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Hollywood's Tough Guy

Armand Assante has made a Hollywood career out of playing cigar-smoking characters with a hard edge.
From the Print Edition:
Armand Assante, Mar/Apr 2008

(continued from page 5)

Even as Assante was slowly learning and gathering more information about land mines, he was filming back-to-back-to-back projects in Eastern Europe, one of the many regions in the world devastated, he points out, by war and the land mines left behind. In his spare time, in between films, he began accompanying de-mining teams as they swept fields for buried mines, some scattered many decades ago, some quite recently. It doesn't really matter when they were laid, Assante points out, since they can stay active for 30 or more years.

In 1999, he decided to put his growing awareness and his skill as a storyteller to work and he began to film a documentary entitled Blind Dragon.

The somewhat unusual title, Assante explains, has significant meaning. " 'Blind Dragon' is a metaphor. A land mine is a weapon that does not distinguish a child from a soldier who is on a border where he should not be, hence it is 'blind.' A dragon lives forever in the earth and a dragon's teeth cuts its victim in half. There have been many metaphors used to describe weapons. 'Dragon' is a popular one."

Assante filmed extensively in Croatia and, with Afghanistan, Angola, Eritrea, Cambodia and Vietnam still on the itinerary, headed to Angola for the next segment. Based on the message he was telling, Assante was hoping for cooperation and, to some extent, open arms from the government. What he got, he says, were open palms and, following multiple demands for bribes, Assante scrapped the rest of the trip. It's his intention to return to filming, with some additional funding, this year.

In the interim, Assante takes advantage of what little downtime he has to rejuvenate on his farm, a practice he calls "seeking solace."

Assante purchased the farm in 1983, renovating and adding on to the turn-of-the-century farmhouse over a number of years. It is now home to not just Assante but to a stable full of thoroughbred horses and nine purebred German shepherds.

It is, according to Assante, the primary gathering place for his very large and very extended family—including his two daughters, Anya, 24, and Alesandra, 19, that he had with his former wife, Karen—and he often sees as many as 40 family members gathered into the farmhouse's kitchen during holidays and special events.

"I knew when I came here [in 1983], to this farm, I said to myself, 'This place can teach me something,' and it's true. It has. There's a stillness here, a peace, for which I'm very grateful. Immensely grateful and blessed," muses Assante. "I'm in my zone here. It's a wonderful place to meditate, to regroup and to find yourself, your inner self and your core.

"I've found extraordinary peace here, solace, on this farm. It's been an extraordinary gift in many, many ways, but the biggest gift for me, besides raising my daughters here, is the incredible quiet and sense of serenity that comes from living here, working on the farm, riding in the woods. I have a very profound connection with nature [and] I stay in the woods a lot. I cut all my own wood, I clear all my own fields, clear the woods of whatever's dead. It's my mental, physical, spiritual gymnasium to be in the woods."

If this doesn't sound like the same man who's repeatedly brought crime bosses to life on the big screen, the answer why is simple, says the actor: those are simply movie roles, nothing more. His life, Assante says, is far, far more interesting.

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