Asia Argento: Exploring Asia

Imported from Italy to fire up Vin Diesel's 'XXX,' the actress never met a sexual inhibition she couldn't conquer. She even calls herself "She Freak"

Vin Diesel and Asia Argento at the premiere of 'XXX' in Westwood, California, on August 5th, 2002. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty

ITALIAN ACTRESS ASIA ARGENTO, 26, agreed to tell us a little bit about herself the other day – if you don't know, she is co-starring with the newly estimable Vin Diesel in the action-packed thriller XXX – and by the end of the telling, wild dogs had to drag us away. It's the way she came at us, in stiletto heels, a strap-fallen tank top, jeans, a crescent moon of pale belly showing, her voice sleepy, flat, direct, resting on us like humidity, nearly post-coital.

This took place in Los Angeles, in her hotel. Her hair was in shambles, her lips glossy red. She was sitting at a table, drawing the life out of a Camel Light and talking about Vin Diesel.

"I had many, many dreams about him," she said, "never sexy dreams but sort of magical dreams, dreamy dreams, symbolic dreams. Once I saw his soul, I was in awe of him. I don't think I'm Vin's type. I don't know what Vin's type is. [See Page 44 for clues.] But he is a wonderful person. He is the king."

Then, exhaling a cloud of smoke, she turned toward her terrace and pointed out a red apple resting there.

It was not her apple. She had no earthly idea where the apple came from. "Somebody threw me that apple, I think, from down below," she said. And then she paused for a while before going on.

HERE, ARGENTO IS NOT SO well-known, having previously appeared in only a few U.S. films, most notably the 1998 Abel Ferrara derangement New Rose Hotel, co-starring Willem Dafoe and Christopher Walken. But in Italy, where she is already a huge star, Argento is widely regarded as a kind of disturbing national treasure and curiosity. Her father is the infamous Italian soft-core-horror-movie director Dario Argento (Suspiria, Deep Red), and from a rather innocent age she has appeared in his movies, often in highly provocative, sexually fucked-up situations. In addition, her talents are thought to be alarmingly broad: She writes novels and short stories, paints, sings in bands, directs movies and documentaries, wins Italian versions of the Oscar, embraces full-frontal nudity in print and onscreen, and can speculate with more than coffeehouse intelligence on excess, God and redemption. As well, in an age of tattooed actresses, she is more flamboyantly tattooed than most, with a sun and two snakes on her tailbone, an eye on her shoulder, a large winged angel ascending from her pubic thatch (placed there "not for some sexual iconography of a flying pussy but more to hide it from my father") and, across her third rib, the name of her late sister, Anna, who died in a motor-scooter accident. Also, until the recent birth of a daughter, Anna Lou, Argento publicly chose to live her life almost entirely in darkness and shadow, suffering (or, rather, enjoying) deep depressions, terrible thoughts and visions of herself as a circus freak she called the She Freak.

Argento is, then, quite something and God only knows what else; but we thought we'd try to find out, since she seemed more than willing to go with us to any place we wanted to go.

"Yes, many wet dreams, all the time, very sexual dreams," she said. "They are the best. Recently, I had one about a love I'd had, and actually the sex with him wasn't really great. But in the dream he was very good. So maybe I was trying to help him in some way."

She pondered this briefly, took a drag on her Camel Light and went on to inform us that the last time she'd made love to somebody was yesterday. "Yesterday," she murmured. "It was with a new friend. It was very nice, because before this I didn't have sex for months. I was not interested. I didn't like anybody particularly. I was satisfied with my wet dreams."

We, in turn, pondered this for a good, long, overheated moment while she stubbed out her cigarette. Seconds later, she decided to tell us that if we got close to her, we would smell feegs.

"Feegs?" we asked.

"I have this perfume, yes," she said. "It's just a little bit of the seeds and ripe fruit of the feeg."

This was almost too much for us, and we nearly had to avert our senses, but instead, taking a deep, restorative breath, we demanded that she get up this instant and take herself into the bathroom.

"OK," she said, on the move.

"Now," we said, "do you see yourself in the mirror?"

"Yes," she said.

Then we spoke our mind. Rather, we blurted the words. "What kind of girl are you?" we nearly shouted.

Without pause or discomfort, she said, "Very solitary, creative and introverted, but also outside of myself, and a bit twisted. I am young. I didn't know that. But I don't recognize myself. That's my problem with the mirror. Who is this? I don't know. I see only the ugliness. My teeth represent me. They tried everything when I was a child to make them straight. I told my father, 'If you're going to put braces again on me, I am going to kill myself.' He said, 'Fair enough.' Now they are as crooked as my soul. I like them. I am oblique."

Well, it went all fuzzy in the noggin for us after that, but through the syncope we could hear her say, "Can I go out of the bathroom now?" and we answered, "You may," and then we began to hear what it was like for her growing up.

FROM THE FIRST, SHE DID NOT see her parents often; her father was usually off directing his horror movies, while her mother, actress Daria Nicolodi, was usually away acting. Argento's earliest memory finds her at the beach in Tuscany, sent there for the summer with her nanny, where she hid behind a tree and spent her days staring at this ghostly blond girl who had Down syndrome. Later on, when she was five, her father set up a projector in the living room of their house in Rome and spilled Tod Browning's movie Freaks, about freaks, onto the wall. Since then, she has watched the movie more than 100 times, sorting through its images, the squirming wormlike creatures on the earth, the pinheads, the bearded ladies, coming out from under the circus wagons, grabbing at you in the dark.

Argento wasn't like other children, and she didn't like other children. "They were stupid," she recalled. "I was embarrassed to go to the park with them and get dirty. Childhood is disgusting. It sucked. I liked adults more. I wanted to do more useful things. But I always had this feeling of never being a part of anything, not even of my family. My parents forgot about me. I did everything I could to get their attention. I started writing poems when I was five and published my first book when I was eight. I was reading Moby-Dick and Oscar Wilde and Baudelaire and all this crazy shit. But it didn't really work until I started doing films, at the age of nine. And then it took another seven years, until I was sixteen, for my father to cast me in one of his movies."

"You worked nude for your father?"

"Yes," she said. "It was very discomforting but also kind of liberating. I got to experience the Oedipus complex – or Elektra, in this case – in a very realistic way. At twenty-two, I did a movie where I was losing my virginity and my father was there filming all this. I don't want to investigate very much why my father wanted me to do this in a film. We don't speak about these things. We speak almost only about cinema, especially about silent movies, with which we have this mutual obsession."

Argento turned silent herself now, and the silence lingered as we shifted in our seat. Then she went on to say that her favorite smell is "a lover's armpit," that in this life "nothing is everlasting" and that her paintings are mostly of herself, in the nude, "with my breasts bigger and my hips wider," as a way to detach herself from her self; or else she paints houses – "houses that I never had, with the little chimney and the triangle roof, the windows open, the door closed." She also said that since giving birth to Anna Lou – the child's father, who goes only by the name Morgan, is in the Italian rock band Bluvertigo – her dominant mood has changed. "It was very gloomy," she said. "Now, it's happy. I could almost use the word positive." At the thought of this, she almost seemed to smile, which she doesn't do very often, because of her oblique teeth.

Around this time, we closed our eyes. We could hear dogs, birds, the low, menacing thwach-thwack of a helicopter. Finally, we asked Argento where on her body our eyes would linger if our eyes were open.

"On my feet," she said.

We listened as she lit another cigarette.

"Oh, on my tits, maybe," she went on, "because I have very deep décolleté, as they say in France. But I don't like my body very much. I'm still very ashamed to be naked in front of somebody. I am so ashamed of being in a bikini swimsuit. So, for me, being naked in a movie is like therapy. When you're naked, people are scared, and this feeling of fear makes them more alert and attentive toward you. I use that. It's a trick I use in my work. I don't use nudity as something pretty. For me, it's something scary."

"What about when you're alone?"

"Am I naked? Not really, no. I'm in my panties, though I sleep without the panties and sometimes, yes, naked."

We shifted again in our seat, sighing.

LATER, ARGENTO TALKED AGAIN about the man she'd slept with last night. "Maybe I will never see him again," she said thoughtfully. "I don't mind. I rather like it like that, actually. It's not that it's better. It's kind of painful. But it can be sweet." Exhaling, she said, "You know when I am melancholic? I am melancholic only when I deceive myself with dreams of being able to have a boyfriend or live with somebody or have a normal love life."

We felt for her and leaned forward to touch her, but she was too far away. "Maybe I'm scared of intimacy," she said, calmly enough. "Or maybe I'm disgusted by it after a while. With guys, it's always like, 'Do you love me? Why do you love me?' It's never free. I want somebody to have fun with, and it's never like that. Guys want to put a cork in my mouth and censor me. They're scared of my past and the fact that I've been a very curious person all my life. I've never had a guy who encouraged me. They want to change me. But the moment they change me, I'd be useless. I can change myself, and I do, but not to please a guy – for an urge, a necessity, growing, knowledge."

We suddenly found ourselves thinking of the red apple on the terrace, and Argento must have read our mind.

"Yes, somebody had to have thrown that apple onto my terrace," she volunteered before plunging on. "They must think I am Eve. Or the snake." And either way, we could not have agreed more.