Thanks for all your questions for Scarlet Diva director and xXx star Asia Argento. In a wide-ranging, interesting interview, the charming young Renaissance woman talks sex scenes, motherhood, and revenging herself on Italy...
Do you prefer acting or directing, and is it difficult starring in a film that you are directing? Alex Lochrie
I think the best thing in the world is acting in something I'm directing. That's like the most fortunate and the happiest moment for me, although I guess it's exhausting. Now I'm preparing my second movie and I think it's even more challenging than the first one.
The first one was like a documentary, in a way. I felt very comfortable, I was working with a lot of freedom, and the crew was mostly very young people and we were all really together in this. Now, here in America, preparing this movie and having to deal with people who are saying, "How many names are you going to put in the movie?" and all this useless stuff, it's like - I'm thinking how I was lucky on the first one - everything was so magical and synchronistic. It is very difficult, this choice that I've made in life to do what I do, but I don't know any better. Easier life is more sad for me, it's more impossible.
How challenging is it being both an actress and a director when the more intimate scenes need to be shot? Houssam Bachir
I guess it's more reassuring in a way, because I'm the one in control. So if there's something that I don't feel comfortable with, I can always cut it out, whereas when I'm at the mercy of a director, I remember, this one time I'll never forget, shooting this sex scene. I was really young, I was like 20 or 21, and I didn't know really what the camera was shooting. So then I go back and there's this close up on my crotch, you know, my naked crotch. And that was the most vulnerable moment ever - like, I have no control here. This and other things that happened to me on film sets when I was just acting had me direct my first movie, and probably this is why I put in so much sensuality and sex scenes, because I wanted to be in control for once. The next movie, there won't be any of that.
What are you working on at present? Douglas Michel
It's called The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, and it's an adaptation of the JT Leroy novel. I'm playing the female lead role, called Sarah. At the moment I'm casting the movie, and it should start at the beginning of July.
Is it difficult finding funding for your films in America? Marcus O'Neil
Strangely enough, it was easy for me. Last year, even before xXx came out, I had read the book and I proposed it to this independent company in LA called Muse Productions. They had seen Scarlet Diva in Toronto, a few years back, and even back then they contacted me and said that they were interested in my next project. So when I found the book last year I gave it to them, and it pretty much started a year ago - it's a slow process. We don't have that much money compared to any American movie made, and compared to a big European movie too, but I guess it's enough to do it.
The roles I've seen you play always seem to be dark, sexy and edgy. Is this because you like to draw from your own experiences, or would you like to branch out in a totally different direction,to see what reaction you get? Julian Moorehead
Before I shot xXx, I did this French movie called The Red Siren. It was a really dull role, and I find it extremely difficult to play dull stuff. It's easier for me to play the mad woman, the bitch from hell. I don't know if I draw from my own experience. Probably yes, but I think that in a way, like comedians are the saddest people, people that I know who are like me, who are always playing the dark roles, are usually the sweetest people. I can't say that I’m the sweetest person in the world, but I'm not as dark as they draw me.
Was it a challenge doing an action flick like xXx, having not done one before. And how did you prepare for the role? Harps Kals
It was really a lot of fun for me to play in this movie, because I had never done anything like that. And in a way it was like going to film school. Every movie I've done as an actress, I'm always observing the director - especially this one, it was such a huge machine. To see how a huge movie like that is made is a good lesson in filmmaking. It was a lot of fun. I had to learn how to shoot guns, which I knew a little bit but not that much, and how to shoot Uzis and machine guns and to shoot two guns at the same time - all this good stuff! That's pretty much how I prepared for the movie. I didn't need any particular stuff. A little Russian, a hint of Russian in my accent. By the way, people always ask me all the time if I'm Russian, not Italian, which I find really funny.
I hear that there are more xXx movies on the way. Will you be appearing in any of these? Rory
I do hope so. All I know is that when I signed the contract for the first xXx, they had me sign an option for two other sequels. I'd love to be in it, but usually it works that, like in 007, they get rid of the girls real fast, so I don't know if this will be different. It seemed like a very different movie, xXx, from 007, as far as women were treated. My character is much more powerful than any Bond girl in the past, so I don't know... it's up to them, really.
You're not just an actress. You produce, write, and direct as well. Ever thought about slowing down? Oh, and since you starred in xXx, are you worried that you're going to be typecast? T Hughes
Well, no, instead of slowing down I've added more things to what I like doing. In the past six, seven months, what I've been working on - apart from preparing my movie - is photography. I've been working a lot as a photographer for British, French and American magazines. And yes, there was this fear which became a reality of being typecast, but I haven't made a movie as an actress for a year. I just finished a movie in Canada with Dennis Hopper, it's called The Keeper and it's a very different role from the one in xXx. It's a very interesting and weird little movie that was made, in which I played a stripper, a stripper that Hopper kidnaps. He keeps me for a year locked up in a cage, to give me redemption. He doesn't rape me, he doesn't do anything bad to me, he just feeds me and talks to me. A very strange little movie. It's very different from the role in xXx. I accepted the movie mostly to work with Dennis Hopper. I'm a huge fan and he's a great inspiration to me. He's somebody who does everything: he's a great director and he's produced and written and acted. He's a great photographer and a great art collector, so I was curious to meet somebody of my own kind, and it went really well.
As a daughter of an established director, do you think your current progression is easier or more difficult than it normally would be? Steve Mac
At the beginning it was more difficult, before I started directing. But the moment I did, I saw that my vision is completely separate from the one that my father has. But of course there are always references, in my head, to him. Observing him growing up, and his movies, has made a strong impact on me, and my vision, and maybe that's why I want to do something completely different. But observing his movies and his freedom, in the storytelling and the narrative, was like a lesson I like to keep.
There are many visionary Italian directors, and there are many sad and boring Italian directors today. The ones of the past, like my father or Fellini, or Antonioni, or Pasolini, great ones... I like to observe and pay my homage to everything they've done.
Did your father encourage you to move into directing? Keith Bartholomew
Yes, he really did. I was really unhappy artistically, creatively before. I think my father saw that and he encouraged me. I had this story in my head, which was actually a different one from the movie that I did, and he encouraged me and said to do it, to write it. If it wasn't for his encouragement, probably I wouldn't have had the balls at the time to make the leap. So, I'm very grateful for that.
With your recent foray into American cinema, you have whet the appetite of many moviegoers stateside. What are your thoughts on mainstream Hollywood cinema? Christian Miles
I can't say that I watch many or any big American movies. Lately I've been very picky in what I go to see. Even more, since I'm preparing my movie, so I feel like I wanna preserve my mind, so I very rarely go to see those movies. So, probably my answer is that I'm not very interested in them and I don't think that I get anything out of it. But I do like some action movies, so that's probably why I did xXx. I like John Woo. Face/Off, I think, is a masterpiece. Mission: Impossible II is fun. He's just so good with a camera, anyway, even if the story is not that great. But I like the story in Face/Off.
Do you have a favourite scene from a movie you wished you could have been in? Steven Greenhough
Wow. Favourite scene? Yeah, I really like a scene in Freaks, the Tod Browning movie. I would have loved to play Cleopatra. I love that scene. It's the dinner for their wedding, and they're saying, "We accept you, you're one of us,". And - she's drunk - she's saying, "No, you're monsters." I really love that character.
Who are your filmmaking heroes? Clive Elle
OK... that's tough. Well, today I think only Gaspar Noe, who did Irréversible. He's really a hero and an inspiration for me. It's very refreshing to see somebody who's so free. I think what he did with Irréversible really pushes the possibilities of what a movie can be further, what we could do. I really like the New York transgressive cinema of the 80s, and I like silent movies, the ones of Abel Gance and Fritz Lang, of course. And I like Abel Ferrara's movies a lot. He is a great inspiration, and working with him taught me a lot. It was working with him that made me want to direct, because he's so free, and on a film set I love how he keeps the set together and how he forces the actors to really research their characters and have fun with it. I made a documentary about him when I was shooting New Rose Hotel, it was a very spontaneous documentary. I have to say, I haven't watched it in four years. I know they just showed it at the French Cinematheque. I would like to watch it again. It was pretty insane, I think. It was called Abel/Asia. I showed it only at a couple of festivals.
Fellini is probably my biggest inspiration. I love his colour movies more than the ones like La Dolce Vita or 8½ - even though I love 8½ and I think that Scarlet Diva is greatly inspired by that. I love Juliet of the Spirits and I love this little movie he did called Toby Dammit, with Terence Stamp. It was an episode of this movie he did inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's short stories, and I find it so free. His vision is so personal. When you watch a Fellini movie, you have to accept that this is not the world you live in, but it is his world and just the freedom and his wisdom. He's very in contact with his - how shall I put it? - very interior world, where everything has to do with synchronicity and magic and vision
What actor or actress do you most admire? Louisa Page
I can't think of anybody. There are actors that I admire in particular projects. I like actors who are mostly crazy and outsiders. In America I can't think of many. Tom Sizemore is a great actor and I'm working with him now - he's going to be in my next movie. And Dennis Hopper - he's one of them
How true to life is the story of Scarlet Diva? Patricia Lake
Well, every movie is always 100% real. It always talks about yourself, even though you're talking about something that is very different from you. Everything is inspired by people and places that I've been to, but everything is a reflection of them, so nothing is really real and everything is elaborated and fantasized. People wonder who this character is inspired by, but it's more like a reflection of anybody I've met and how I've demonised them and made them grotesque in order to exorcise them.
Your character's mother in Scarlet Diva is portrayed pretty negatively. Did that upset your real mother? John Franks
Well, my mother was playing my mother in the movie, so if she was that upset she wouldn't have done it! I think we both knew that in order for our relationship to grow, we had this incredible tool of making a movie, which is better than going to a shrink. So we used that to make this movie. She's not the person I'm talking about in the movie, although for a while I was seeing her as the mean mother. For her to play the mean mother was useful, like a sort of psychodrama.
How are you coping with being a mum? Antonia Davis
It's the best creation I've ever done and the most nurturing for me. Nurturing her is very nurturing for me. I think I've become a better person since she's been in my life, as all the rest - all the useless stuff, all the stuff that used to make me upset - doesn't make any sense now. Now I have a goal. Before, everything I did was always for myself. Now I'm more careful in everything I do because of her. She's two. She's very strong, she has a very strong will. She's the only one that dominates me.
Why did you get your tattoos? Do they represent anything? James Firth
I started getting my tattoos when I was 14. They're almost like a reminder. And I hate people when they say, "This tattoo symbolises this and that," but I remember at the times when I had them made, they were usually times when I was changing, and they were marking a change in my life. Now I have many - I have six right now. The latest one is the meanest one I've made and it's on my wrist, inside, and it says "Panos". It's this person that I met briefly that had a very strong impact on my life. I met him, like, for a day, and I had this name tattooed. It's really crazy, this tattoo, I think it's the craziest one I've ever made. But every few years I feel the urge to mark myself and mark the passages, as if my body was a map and every scar will always be with me, and every scar tells you where I've been, like an animal.
Would you ever work with your father again? George Davis
I would, but not now. I think in a few years, but right now we're each doing our own thing. And I live away and don't go back to Italy, and I don't think I will go back to Italy for a few years now. I had to run away, I was very upset, as if Italy was this entity, this person almost, who I was mad with for the way they're really primitive culturally, socially, and politically. When Berlusconi got in power I really had to leave, it was a shock for me. And what happened in Genoa - two years ago - with the anti-globalisation movement and this police state that Italy has become. That's why I moved out, and the way they demonised Scarlet Diva. I'm very lucky that this movie has this long life, because I did it when I was 23 and now I'm almost 28 and the movie is still coming out in places around the world. It is my big revenge against this entity that's Italy.