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Sophia Loren Returns to the Limelight in 'The Life Ahead'

The legendary actress makes her on-screen return in a new film directed by her son

portrait of sophia loren as shot from outside a window

Edoardo Ponti/Netflix

En español | "Sometimes when I say I'm 86, I don't believe it. I feel 20!” says Sophia Loren. The only living actress on the American Film Institute's (AFI's) list of the 50 greatest movie stars, the Italian icon took time off to raise her kids, and her last hit was 1995's Grumpier Old Men, opposite Walter Matthau. But she's come back big-time with her new film, The Life Ahead, a top-10 hit on Netflix that was previously filmed as Madame Rosa (1977), starring Simone Signoret. In what is Loren's most prestigious role since her performance in her Oscar-winning World War II classic, Two Women (1960), with by far the biggest global opening audience of any movie she's ever made, she portrays a Holocaust survivor who bonds with a 12-year-old Nigerian immigrant (Ibrahima Gueye).

And the sweetest part is, the director is her younger son, Edoardo Ponti. “I like to work very much, and when you fall in love with a story, it's a kind of magic,” says Loren, “and it happened to me and my son as we were making this film. What happens between the young, troubled boy and the woman I play is beautiful. These are the kinds of miracles that we need today."

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Every day seems miraculous to Loren, who was born poor and whose father, an Italian nobleman, would not marry her mother. Her lovely chin was scarred at age 6 by shrapnel in a World War II bombing. “When I was a child growing up during the war, my mind was always in the sky — I wanted to be an actress like Rita Hayworth! But I needed help.” At 16, she entered a beauty contest, wearing a dress her grandma sewed from their living room curtains, and won the heart of contest judge and legendary director Carlo Ponti, 22 years her senior. Spurning Cary Grant's proposal, she married Carlo, Edoardo's dad. Carlo made her famous — on AFI's list, she ranks as the 21st-greatest actress, and Hayworth is the 19th.

"Now I am an actress, like Rita Hayworth, and it's beautiful,” Loren says. “It's a dream."

The actress has learned a thing or two by now, and she shares six life lessons with AARP readers.

actor sophia loren portrait

Greg Williams/Edoardo Ponti for Netflix

1. Take a Bow

"When I look in the mirror, I cheer for myself. I don't ask, ‘Are you great?’ or ‘Are you beautiful?’ No! It's how I feel inside, how secure I am, how happy I am. That's what matters."

2. Call the Grands

"My two sons each have two kids, but I'm far away [in Geneva, Switzerland], so we talk on the phone, send pictures. I just try to have that moment of happiness during this pandemic, as we all wait for a better tomorrow."

3. Savor the Little Things

"When I come to the living room, I look down at the table and see chocolates, and two or three of them disappear every day. This I should stop, but I do it anyway."

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4. Shoo the Negative

"If you are healthy and doing something you enjoy, then you cannot think, ‘God, tomorrow I'm going to die!’ No! You can do many wonderful things. I work, read, watch movies, go to church. And I breathe a lot.”

5. Age Naturally

"Why change your body and be somebody else if you are happy inside? I never thought of that — never. I like what I have. I like me!"

6. Accept What Is

"I was very sad when my husband died, because you can never get over this kind of feeling. Never. Each time you think about it, there's a moment of the loneliness, which is very strong, but that's life."