POPCORNREEL FILM FOCUS/"La Linea" (The Line)
Armand Assante's Line On The Industry And The Craft Of Acting
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Armand Assante as a priest with ties to the crime underworld in
Mexico, in James Cotten's film "La Linea" (The Line), currently playing in major
media markets in the U.S. as part of Maya Entertainment's series of Latin
American-themed films. National Hispanic Heritage Month is September in
the U.S. (Photo: Maya Entertainment)
NEW YORK CITY
The phone rings. Armand Assante is on the line. "I'm sorry,"
he says, "but I just have
to call my daughter. I'll be back with you in thirty seconds." He
politely apologizes again, even after being assured that the call to his
daughter isn't a problem.
Less than thirty seconds pass before the phone rings again and the
decorated veteran actor returns.
The New York City-born thespian has made a career of playing memorable
characters, including Gambino crime family boss John Gotti, for which he won an
Emmy Award several years ago. Now approaching his 60th birthday and at the
peak of his powers, Mr. Assante appears in the new film "La Linea" (The Line), a
thriller released by Maya Entertainment as part of their group of Latin
American-themed films that are currently making their way around the eight
highest-profile media markets in the U.S.
"La Linea", directed by James Cotten and written by R. Ellis Frazer, tells a powerful story of
a hierarchical crime cartel gangland in Tijuana, Mexico headed by an aging
boss named Javier Salazar, with control transitioned to
a hotheaded protégé. The film boasts an all-star cast of
performers: Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Esai Morales, Joe Morton, Bruce Davison,
Danny Trejo, Valerie Cruz and Jordi Vilasuso, also an Emmy winner. Mr. Assante
plays a priest who forges ties with Mr. Morales' character amidst the moral ills
committed and dilemma created.
Speaking via telephone at a hotel here, Mr. Assante was enthralled by Mr.
Frazer's screenplay. "It was a clever, smart script written with a very
unromanticized view", Mr. Assante said recently. That view of an
unrelenting world of drug cartels and crime families amidst which undercover
narcotics officers had to manuever seemed to appeal to the actor the most.
"It's a very dangerous, dark and brutal work," said Mr. Assante. "[Mr.
Frazer's] depiction of those characters was very interesting." For his
role Mr. Assante had to prepare by meeting with a priest for research on his
character and spent about a week on the film set. Asked if he typically
took the characters he portrayed home with him, Mr. Assante offered this
response: "I don't believe in eating, drinking and breathing a character 24-7
but I have a lot of respect for actors who do. I completely empathize with
[them]. I've learned over the years to separate my personal life from my
public life and my public life from my creative life. I put my work to bed
when I go to bed."
"Unfortunately [living a character off-camera] goes with the territory of being
After thinking some more on the subject, Mr. Assante noted that there was a time
when he did immerse himself beyond the two-dimensional parameters of the camera.
On a film where he portrayed the German scientist-philosopher Nietzsche in 2007,
Mr. Assante revealed that everything became a 24-hour obsession to detail the
truth of the character he was playing. "I convinced myself that I was
German and also the rhythm of [movement] had to show a Germanic understanding of
the text and that was as crucial as English. I had to cut out my personal
life," he recalled.
As an actor, Mr. Assante added, "you want to be on point as much as you can."
While the Nietzsche situation was a one-off occurrence, what wasn't was the
difficult environment in which actors had to work. "You've got 50 people
that really want to go to lunch -- they don't really care what's going on," he
said of a typically crew on a film set. "It's the obligation of the
director and producer to create synchronicity on the set, otherwise it can be an
incredibly chaotic experience. In the workaday world for an actor in film
you have to do it as brilliantly as you fucking can."
Armand Assante played New York druglord Bobby
Texador in Sidney Lumet's 1990 film "Q & A". (Courtesy Tri-Star via
For every disastrous film set experience for an actor -- Mr. Assante revealed
that he had more than his fair share -- there were more upbeat journeys for the
thespian. "Sidney Lumet is one of those positive directors who ensures the
environment he and the actors are in is highly professional and conducive to
strong creativity. If you're late to work on his set you can expect an
earful. He doesn't tolerate bullshit," Mr. Assante said. The actor
was speaking of his experiences on the 1990 film "Q&A", which he shot with Mr.
Lumet in 1989. Mr. Assante memorably portrayed a low-level criminal named
Bobby Texador who refuses to play ball with the green New York assistant
district attorney (Timothy Hutton) who wants to bring down a corrupt cop (Nick
Nolte). "I remember distinctly -- almost everything [Mr. Lumet did] was
shot in one take." The film was shot in 33 days. "We never worked
past five in the afternoon."
"Eighty-percent of the work and preparation [on "Q&A"] was in the
pre-production, which I am a firm believer in," Mr. Assante said. Mr.
Lumet, who is now in his eighties (he has a new film expected to be released
later this year), has stayed mainly in the independent filmmaking realm, which
means typically low budgets and an economy of filmmaking that has served a
director who has been in cinema directing for more than 50 years.
"In 1989, ten years before Sidney Lumet got a lifetime achievement award from
the Academy I was saying he should have got one."
Contrast Mr. Lumet's economy and methodical work ethic on a shoestring budget
with the Hollywood system and you get an Armand Assante who is troubled by the
direction that the Hollywood film industry has taken over the last couple of decades or so.
"Films don't have be exorbitant budgets and the idea that they do is a terrible
fallacy. The budgets of some of these films today can subsidize fucking
nations." There's a hint of disgust in Mr. Assante's voice as he says
this. He compared films in other countries that he has seen in film
festivals in Chechnya, Kurdistan, Kazakhstan and Kiev, and rated what he saw as
a member of the jury at the Kiev festival -- 53 films in one week, 33 of them
documentaries -- far more highly than any of the Tinseltown fare he knows of.
He spoke of Romanian filmmaker Cristian Nemescu, who died in a car crash before
finishing his film "California Dreamin'", which Mr. Assante starred in.
The actor had met the director three years before he passed. The film was
shot in 31 days and won an award at Cannes in 2007. "I thought his film
was strong and that he knew what he wanted. And he was working on an
extremely low budget."
Mr. Assante's observations about filmmakers around the globe working with very
little money were particularly noteworthy. "At these festivals I've been
to around the world you've got kids working with nothing. A Hollywood film
would walk out with its tail between its legs," he declared. The actor
pointed out 21-year-old Hana Makhmalbaf, an Iranian filmmmaker who directed
"Buddha Collapsed Out Of Shame", a feature film about kids being manipulated by
the Taliban into joining them. "She was getting Academy Award-winning
performances out of three-year-olds and making a politically relevant statement.
The fact is that a lot of these films, they will never, ever see distribution.
It eats your heart out," said Mr. Assante, who added that "the media has
completely distorted the reality of the industry and our obligations."
Even for an actor as accomplished as Armand Assante film roles have not come
"I chase checks all over the world. The last couple of years
for me have been brutal. I take [the craft of acting and the industry]
very seriously. I gotta hustle my ass."
"The Line" (La Linea) is now making its way around the U.S. in theaters.
A review of the film will appear here tomorrow.
Copyright 2009. Omar P.L. Moore. The Popcorn Reel.
PopcornReel.com. 2009. All Rights Reserved.