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Assante_armandI was in Boyle Heights today in the “safe house” location of “La Linea,” talking with priest (-gangster?) Armand Assante. On the kitchen table, cash was neatly packaged alongside banjos about to be filled with  drugs. In the hallway, Father Assante’s prayer alcove was decorated with crucifxies, candles, etc. Assante appropriately donned a priestly hat to accentuate the transformation. No stranger to underworld characters, Assante  wings to N.Y. tomorrow for the Friday premiere of “American Gangster” at the Apollo, joining co-stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in the Ridley Scott film. Assante also starred in Scott’s “1492.” He returns Sunday to film his final scenes on Monday in “Linea,” which also stars Esai Morales, Ray Liotta and Andy Garcia. And at month’s end he starts a recurring role in “October Road.” Assante calls “Linea” “a small film with a big cast” and claims “one N.Y. scene in ‘American Gangster’ cost more than all of ‘Linea.'”

It has been non-stop road work for Assante, who has filmed all over Europe, pitched film production/festival plans to heads of state in Kazakhstan, and was stopped on the Luanda airstrip for a demand of $12,000 — “in cash” — to continue filming his docu on landmines. His plea, “I’m doing this for charity,” fell on deaf ears and he was forced to move out his plane. He still hopes to complete the  project, which started in Europe.

“Linea” pulls no punches on drug trafficking over the border — and how it may segue into transporting arms — “devices to create nuclear devices,” added Assante. Producer Geoffrey Ross and writer-producer R. Ellis Frazier told me they’ll have no problem shooting exteriors in Tijuana — Dolfino Lopez of Baja Films will oversee filming there. James Cotten is directing “Linea,” a Project One Film with indie financing that plans to be ready for first looks in Cannes.