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Only As Good As The Memories

Raul Julia has charted an unconventional path through film and stage.
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

(continued from page 2)

Romero also was as much a labor of love as a commercial venture for Julia. "I have a very deep care for Latin America, and, of course, for what was going on in El Salvador," says Julia. "I have felt outrage. I have felt anger. And, I have felt helpless... [Romero ] was an incredible opportunity for me. I couldn't say no to that. The challenge, a scary challenge, because I had to interpret a man too many people knew."

In a role that Julia himself describes as his favorite, he becomes on-screen the pious archbishop who tried for years to separate his pulpit from the country's political battles, but then stepped forward, despite the tremendous risk, as an outspoken champion for justice and human rights. For those who knew the archbishop, Julia's portrayal is indelibly intertwined with the real man.

"I read his diaries; he used to speak into a tape recorder every day. I read his bios. I read his homilies," says Julia with an unmistakable intensity in his voice. "It was a very profound experience, getting in touch with that part of us, in all of us human beings, that is committed beyond yourself to the point of giving everything you have, including your life, for other people, for your fellow man.

"Thank God for the theater," Julia continues, lapsing into a reference to the stage to describe the film Romero. "Thank God for this experience through which you can actually experience it."

It would be easy to take a jab at an actor if he professed to find greater meaning in dramatic roles, but never ventured into the real world with his insights. Julia, however, goes beyond the stage and screen with his convictions. He is a spokesperson for the Hunger Project, a nonprofit organization with the goal to eliminate global hunger by the year 2000. "You know that for the first time in history, we have the means, the knowledge, the agricultural know-how and the economic resources to end hunger," says Julia. "The whole point of the Hunger Project is to generate the popular and political will through education to achieve that goal."

Julia also gives his time and name to a variety of special-interest groups, such as Youth at Risk, which helps educate the young about AIDS, and several Latin American human-rights organizations. He also devotes time to some Hispanic organizations including La Raza and Nosotros.

The interview is over. Julia strides out of the dining room at the '21' Club, bending his six-foot two-inch frame a bit to shake hands with the waiters and the lady behind the cigar counter. He's headed for a photography session in one of the restaurant's sitting rooms, a woodpaneled area filled with overstuffed leather chairs and Frederic Remington paintings that exudes an air of a turn-of-the-century men's club.

The actor in Julia takes over.

With the help of his assistant of 11 years, Susan Wright, he checks his carefully combed hair, straightens his elegant paisley tie, brushes his forest-green-plaid sports jacket and smooths his khaki pants. There is the remnant of a Partagas Series D in his hand, but he gives it up without complaint for a Hoyo de Monterrey double Corona. The monologue begins.

Holding the lighted cigar and posing for the photographer, Julia barks out in his best huckster voice: "Why pay $100 on a therapy session when you can spend $25 on a cigar? Whatever it is will come back; so what, smoke another one." He laughs at his own joke and quickly keeps the monologue going. "A cigar-a-day keeps the doctor away."

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