome – where she first met TV veteran Exacoustos (L’allieva, Scomparsa) and then-fellow student Mangano (L’allieva). They then began working together on a project based on the relationship between Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle and Napolitano medium Eusapia Palladino.

“Everyone knows he wrote the Sherlock books, but he was also a doctor who became interested in spiritualism after his wife passed away,” Nuti says of Doyle. “We really fell in love with the idea of a sceptical widow whose life is shattered, while a fake medium hints at the possibility his wife was murdered.

“We loved this odd couple investigating a world where the line between magic and science blurs. And although our efforts to make it failed, we stuck to the core of the idea – the sceptical widower on this journey to find the truth – and we transformed it into a romance-mystery drama with lots of feel-good vibes and comedic elements that would appeal to a broader audience, especially on national TV.”

That idea became Soul Sister, in which Carlo is still haunted by the memory of his wife – who is revealed in flashbacks through the series – and the idea that somehow he could have saved her life. When viewers meet Carlo, he is trying to move on with Margherita, and it is through her that he is first introduced to Nina.

“During a séance, where Nina is trying to scam people, she suddenly has a heart attack. During that moment, Carlo feels Nina is uttering something, something only Adele could have known because it was their secret,” Nuti explains. “Then after that moment, his world begins to crumble because nobody else could have known those words.

Soul Sister star Daniele Liotti (right) with director Francesco Miccichè

“Nina also has the extraordinary ability to mimic voices and she said those words with Adele’s voice, so it was a shock for Carlo. These events push him to investigate how she could have known this. But as he delves into this hypothetical scam, he also comes across some details to uncover the truth about his wife.

“At the same time, Nina actually feels haunted by this spirit. She’s not comfortable with this at all and needs to get rid of Adele. To do this, she has to help Adele find her path to the light.”

After the opening episode, secrets that come to light during Carlo’s investigation make him reconsider everything he thought he knew about his life.

It’s the show’s inclusion of supernatural and comedic moments that aim to set Soul Sister apart from other Italian romantic dramas, with Nuti admitting the writers played a lot with the genre’s classical format.

“Usually female characters in Italian TV series are either nurses or policewomen, so having a medium is quite a thing for us,” she notes. “Also, there’s a sideline about Nina and her friends, and that’s really entertaining because those are supporting characters played by comedic actors, which really makes a difference.

“The tone is very innovative because it’s not a dark mystery drama with a pinch of romance. It’s really a fairytale. There are comedic elements; it’s an original mélange.”

It would be wrong to overstate the genre elements of Soul Sister, however, as the writers sought to keep the series grounded in the real world. “We really tried to balance on that thin line, providing a dual explanation for every major event,” Nuti continues. “So everything that happens has a scientific explanation at the same time as a magical explanation, and anyone in the audience can have the freedom to choose the version that suits their system of beliefs. It was very complicated, but we’re very proud of that.”

Chiara Mastalli (left) plays a phoney medium who conducts fake séances

The series is also inspired by its setting, Turin, which Nuti describes as a unique place with its own history rooted in Italian magical folklore. Indeed, it is known as the City of Magic through history dating back hundreds of years.

Nuti, Exacoustos and Mangano were able to spend some time together in a writers room before the pandemic hit, which led them to link up online. Each would write their own scripts and then pass them back and forth to offer notes and give feedback “to make the final version the best,” Nuti says.

When Covid did take hold, “we had just received interest from the broadcaster. But in a way, I believe that experience helped us from a thematic point of view because we were forced to experience loss every day,” she says. “In an unfortunate way, it kept those thematic questions very alive.”

Filming then took place at the end of last summer under director Francesco Miccichè (I Fratelli Corsaro, RIS Roma – Delitti imperfetti). “He’s very open. He’s a wonderful director,” Nuti says. “It’s not granted that a director takes interest from the writer or their point of view, but Francesco was really respectful. I really appreciated that.

“He did a wonderful job because he’s in documentary as well, and I believe our story had to be shot in a really realistic way to make the supernatural elements feel almost tangible. It’s not a fantasy world, but supernatural elements jump out every now and again, and if everything was fantastical, the fantastical elements would be unnoticed.

Viewers are left to decide whether events in the series are supernatural or can be explained by science

“On the other hand, there’s this almost scientific approach [to the filmmaking]. After all, it’s a crime thriller where you follow an investigation and strange things happen, but the focus is on the investigation. Also for him, I think it was difficult to balance all these different tones. Having comedy inside a story full of death and loss is not easy.”

That challenge is also the one Nuti says was most difficult for the writers to overcome. “But as writers, we fell in love with the story so we had to fight to keep it alive. We thought it would be really different from other romance mysteries,” she adds.

“Rewriting proved to be extremely tough, and we rewrote the scripts a lot to find the right tones. In the first draft of Soul Sister, we were thinking about having 50-somethings as the main characters, but we ended up making them younger. In the end, things adjusted perfectly. Carlo was a better incarnation and had an intensity that perhaps only a younger actor would be able to convey.”

Nuti is now working with Exacoustos again on The Free Women, a series based on Mario Tobini’s novel Le libere donne di Magliano, about a psychiatrist working in a psychiatric hospital during the Second World War, with production sent to begin next autumn. Endemol Shine Italy is again producing the drama for national broadcaster Rai.

There’s also the possibility of a second season of Soul Sister, which is distributed internationally by Banijay Rights. But for now, Nuti says: “We’ll see how it goes.”

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