It's hard to believe that the elegant blond in the soft brown blouse and slim black slacks could possibly be the same person who appeared on screen in Queen Margot. But as soon as Virna Lisi, who won a Best Actress award at Cannes last May for her role in the 16th-century epic, lights the first of many cigarettes, her husky voice provides the connection to the poisonously sepulchral Catherine de Medicis, the wickedest movie mom since Snow White. ''I adore Los Angeles,'' the actress, now 58, remarks in Italian-accented English. ''I was living here three years, and it is really a pleasure when I come back.''
Stateside moviegoers can be forgiven for thinking that Lisi retired after 1972's Bluebeard, in which she contributed her usual va-voom to the polyglot ensemble. Fact is, the actress, who has been married to builder Franco Pesci for 34 years and has a 32-year-old son, never stopped making movies. ''I have made more than 100 films in 37 years,'' she says everything from 1966's The Birds, the Bees and the Italians to Beyond Good and Evil, director Liliani Cavani's 1977 story of Friedrich Nietzsche, in which she played the philosopher's sister. That film marked a departure her beauty took a backseat that paid off again in Margot. Lisi, who has a shot at an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress, was overwhelmed by her Cannes triumph. ''That prize was so important, you know,'' she says. ''Many actresses give their lives to their work without realizing this prize. 'Oh, my God,' I said to myself, 'when they call me I don't want to cry.' I could not stop crying.''