Lloyd Kaufman of Troma
An interview with Asia Argento
by Steve Proposch, 2003
Aria Asia Maria Victoriaroso 'Red Victory' Argento's legs are damn near as long as her unexpurgated name. The name is partly due to a fascist law that is still in effect in Italy, decreeing that no person shall be named after a foreign country or continent. The legs curve and sway all the way up to a gorgeous winged angel that Asia (pronounced: ah-ze-a), as she prefers to be known, has tattooed on her pelvis.
With a lineage that includes one of Italy's most infamous and cult-worthy horror film directors, Dario Argento, Asia's legs, along with the rest of her, are likely to be going places in the next few years that you and I can only gaze upon in the pages of glossy magazines and generally be glad we're not a part of, but that looks like one long, hip party after another. Destination: Hollywood.
Most recently seen as Vin Diesel's arse-kicking colleague Yelena in XXX, Asia's directorial debut premiered in Australia to a turned-on-in-a-slightly-disturbing-way audience at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival last July. While being turned on in a disturbing way is a pretty standard audience reaction at MUFF, Scarlet Diva managed to impress the unimpressionable.
The film is pitched as a semi-biopic, following Asia in the lead role as Anna Battista, on a drug and fuck-filled trip as she tries, first to get an idea for a film, then to get her film into the Hollywood system.
The trash-centric exposé sees her scoring hash in a Parisian ghetto before scoring the African dealer, taking special K with some not very special English tourists, and being forced to have sex with a slimy movie producer played, incidentally, by grotesque artist extraordinaire Joe Coleman.
"I was always a huge fan of Colman's," says Asia. "He only paints himself, or even when he's painting, like Ferdinand Céline, he's always putting the characters facing you, and he's telling their stories. That was a big lesson for me."
Her voice is deep with a sultry southern Italian lilt and the familiar (to me) creaks and groans of a heavy smoker who's fresh out of bed. It's about ten am where she is (UK) and some time between seven and heaven, pm, for me. She continues.
"We're actually portraying ourselves as monsters, you know? It's not like I'm saying I'm the best person in the world, but I'm using this vehicle of making movies to tell a story, my story, actually manipulating a real story by making it grotesque, to exorcise it.
"There's so much I want to understand, and I don't do analysis. I don't have a psychologist. I don't have the practical chores, either. You know, my life is totally impossible and by making a movie about it maybe I can forgive myself."
What's to forgive? Scarlet Diva has been described as hedonistic, existentialist and without morality. So far, so good. But Asia won't hear of it.
"Well, when people criticize the fact that this movie is self-obsessed, or hedonistic or whatever you want to call it, what they're criticizing is actually the strength of my movie, and by doing that they're only throwing fuel in my fire. They're only making it stronger. Because what else is there to talk about but oneself? What else do we know but ourselves? By talking about myself I'm trying to understand who I am. And people might hate that because they don't have the balls to do that, but everybody would like to do that. I think that everybody does it anyway, every day. I mean even if they're talking about the UFO's they're talking about themselves."
I've no idea how we got on to such a tangent but by this stage of the interview I couldn't care less. If I was not already a happily bethrottled man (actually only half-man, half-dishcloth) I fancy I would book myself a one-way ticket on the next available Air Italia jumbo on the off chance I might hook up with and vainly attempt to impress this sex-soaked bundle of beauty, brains, balls and creativity. Alas, the competition would be fierce.
"I have a two-year-old and she's here with me. Anna Lou."
Can I ask who the father is? I gulp. Are you still in a relationship with him?
"He's a musician, an Italian guy. Ahh, you know, yeah definitely, even though it's kind of difficult to get it -- I live all over the world and the child is with me, but I just come from Italy where we spent two weeks."
In fact Asia's family life would make terrific Jerry Springer material. Her mother, Daria, did not want her daughter to get into the film business despite being an actress herself and featuring in many of her husband Dario's creep fests. Asia made a decision at nine years of age to go against her mother's wishes after much prompting from director Sergio Citi, who was Passolini's assistant for many years, a "brilliant director" in his own right, and also a good friend of Daria's. Asia took a part in the mini-series Sogni e bisagni (1985), where her first line ever on screen was based on one of her own childhood games, and went something like "I'm not a boy, I'm a girl".
By age 13 she had appeared in almost fifteen movies and was a celebrated actress with two 'David Di Donatello' awards (the Italian Oscar) and two 'Ciack' awards (the Italian Golden Globe) under her pillow.
"Then I stopped acting, from the age of 13 to the age of 16," she says. "That was the biggest break I've ever taken from movies. It was those awkward years, you know, when in Italy there's a saying, you're neither meat nor fish. [laughs] I had to find my own identity, which I did by completely going crazy at the time."
Since then most of Daria's reservations about her daughter's involvement in the business must have either been experienced or worked through. Daria appears in Scarlet Diva, playing Anna's mother.
"I remember I used to watch this program on Italian TV that was called a psychodrama," Asia explains, "about this group of people and they would choose actors to play the characters of their life, one to play themselves and one to play the mother and father or whatever, and they would act it out. And that was something that always stuck on me. So I guess with this movie I did that, only I took my own mother to play my mother in the movie.
"Here I jump from one thing to the next but I was thinking about with this movie, like, maybe I should cast real people. But at the same time when you take real people to act these days they're so corrupted by this reality TV, and they act even more. They're the worst actors and actresses, real people."
That must be why Hollywood digs the plastic ones so much. Doing XXX has successfully raised Asia's profile in the US, though not in the way she dreamed of.
"I was offered a bunch of action movies that I didn't do. Maybe that was a mistake, I don't know. As a matter of fact I'd rather do action movies that some bad, pseudo intellectual Italian movies, that's for sure.
"I did a movie with Dennis Hopper. I always liked Dennis Hopper so that's why I did it. But I was not so thrilled about the movie itself.
"My goal, or what makes me happy in life is directing, and that's something I found out in doing or actually before doing Scarlet Diva. I used XXX to be known in America so that I could direct in America, which is what I've been preparing. I've been writing this [new] movie for a year almost, and now it's in pre-production.
"It's called The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things and it's taken from a novel written by JT Leroy, this young American writer. It's his autobiographical story. I've adapted the screenplay and I'm playing the main female role. It's a story of a mother and a child. The child goes from since he was four years old until he's eleven. And it's her descent into Hell, with drugs and prostitution. It's like an autopsy of America, and people.
"I can identify, I think. I'm a single mother in the sense that I'm the one supporting my child and I live alone with her and it's kind of difficult in Italy, in America, all over the world. So I can identify even though I'm lucky because I was blessed with, you know, the belief, faith and creativity. Well, people who don't have that or don't have a reason to believe in themselves can quickly lose themselves."
© 2003, Steve Proposch. A version of this interview has appeared on the MUFF website.
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