Italian comedian, actor, director, and screenwriter. The diminutive performer, known for his Chaplinesque slapstick comedy, gained fame in Italy as a stage, film, and television performer before rising to international prominence in Jim Jarmusch's independent film comedy Down By Law (1986). It was, however, the 1997 film La Vita è bella/Life is Beautiful, written, directed by, and starring Benigni, that made him an international household name and won him Academy Awards for best actor and best foreign-language film. Set during World War II, and following the fortunes of a Jewish man and his family under Nazi occupation, the film and the star's performance effortlessly shift from the comic to the dramatic, offering a moving picture of strength in the face of adversity.
Benigni made his film debut in 1977 in Berlinguer ti voglio bene/Berlinguer, I Love You, which he also wrote. He went on to feature in the Italian television series L'altra domenica before directing his first feature film, Tu mi turbi/You Disturb Me, in 1983. From the mid 1980s he worked intermittently in US films, featuring in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes (1986) and stealing the show in Night on Earth (1991), in which he plays a manic Roman taxi driver who feels compelled to confess all his sexual transgressions to his evangelical passenger; he also appeared with Woody Allen's ensemble cast in To Rome With Love (2012). Benigni has also enjoyed international success as writer and director of a number of feature films in which he has also starred, often alongside his wife, Nicoletta Braschi (1960– ). Such films as Il Piccolo diavalo/The Little Devil (1988), Johnny Stecchino/Johnny Toothpick (1991), and Il Mostro/The Monster (1994) are frenetic comedies, often bordering on the absurd, juxtaposing Benigni's quickfire dialogue with his physical antics, reminiscent of the silent comic stars of the early days of cinema.
Among the other films in which he has starred are La Luna/The Upholsterer (1979), Il Pap'occhio/In the Pope's Eye (1981), La Voce della luna/The Voice of the Moon (1989), Son of the Pink Panther (1993), Asterix and Obelix vs Caesar (1999), and La tigre e la neve/The Tiger and the Snow (2005). In 1985 Benigni enjoyed success in Italy with the release of a video of his theatrical tour, ‘Tutti Benigni’.