The Twisted True Story Behind House of Gucci: See the Cast vs. the Real Life Characters

Lady Gaga and Adam Driver play Patrizia Reggiani and Maurizio Gucci, whose glamorous love story ended in a blaze of jealousy, greed and, eventually, bullets.

By Natalie Finn Nov 24, 2021 8:00 AMTags
Watch: Lady Gaga & Adam Driver: "House of Gucci" Cast vs. Real Family

Pick a famous Italian brand—Ferrari, Fiat, Versace—and there's an unbelievable story behind it. But few are as wild as what has transpired within the Gucci family, even before an heir to the luxury fashion house's fortune was gunned down in 1995, a murder borne of spite, jealousy and greed.

All vices that never seem to go out of style.

Out in time for Thanksgiving (and you thought your relatives had issues) after spending years in development, and coinciding with the legendary brand's centennial, Ridley Scott has directed an all-star cast that includes Lady Gaga, Adam Driver and Jared Leto in House of Gucci, which focuses on what caused Patrizia Reggiani to want her ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci, dead. 

"The Gucci story in many ways seemed much more outrageous than anything I could make up," Sara Gay Forden, whose 2000 book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed provided the basis for Roberto Bentivegna's screenplay, told the New York Post when her work came out. "Fact here is more incredible than fiction. I think the Gucci family is just content to lay low for a while."

The name Gucci, however, has never been far from the public consciousness.

Lady Gaga, Adam Driver and More Stars Attend House of Gucci U.K. Premiere

As early as 2000, Martin Scorsese was planning to make a film inspired by the 1987 book Gucci: A House Divided by British journalist Gerald McKnight, a story still dripping with drama due to the company's fascinating origin story, the glamorous backdrop of the high-fashion world and the seemingly nonstop parade of power grabs and corporate intrigue that punctuated the decades following the death of family patriarch Guccio Gucci.

Then Forden's book came out, the plot thickened and, while Scorsese's movie didn't come to pass, Scott announced his own project in 2007, then with Angelina Jolie in talks to play Reggiani, who spent 17 years in prison for commissioning Maurizio's murder.

The family wasn't happy about the idea of a movie being made about this twisted, tragic episode in their storied history. "Enough mud. We have been through horrible things and paid plenty in person," Maurizio's cousin Patrizia Gucci told Corriere della Sera in 2007, calling her family "surprised and disconcerted." She promised they would try to block the movie's release if they found it "offensive."

Patrizia said that she felt betrayed by Scott's partner (now wife) Giannina Facio, who had visited the family in Florence and supposedly presented them with a very different-sounding project.

Stars Playing Real People

Giannina "was our guest, and for three days stayed in our home," Patrizia told the Italian publication. "She proposed the project, briefly sketched the screenplay, and even raised the possibility that the character of my father Paolo, who died in the same year as Maurizio, could be played by a great actor, probably Nicolas Cage. I was happy. I thought, finally justice will be done to an important family which has contributed so much to the image of Italy abroad. We parted with great affection."

Patrizia Gucci's opinion of the matter hasn't changed with the seasons, the relative telling the Associated Press, "They are stealing the identity of a family to make a profit, to increase the income of the Hollywood system...Our family has an identity, privacy. We can talk about everything, but there is a borderline that cannot be crossed." 

Also expressing more recent dissatisfaction about the Scott film was Patrizia Reggiani, whom Italian media dubbed "the Black Widow" in the aftermath of Maurizio's murder.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.

"I have two daughters, and I don't like that they relive their father's situation," she said in November 2020 on the TV show Serie Italiane.

In March she told the wire service ANSA, "I am rather annoyed at the fact that Lady Gaga is playing me in the new Ridley Scott film without having had the consideration and sensibility to come and meet me."

"It is not an economic question," she explained, adding, "I won't get a cent from the film." Rather, "it is a question of good sense and respect." 

Lady Gaga's House of Gucci Fashion

At least Reggiani can rest assured that Gaga, who was nominated for an Oscar for her seriously great performance in A Star Is Born, gave it everything she's got, immersing herself so completely she ultimately suffered "some psychological difficulty" toward the end of the shoot.

"I only felt that I could truly do this story justice if I approached it with the eye of a curious woman who was interested in possessing a journalistic spirit so that I could read between the lines of what was happening in the film's scenes," the singer-actress told British Vogue, explaining why she didn't reach out to the woman she was playing. "Meaning that nobody was going to tell me who Patrizia Gucci was. Not even Patrizia Gucci."  

As for the Gucci family, Gaga said, "I extend to them love and compassion that I'm sure this movie coming out is tremendously difficult or painful for them, potentially. And I wish nothing but peace for their hearts. I did my very best to play the truth."

And she's joined by a hell of a cast that, in turn, was tasked with bringing a hell of a story to life. Here's a guide to the actors and the real people—all characters in their own right—they're playing in House of Gucci:

Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani

Dubbed "the Black Widow" by the Italian tabloids but known as "Lady Gucci" in more genteel circles, Reggiani admitted to wanting her ex-husband dead, livid over his impending marriage to a much younger woman and his $170 million windfall from the sale of his Gucci stock in 1993, two years after their divorce was finalized. And she admitted to being happy after he was dead, thinking all her problems were finally gone.

But she maintained her innocence in the murder-for-hire plot, telling writer Sara Gay Forden in correspondence from jail, "Maurizio was a man that I had loved most, despite all of his mistakes.'"

Reggiani and four accomplices were convicted of murder after a five-month-long trial in 1998.

Born in the northern city of Vignola in humble circumstances, she and Maurizio Gucci were both 24 years old when they married in 1973—despite his father Rodolfo Gucci's concerns.

"Be careful, Maurizio," Rodolfo told him, per Forden's 2000 book House of Gucci. "I have received information about the girl. I do not like the sound of her at all. I am told she is vulgar and ambitious, a social climber who has nothing in mind but money. Maurizio, she is not the girl for you."

To which his son replied, "Papá, I can't leave her. I love her."

Reggiani persuaded Maurizio to be more ambitious in his role at Gucci, and it was during their marriage that he became head of the company. "As a younger man, he'd looked to Patrizia to support him and give him the strength to stand up to his own father, but as he gained power, he felt oppressed by her criticism," Forden told the New York Post. They separated in 1985.

First sentenced to 29 years in prison for paying $375,000 to have Maurizio killed, an appeals court reduced her term to 26 years and she was released in October 2016. In 2017, according to Britain's Telegraph, a court ruled that she was legally entitled to an annual allowance of $1.2 million from Maurizio's estate, plus back payments from the 17 years she was in prison, per the terms of an agreement he signed two years before he was killed.

"Maurizio always loved me, he wanted me to have the best," Patrizia said on People Magazine Investigates: Crimes of Fashion in 2018. "But he changed completely." She also said, cryptically, "I am not guilty, but I am not innocent. All the things that happened were a misunderstanding."

Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci

Maurizio and Patrizia were the definition of a jet-setting power couple during their marriage, which produced daughters Alessandra and Allegra. Though they didn't divorce until 1991, their union effectively ended when Maurizio literally walked out in 1985, telling Patrizia he was going on a short business trip and then just never coming home.

A grandson of Gucci founder Guccio Gucci, Maurizio inherited his father Rodolfo Gucci's entire stake in the family business when Rodolfo died in 1983 and set about pushing his uncle Aldo Gucci out. By June 1988, Bahraini firm Investcorp had bought up 47.8 percent of various family members' shares for a total of $135 million, leaving Maurizio, who succeeded Aldo as chairman, the largest shareholder with 50 percent. But his shares were sequestered by the Italian government while he was being sued by Aldo and two of his sons, who accused him of forging Rodolfo's signature in his bid to seize control.

Maurizio wasn't able to turn the financially strapped Gucci Group's fortunes around, however, and he sold off the rest of his shares to Investcorp in 1993 for a reported $170 million.

On the morning of March 27, 1995, Maurizo was shot four times on his way into his office at Via Palestro 20 in Milan. The 46-year-old died at the scene. The gunman also shot and wounded the doorman, who witnessed the whole thing.

When police arrived, Corporal Giancarlo Togliatti asked who the victim was. When a colleague told him it was Maurizio Gucci, he sarcastically fired back, "Right, and I'm Valentino."

Camille Cottin as Paola Franchi

The interior designer lived with Maurizio for five years before his death and, according to Paola, they were planning to get married.

Painted almost as villainously as Patrizia was during the trial, with critics assuming she was after that Gucci fortune, she told The Guardian in 2016, "Oh, they always resort to these stupid [stereotypes]. Actually my previous husband, whom I left for Maurizio, was even richer, so it was all nonsense."

After her lover's divorce was finalized, "Patrizia was stalking us," Paola alleged. "She still had spies in Maurizio's circle and she knew all about our plans, his business dealings, everything. She called many times abusing him and threatening to kill him." 

"I begged him to hire a bodyguard, but he refused. He didn't believe Patrizia would go through with her threat because of their girls."

The day after Maurizio was killed, Paola said, Reggiani sent her an eviction notice, wanting her out of the apartment on Corso Venezia that Paola had shared with Maurizio and her 11-year-old son, Charly, from her previous marriage. Reggiani and her daughters then moved into the apartment.

Five years later, Charly took his own life while visiting his father for Christmas. "It was completely unexpected," Paola told The Guardian. "He was a happy, shining boy, greatly loved. We think it was a flash of teen madness." Reportedly gesturing to photos of her son and Maurizio on display in her home, she explained, "I like to have their faces around, to say hello. For a year after Charly died I felt a rage in my soul, but then I got on with life. I'm the kind of person who has to keep moving forward."

Jeremy Irons as Rodolfo Gucci

The youngest of Guccio Gucci's five sons, Rodolfo inherited a piece of the business when Guccio died in 1953, along with brothers Ugo, Aldo and Vasco. (Another brother, Enzo, died in childhood.) They also had a sister, Grimalda Gucci, but the company was set up so that female heirs, while some served on the board, never had ownership.

Before his father's death prompted him to return to the family business (he created the Flora-print scarf for Grace Kelly), Rodolfo was an actor who appeared in more than 40 films as Maurizio D'Ancora, and he married actress Sandra Ravel in 1944.

Maurizio Gucci was their only child and, when Rodolfo died in 1983, he left his stake in the company to his son.

Al Pacino as Aldo Gucci

A spry, impeccably dressed businessman who was said to inspire familial-style loyalty in his employees, the eldest biological son of company founder Guccio Gucci (Ugo was Aida Gucci's child from a prior relationship and Guccio adopted him when they married in 1902) was responsible for the label's expansion into new markets—first New York, eventually the rest of the world.

"Aldo always wanted to do things with the agreement of the entire family," longtime Gucci employee Franco Gittardi recalled, per Forden's book. "He may have brought the ideas, but the decisions were always taken by the family board. That said, they usually let him have his way because he always had the right instincts."

Aldo started working for Gucci in 1925, when he was 20, delivering packages by horse-driven carriage. In 1953 he opened the first Gucci boutique in New York, confident that customers would pay for quality, and went on to serve as chairman of Gucci Shops Inc. for more than 30 years. However, when Aldo and Rodolfo's brother Vasco died in 1974, they assumed 50-50 ownership of Gucci—which Aldo and his three sons resented, feeling Rodolfo hadn't done nearly as much work in building the company. So Aldo set up a perfume subsidiary and assumed 80 percent of the ownership for himself and his boys and the arrangement turned out to be not entirely kosher according to U.S. law.

In 1986 Aldo was sentenced to a year in prison for tax evasion.

"The various schemes in which the Guccis had been involved began to unravel in 1982 when a falling out took place between Aldo Gucci and his son Paolo," prosecutor Stuart Abrams wrote in his sentencing memorandum. "Ultimately, Paolo Gucci initiated litigation against his father and Gucci Shops Inc. and, in publicly filed court documents, revealed some of the schemes discussed above. This litigation came to the attention of the Internal Revenue Service, which instituted an administrative investigation in March 1983."

Aldo died in 1990 at the age of 84. In addition to Paolo he was also father to sons Giorgio and Roberto with first wife Olwen Price, and had a daughter, Patricia Gucci, with his longtime mistress Bruna Palumbo, whom he married in 1987.

Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci

One of Aldo's four children, Paolo was chief designer for Gucci in the 1960s and in 1978 was named vice president of marketing of the American branch of the company.

He was fired from the parent company in 1980 and then tried to start his own eponymous label, suing to be able to use the Gucci name without committing trademark infringement. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit. Then in 1982 Paolo sued his father, brothers Giorgio and Roberto, his uncle Rodolfo and cousin Maurizio for breach of contract, emotional distress and assault, claiming he was physically attacked by his brothers and cousin during a board meeting in Italy. 

Though he reportedly collected $42.5 million when he sold his Gucci shares to Investcorp, the investment firm that eventually ended up owning the majority of the company, he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1994 and also spent a short time in jail that year for failure to pay child support.

According to the Washington Post, Paolo died at 64 of complications from chronic hepatitis on Oct. 10, 1995.

Florence Andrews as Jennifer Gucci

Paolo's second wife released her own book in 2010, Gucci Wars: How I Survived Murder and Intrigue at the Heart of the World's Biggest Fashion House.

"The Gucci men are alike—amoral,'' she told the New York Times during Reggiani's trial in 1998. "They are multimillionaire playboys. Nobody has a lot of sympathy for them."

Paolo died in October 1995 while he and Jenny were in the middle of increasingly contentious divorce proceedings, though Patrizia Gucci, a daughter from his first marriage, later disputed that they were ever legally married, saying her father and mother were still in the process of divorcing when he wed Jennifer in 1977.

In 2009, Patrizia slammed Jennifer's efforts to bank on their famous surname with her own lines of skincare products and bedding, telling the New York Daily News, "She never had any sorrow for the death of my father. Now she wants to put the Gucci name everywhere. She just wants more and more."

Jennifer wrote in her book of Paolo, "I was on his side. When I look back I think maybe I shouldn't have been because I see he was very controversial. Maybe the brothers and the fathers were right to fight him. But in a lot of cases they weren't. Paolo was very forward-thinking. He wanted to do a second line of Gucci which every designer in the world has done and he was the first to come up with that idea. And they absolutely killed him on it. They said, You don't know what you're talking about'. There were things thrown across the room."

She also recalled the last time she saw Reggiani, before Maurizio was killed. "We were talking about Paolo and Maurizio and she said, 'I don't know why these boys have changed. Is it just because they've got all the money from the sale of the company? Maurizio used to be the sweetest man in the world, now he's turned against me.' I could tell she was very angry, but I didn't think she would have her husband murdered."

Salma Hayek as Giuseppina "Pina" Auriemma

Because it's a small world after all, Hayek is married to François-Henri Pinault, son of François Pinault, the founder of current Gucci parent company Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (which changed its name to Kering in 2013 and whose other holdings include Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta).

Auriemma, meanwhile, was a self-styled psychic on Patrizia Reggiani's payroll (Pina later disputed the categorization that she was any sort of mystic) who moved in with her in 1994, ostensibly to help her write a book about her life with Maurizio and the Gucci family.

She would later admit to authorities she helped Reggiani hire a professional killer to get rid of her husband—which Reggiani denied, alleging Auriemma made these arrangements and then blackmailed her into paying 600,000 lire ($375,000) for the hit.

According to prosecutors, Auriemma did call a hotel night porter named Ivano Savioni, whom she knew to be having money troubles. He in turn contacted Orazio Cicala, and they agreed on a price, after which Cicala agreed to hire the hitman. Auriemma arranged to get everyone to discuss the crime over a wiretapped phone line. Ultimately Pina, Savioni, Cicala and the gunman, Benedetto Ceraulo, were all charged and convicted of Maurizio's murder along with Reggiani. 

Ceraulo, who maintained his innocence, was sentenced to life in prison; Cicala, who drove the getaway car, to 29 years; Savioni to 26 years; and Auriemma to 25, but all of the sentences were slightly shortened on appeal some years later. Auriemma was released from prison in 2010.

Mădălina Diana Ghenea as Sophia Loren

The iconic Italian actress moved in the elite circles inhabited by the Guccis and, when Aldo made it a point to start dressing celebrity clientele, was one of the famous names who helped turn the label into an international status symbol.

A new documentary, What Would Sophia Loren Do?, is streaming on Netflix, as is the Oscar winner's most recent film, 2020's The Life Ahead.

Reeve Carney as Tom Ford

The celebrity designer now oversees his own sprawling eponymous empire and has written and directed two award-winning films. But he came to fame when he was appointed creative director of Gucci in 1994, later credited with restoring the brand's relevance among the chic set and reviving its future along with CEO Domenico De Sole. Said to be hovering near bankruptcy when Ford first joined the company as chief women's ready-to-wear designer in 1990, Gucci was worth more than $4 billion by the end of the decade. 

Ford and De Sole departed in 2004 after a contract dispute with corporate owner Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, Gucci Group by then valued at $10 billion.

Jack Huston as Domenico De Sole

A close adviser to Maurizio Gucci, De Sole was CEO of Gucci America before becoming CEO of Gucci Group in 1995. In concert with Tom Ford he immediately set about orchestrating the brand's resurgence, taking the fashion house from $200 million in annual revenue to $3 billion. They both left in 2004 after falling out with PPR and De Sole has been chairman of Tom Ford International since its founding in 2005.

It almost feels as if the story of the Gucci family was writing itself, just waiting to be brought to the big screen. Even without a murder, the backstabbing alone told quite the tale.

House of Gucci is in theaters Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021.

(Originally published April 11, 2021 at 6 a.m. PT)