Raised by a single mom in a tiny town outside Naples, Sophia Loren learned how to walk a red carpet from her mother, Romilda Villani. "She was the one who wore high heels, walked with her back straight, head upright," recalls Loren. "She used to say, 'I'm the real Sophia Loren!'" The Sophia Loren the rest of the world knew sizzled in films like Houseboat
and Marriage, Italian Style
. Now 75, the star of Nine chats with PEOPLE's Mary Green about her life, her work and turning down a marriage offer from actor Cary Grant. "I couldn't leave my family in Italy," she says. In 1966 she wed producer Carlo Ponti, with whom she had two sons, Carlo Jr., 40, and Edoardo, 36. Still emotional about her husband, who died in 2007, Loren says, "We had a beautiful life together. I am at peace."
" I don't believe in having work done, because then everybody looks the same," says Loren, whose bodacious turn in Boy on a Dolphin
(top) and roles in films such as The Condemned of Altona
(right, with Robert Wagner) made her a global sex symbol. Still, she says, "I should exercise more. Lose a couple of kilos."
"We were in France here, in Carlo's office in Paris. It was a very leisurely afternoon, playing together. One son [Carlo Jr., center and inset] is a conductor and does very well. He's a little bit like me: shy, keeps things inside, laughs, is funny. Edoardo [left] is like my sister: outgoing, sings very well and wants to be a director. And I love my grandchildren!"
"I was 9 years old here. while I was being photographed, instead of holding my hands [upright], I held them at [an angle] because a bomb exploded at that particular moment, 20 meters away, very close. It was during the War. My mother picked me up, and together we went to the recovery [bomb shelter]. My mother sold my dress because we needed the money."
"This was my first trip to New York. It was such a happy trip. I miss Carlo a lot. Sometimes I feel so lonely. It's not true that when time goes by, [pain] heals. It will be three years since he died. The first time I met Carlo, it was at a beauty contest. He had a wife, two children. I didn't think it would happen. Little by little I knew he was the right person for me."
"Marcello [Mastroianni] and I had chemistry; we didn't know why. But I was in love with my husband; he was in love with his wife"
"I was 25 when I did Two Women
[Loren won an Oscar for playing a struggling single mother in WWII Italy]. The character was so powerful, I didn't need to think about it. Even though I was little during the War, I had lived it."
"I was very fond of Cary, but we were not made for each other. Leave my mother, my sister, to follow a man to another part of the world? I couldn't"
"It was a joy for me to be in [Nine
], a type of film that I've never done before. It was really like a festa. Oh, yes, I enjoyed singing, but this was really hard physically and also mentally sometimes."
"I think this was about a week after Carlo Jr. was born. There were so many photographers that we could not give it exclusive to one. So the doctor said, 'We have a room where we operate, and there's a balcony all around. You can come in with the child and they can make pictures."
"One day I was making a picture at Paramount, and we were in the commissary. I was having lunch, and Elvis was having lunch nearby, and then he came to my table. He sat down, and there was a photographer. He came over and snapped these shots, that's all. It's the only time we met."