Scene: A buzzing restaurant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the Resorts Casino called Gallagher’s. The bar was open, but the dining area for dinner was still closed – well, actually it had been opened for Emmy award winning, multiple Golden Globe nominated actor, Armand Assante, and a small group of people he was with.
Enter: TheLadyinRed wearing a ruched deep purple Nicole Miller dress with killer black strappy Jimmy Choos, and her well-dressed photographer, Patrick Zehr, welcomed by Armand, and led to a quiet table in the back where there would be no interruptions from patrons. Cordially, Armand offered an appetizer of delicious calamari and drinks to both of us as we sat down to begin the interview.
I don’t want to call this an interview, though. More accurately, this was a conversation with the well-spoken, articulate, and very easy to talk to Armand Assante. Some people may be quite surprised that he is a far cry from some of the characters he’s known famously for playing in Gotti, Hoffa, and Judge Dredd to name a few of the blockbusters he’s been in.
There was definitely a formality to what was said on-the-record, but smiles came easy, and questions flowed in the natural course of conversation. Perhaps this was why we were asked to stay for a decadent dessert and continue enjoying each other’s company off-the-record, afterwards. But we’ll get to dessert later! : )
Armand was dressed stylishly as usual, this time wearing a black casual pull-over and statement timepiece as he sat to my left in the booth, and Patrick set up his camera on the opposite side of the cozy corner table. Armand is known for sometimes sporting Calvin Klein, but it wouldn’t have mattered what he had worn; his suave, authentic charisma needed no fashion enhancement. He was at the Garden State Film Festival as an honoree, accepting a Lifetime Achievement award, plus, he was being featured in a film Joe’s War, set to be shown later that evening.
In Joe’s War, (an independent film directed by Phil Falcone, written by John De Meo and Phil Falcone, and starring Michael Markiewicz, Armand Assante, and Ed Asner) Armand plays a military psychologist, and he enjoyed being a part of the film about veterans showing how a majority of them return from a tour of duty with crisis issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder; an issue that Armand felt was important to bring to light.
As with all of my interviews, I like to have people tell me about their passions and work, but more importantly, I always strive to touch on personal parts of them that speak to everyone on a very relatable level.
Armand really has very little down time. Currently he’s working on several projects that are still in development, and he isn’t ready to go public with details on them just yet… because others, well, others may want to copy, and competition in the entertainment industry is constantly present. However, he is working on a thriller that he is filming in Geneva. He goes back on set in either May or June. We joked about how he won’t get to enjoy the weather as it warms up here, and he will be thrown back into the cold weather there!
His projects take him all over the world, though. He had just returned from Europe to attend the Garden State Film Festival, and following that weekend, he was off to Canada, then Florida and more. With all of his extensive traveling, you would think he’s a man of many languages. In fact, he speaks Italian as well as English. It wouldn’t have mattered what language we would have spoken in, though. His candid humor and insight into acting and people, would still translate.
As a girl who likes to publish something that you can’t Google, I had to ask Armand, in light of his honor receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, what his most proud lifetime achievement is, outside of work. Undoubtedly, he said that his most proud achievement is his children, as most parents would say. Although people in the public eye lead fascinating lives most of us could only dare to dream, there is an element of commonality that we all share on a very simple level. We all love. We all hurt. And we all live.
When Armand starts a new project he enters with the idea that he’s going to have a long term relationship with the people involved. He believes that the harmony with the people on a project is vital to its success.
“You have to believe in people. You have to believe in stories, number one; but you have to believe in people. If you don’t believe in people, you can’t make a story. People often ask me, ‘What was the greatest project you’ve done? What are you most proud of?’ The things I remember the most about whatever I’ve done are the relationships with the people. And if the relationships with the people are tremendous… vibration if you will, a sense of music and harmony, then usually the project was very good. It follows that if the harmony is there, it does well. And that’s something I don’t take for granted,” he shared.
I always love to steer away from work topics and take a peek into personal lives a bit. I couldn’t resist asking Armand was his favorite indulgence is.
“I’ve created an international product. I’ve created my own cigar; my own company, Ora Vivo. [“Ora Vivo” means “I now live” in Italian.] I wouldn’t call it an indulgence. I was always asked for many years to put my name on products, and I said ‘No.’ And in the last few years it happened again, and I said ‘No.’ It’s nice that people are still inviting me to the dance. I thought if I create a product, I want to be in. I’m conceptualizing taking Ora Vivo to other levels because other companies are approaching me for my label. But the cigars are first rate. They’ve gotten tremendous reviews.”
“It’s interesting because I don’t have time to indulge, and I haven’t for a long time, but when I do, I’m usually in my work mode, and really, really quiet, I could sometimes have a couple of cigars just studying. I wouldn’t call myself an indulgent person. I haven’t had time. You know, I work all the time. It’s the story of my life. I can’t wait to have an indulgence!” laughed Armand.
To get a better feel for our casual conversation as he indulged me with his company, watch this clip:
“I haven’t had one day off in so long. When I have had indulgences in my life, I rode my horses, I sailed all over the world. That’s indulgent. I would like to do that again.”
That sounds like a pretty perfect way to unwind to me!
Along the lines of wishing and indulging, it seems that everyone has a bucket list – things that they want to do if they only had the opportunity to do them. I asked Armand what his favorite place to sail to would be, wondering if his top picks would match mine.
“I’ve traveled all over the world. Culturally, Italy…It’s the greatest culture, which is why the world descends there every year. I’m very proud that my ancestral lineage is that culture…Not that I do all things Italian by any means, but the point is that it has a tremendous place in my heart, and I go back there very often.”
He was actually in Italy most of last summer.
“I don’t normally go in the summer; the entire world descends on Italy in the summer. Last time I was in Sicily in March, and I would love to go now when it’s not so busy... But in terms of physical adventure and beauty, Africa is awesome. South Africa is astonishing.”
When you talk to Armand, you can see how memories of his travels infuse his thoughts and words. His experiences traveling have definitely impacted his views of people and life.
“Last year at this time I was in the most remote frontiers of Uzbekistan. I’ve been all over Kazakhstan, Russia; I’ve traveled all over Eastern Europe; I worked all over Eastern Europe. In terms of beauty and culture I would say Italy and South Africa are about as good as it gets.”
Speaking of as good as it gets, we all have visions of what our perfect day would be like. Believe it or not, the well-traveled Armand Assante’s “heaven on earth” is actually staying at home on his farm “in the middle of nowhere”.
So you see even this world traveler is stationery sometimes!
“I think most people wouldn’t suspect because of the roles I played, people are very confused…because they think that I’m this outward, gregarious, crazy, fun-loving, restless guy. I am restless by nature. I’m very quiet. I’m very disciplined, and acting never came easily. Music was my first love…and my mother was a musician, and I grew up in the art world. The whole persona thing is confusing, of what somebody thinks… ‘You were the Mambo King or you were the American gangster;’ you live vicariously through these different personas. But in fact, that’s all acting. You know, it’s work. It’s your work. It’s the way I make my living. I think the one misconception people have of me is they’ll be shocked in a way how quietly I live.”
This is a man who loves to ride horses and enjoys staying home. He loves a good burger (what he had for lunch), and shares chocolate desserts while sipping espresso.
When in the limelight, it’s my perception that normalcy and basic comforts and quiet are what celebrities crave. They also have other interests and dreams that sometimes they wish they could have followed.
Armand was also a professional drummer and singer, “between the ages of 14 and my early 20’s”.
“But I was already acting in my late teens, so I will say that acting eclipsed my musical passion. It is a shame, because I really loved what I was doing in music, and loved what I was creating. But acting is a consuming profession. You have to concentrate on constantly surviving in the world of working constantly,” he told me.
Perhaps destiny leads us down a path, but we never forget our passions.
As Armand said, he values the relationships he has with people that he works with, because ultimately it is those relationships that make or break a project. To take it a step further, he shared one of his insights with me.
“I believe that everything in this world is predicated upon relationships, and if we could really cure our relationships, then I think the world would be a better place.” (The burger he was about to eat definitely makes the world a better place too!)
But in all seriousness, his experiences traveling and meeting people from all over the world have given him a very secular, yet optimistic perspective when it comes to unleashing the undiscovered talents of so many.
“I’ve also been witness to things that blew my mind, you know. I’ve met opera singers that have no CD, I’ve met painters that have never had an exhibition, I’ve met actors that are the tour de force and they’re not on film. I’ve met violinists that look like they’re vagrants, because of the places I’ve lived in. People don’t know - talent and genius you can find anywhere, if you look enough and you are willing to cultivate it. The problem in the world right now is that there is not enough cultivation.”
So the next time you see a spark of talent in someone, think about what it takes to nurture it. The geniuses of the world are all around us. Once that spark is ignited and given a stage, there is no limit on what can be achieved.
And with that thought, I leave you with dessert – a very delicious, chocolate experience that we dug into as we sipped our espresso and spent the next portion of our lunch kicking back, sharing stories, and enjoying each other’s company.
You can follow him and his travels on Twitter @Armand_Assante
…and if you want to find out more about his acclaimed Ora Vivo cigars, be sure to visit http://www.oravivo.com/