There is a positive energy that circulates through Monica Bellucci’s body and makes its way out through her stunning black eyes. What you see in them is completely opposite from the sadness they emanated in her breakthrough performance as a Sicilian widow in the World War II drama Malena.

She is staying on the eleventh floor of the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood. Dressed entirely in black and sitting comfortably, with both legs crossed on her hotel room couch, Monica confesses in her honey-thick Italian accent to being a drama queen.

"I’m Italian, and we have this drama attitude," Monica says. "Sadness, I think, is in our DNA, because we come from so far, and we went through such horrible things for centuries. Really in some ways it’s in our nature."

It has also become Monica’s nature as an actress to take challenging roles. Her latest is that of a rape victim in Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible and an American nurse in Antoine Fuqua’s Tears of the Sun. Both have been the subject of some controversy due to their graphic violence; the former, in particular, has caused audiences at international film festivals from Cannes to Sundance to either walk out or pass out. This fact does not dampen Monica’s spirit as she uses some of that endless supply of energy (or maybe just typical Italian passion) to stir sugar in her coffee, not realizing how much noise she is making with her spoon.

"For me, I love to take risks as an actress," Monica says proudly. "I just follow my instincts."

Monica herself has come far as an actress. That career began after a short stint as a model in Milan and Paris. She hails from Citta di Castello, a small northern Italian town in the Umbria region, where she returns twice a year. An only child from a bourgeois family, Monica had always wanted to become an actress, but was embarrassed to admit it while growing up. Instead, she studied law for a year at the University of Perugia, to where she finally abandoned that path for ones in front of the camera and on the runway.

"We have a saying: ‘lawyer, liar,’" Monica states. "Lawyers are such incredible actors. Can you imagine the performance they have to do everyday in court?"

Before long, Monica began taking legitimate acting lessons and followed this by getting small parts in Italian productions. Now when speaking on the history of Italian cinema, she can be mentioned in the same sentence as Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale.

"Claudia Cardinale?" Monica asks, her long jet-black hair slightly moving as her head shakes. "What can I say? Beauty queen."

Like her famous Italian counterparts, Monica has also gone the international route as an actress. She got an early start in America as one of the three "brides" in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), and then returned to Europe, where she began to build a lengthy resume in French productions. It was in one 1996 film, the Alfred Hitchcock-inspired L’Appartement, where Monica met a French actor named Vincent Cassel. The two possessed an on-screen chemistry that drifted into marriage. Irréversible is their seventh film together, and as any famous real-life couple, the duo has become a favorite target of the European tabloids.

"Not all European media is the same," Cassel says. "But in Italy, you need a gun."

After Tears of the Sun, audiences can expect for Monica to pop up in more American productions than ever before. She may, in fact, become the next action heroine with highly anticipated turns in both sequels to The Matrix later this year. She is quick, however, to end any questioning of the latter films, stating that she can say absolutely nothing about them. Considering her success in Europe, the attention she is getting in America has taken the Italian beauty somewhat by surprise.

"I don’t feel like a movie star," Monica confesses. "I do my movies and then I go home."

"Home" being Europe, where she plans to continue making films. She claims that her French has become almost as good as her Italian, and feels very fortunate to be accepted in France. As for America, Monica is realistic about the possibility of acting in future U.S. productions. For one second, she controls her energy and briefly has those sad Malena eyes again.

"I will be very happy to come back to America for the right movie. I’m European, not American, so I have to find the right characters," she says calmly. "It’s very difficult for me to stay away [from home] for a long time.