Valeria Golino wants a cigarette.

“Do you mind?” the Italian actress asks with great trepidation, knowing the feeling about smoking in America. “I’m tired of constantly apologizing and being thrown out of places. I know it’s wrong, but give us a break.”

Smoking hasn’t been the only problem for Golino since she came to America six years ago. “I think there is a good perception of my work, but there is not really a place for me,” she explains. “I can’t really complain, because I’ve done seven movies in America. But I do find it difficult to do the kinds of roles I’d like to do.”

Many of the American roles Golino’s taken on — like the one opposite Dana Carvey in “Clean Slate,” which opens this week — have been in comedies. She was Charlie Sheen’s sexy love interest in the “Hot Shots” movies, and she made her American debut in “Big Top Pee Wee.” “I read the script and at the beginning I said ‘I don’t want to do this. Who is this man?”‘ she says with a laugh. “But then Paul Rubens [Pee Wee’s real name] sent me a tape of his other movie, and I saw that the guy had so much talent, that there was so much original thought in that crazy little movie, that I decided to do it,” she says.

Even though Golino is often cast in comedies here, she doesn’t consider herself a comedic actress. “I had never done comedy before America,” she explains. “The movies that I’ve done were the best that I could get and they happened to be comedies. I don’t feel like I’m a good comedienne — thank God I’ve worked with good comedians in these movies. But as I’ve said before, it’s very hard to place me in a movie because I’m a foreigner, and in comedies you don’t have to deal with that fact as much as in a drama. In ‘Clean Slate,’ for example, I’m called Sarah Nova or Beth Holly. You’d think, ‘Why is this woman with an accent called Beth Holly? It’s impossible!’ But you can get away with it in comedy — it actually gives it a weird little twist.”

Despite her comedic talents — like being able to catapult an olive from her belly button in “Hot Shots” — drama is Golino’s forte. She made her debut in Lina Wertmuller’s “A Joke of Destiny,” and in the 10 years since, has picked up a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the Nostro D’Argento (Italy’s Oscar) and a Golden Globe award. She still works in Europe — mostly on dramas — and has the occasional dramatic role in the U.S., most recently in Sean Penn’s directorial debut, “Indian Runner.”

“I think that movie showed how talented Sean really is,” she says. “I think everyone knew, but because of his reputation, it was never as clear. But after ‘Indian Runner,’ it was. The moment he gets in a room you just smell talent. Even when he’s wrong, he’s right.”

Golino’s first dramatic role in the U.S. was in Barry Levinson’s “Rain Man.” She played Tom Cruise’s girlfriend and says, “In my humble opinion, that’s Tom’s best work. He deserves to be a star for how disciplined and hardworking he is — if for nothing else, than for his will.”

As for Dustin Hoffman, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in “Rain Man,” Golino says, “I was so excited, I mean it was definitely not the role of my life, but the idea of being there and watching Dustin Hoffman — it was like going to acting school every day.” Despite the critical acclaim of “Indian Runner” and “Rain Man,” Golino is not satisfied.

“I’m proud of the movies that I’ve done, but I’m not proud of myself in the movies,” she explains. “The roles I’ve had have been more a function of the movie. I’d like to be able to do a role where I can risk a little more.”

She may get that chance with her next film, “Immortal Beloved” with Gary Oldman, Matthew Modine and Miranda Richardson. In this period piece about Beethoven, Golino may have found the perfect part in an American drama: She’ll play an Italian countess.

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