The Reluctant Star
Actor Andy Garcia chooses roles that rouse his passions and cement his reputation as one of Hollywood's most likable nonconformists.
From the Print Edition:
Andy Garcia, Mar/April 2004
Flee your homeland when you're five years old, never to return. Grow up hearing of a life lost in Cuba, of a country that over the years fades into a collage of mirages, of a land that when mentioned brings tears to your eyes. Imagine that personal journey, and you may glimpse some of what makes actor Andy Garcia who he is. You begin to understand why he's been struggling for 10 years to finance a film called The Lost City about Havana in the years before Fidel Castro's revolution.
"You have certain scars from when you were 10 years old. You carry those scars with you and subconsciously you make decisions off of those things," Garcia says. "There is a reason I want to tell the story of The Lost City. America has given me an extraordinary opportunity to explore my dreams, and my father made great sacrifices for me to have that opportunity. That's why we left the country that we loved, because freedom is not negotiable.
"I only get involved in things that I get stoked about," says Garcia, trying to explain a project like The Lost City, which was written by exiled Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante. "When I see material that I get passionate about, I go with it."
That's Garcia's career in a nutshell. In the late 1980s, while in his early 30s, the Cuban-American actor had Hollywood in the palm of his hand. Roles such as federal agent George Stone in 1987's The Untouchables, opposite Kevin Costner and Sean Connery; as investigator Raymond Avila in 1990's Internal Affairs, opposite Richard Gere; and as hotheaded Vincent Mancini in The Godfather: Part III the same year put him on the fast track to superstardom. He inherited the thinking woman's sex symbol mantle from Clark Gable, Connery and Al Pacino. He was considered for nearly every action hero or sexy male lead in big-budget movies at the time. His celebrity seemed sudden, and, to him, overwhelming. Not that the brush with fame was not enticing. Garcia had endured years of struggle and rejection in Hollywood, often with hints about or even direct barbs at his ethnicity, before he scored what he considers his first major role as Ray Martinez in The Mean Season in 1985. In the end, he didn't succumb to the lure of easy money and fame.
"It's always been my nature to shy away from overexposure, and the first onslaught of fame, when it came from those pictures, I did not embrace it. I went the other way," Garcia says. "I felt that you lose something; there's a price you pay by just letting yourself into that world. They might pay you a lot of money, but…you ask, is it really what you want? I did not become an actor to do those kinds of movies."
Sporting a well-worn, bulky tan coat, Garcia runs his fingers through his thick tousled hair. Even as he talks, the surroundings echo his words. He sits in the backyard of a small bungalow in a residential neighborhood in Sherman Oaks, California, out in the valley, over a range of hills from Beverly Hills. This modest home, which now houses his production company, Cineson, was the place where he raised his family until a few years ago. You could drive by and miss it, sitting amid a long row of single-story, ranch-style homes on a tranquil street.
But the quiet persona, and the devotion to smaller, independent-style movies, doesn't mean that Garcia shuns big-studio movies with star-studded casts and subjects designed to appeal to mass-market audiences. He played casino executive Terry Benedict in 2001's gambling heist remake Ocean's 11, opposite George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, and this April he begins filming its sequel, Ocean's 12, with the same cast plus a still-secret extra cast member. And, he can currently be seen in the Paramount release Twisted with Ashley Judd and Samuel L. Jackson. In the film, Judd plays Jessica Shepard, a homicide detective whose past lovers wind up dead. Garcia portrays her partner, Mike Delmarco, who, along with the police commissioner (Jackson), begins to believe she may be the serial killer. "So I try not to sleep with [her]," Garcia says with a grin.
Garcia decided to take the part in the thriller after getting a call from the director, Philip Kaufman, whose last film was the critically acclaimed Quills in 2000. "For me, it was all about Phil Kaufman. He's done some extraordinary films—The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Right Stuff. It was an opportunity to watch someone work, and collaborate with someone who I'm a fan of."
For Garcia, it is always about the material, or the director, or the challenge. Those motivations led him to Ocean's 11 and Ocean's 12. "You're working with Steven Soderbergh, a great director. You're working with Warner Brothers and great actors and a great script, and everything is there. Don't get me wrong. There's great value in that. It makes the journey more interesting. But there's no mystery in the destiny of that film," Garcia says.
His star-making turn as Vincent Mancini in The Godfather: Part III garnered him his first Oscar nomination in 1991 for Best Supporting Actor. But even with the critical acclaim, Garcia is more concerned with the moviemaking process than what happens when it's finished. "I haven't seen that movie since 1992," Garcia says. "The real memories you have are not about the final product, but the process is the memory you take with you. I remember the whole film, the making of the movie. It's about the relationships and it's about your life. Life is what happens while you're making a movie."
However, Garcia's relationship with Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola is more than just a memory. The experience changed Garcia's life, and to this day, Coppola remains a friend, a mentor and a go-to guy for Garcia.
The relationship developed slowly. Garcia was completing Internal Affairs when Paramount president Frank Mancuso suggested he pursue the role of Sonny Corleone's illegitimate son in The Godfather: Part III. "But you know with Francis, being suggested by the studio wasn't exactly the best part to play," Garcia says. He first put his name in the hopper in May 1990, and it wasn't until August that he was asked to meet with Coppola.
Nearly a month went by after their meeting, and Garcia kept asking his agent to find out why other actors such as Val Kilmer and Alec Baldwin were being screen-tested, but he wasn't. Finally, he was invited to visit Coppola at the Niebaum-Coppola winery in Napa Valley, California. He met with the legendary director, who gave Garcia instructions and scenes to act out. That night, the power went out at the estate and Garcia scrambled to find candles just to be able to read his lines. Nevertheless, he felt the screen test went well, and Fred Roos, a casting director and longtime Coppola collaborator, invited him to stay in Napa for dinner with Coppola that night. "Fifteen minutes later, Roos said 'Never mind, go home to Los Angeles, and we'll be in touch,' " Garcia says, with a laugh. But at 8 the next morning, Garcia's agent called and said he had the part, instructing him to report for rehearsals the following Monday morning. "He [Coppola] waited until the end to test me, and then he gave me the part," Garcia says.
"Francis inspires you to dream," says Garcia. "There's a Robert Browning quote that 'man's reach should be greater than his grasp. What's a heaven for?' Francis inspires you to go out and try things. That's why he inspired a great director in his daughter [Sofia]. He has that effect on you.
"I see [Coppola] as the man on the mountain you go to for advice and knowledge," adds Garcia. "He's done it for me. I've shown him movies and he's taken time out to sit in a cutting room for 48 hours straight, to talk about it philosophically, and why is that scene there, and why are you going there."
Garcia says that he was just beginning to think about making The Lost City when he met Coppola. He has often said about making The Godfather: Part III: "I went into that movie an actor and I came out of it a filmmaker." He credits Coppola with instilling his desire to direct.
"That's why I began to pursue that aspect of my life more aggressively," says Garcia. To date, the actor has produced and directed documentaries, dramas and thrillers but The Lost City will be his directorial debut. "There were some other opportunities that I've had to direct feature films, but I have this sort of loyalty to The Lost City to do it first."
While he won't divulge many details about the film, Garcia does say that he was motivated to find a story in which he could highlight the culture, music and artistry of late-'50s Havana, prior to the revolution. In addition, he says it's a story about impossible love and the tragedy of exile. He's quick to mention that some of his Hollywood friends, such as Robert Duvall and Dustin Hoffman, have expressed a desire to be in the film, but with the financing almost in place, their participation will depend on their schedules. "If the movie gods are willing, we will be filming The Lost City this summer," says Garcia.
It will be another stage in a career that began shortly after he entered Miami-Dade Community College South Campus in 1974. Garcia had acted in community theater as a child, but "I wasn't all that adept at it," he says. He focused on athletics: baseball and then basketball. But he caught mononucleosis and had to sit out from sports for nearly a year. "My freshman year in college, I took an acting class and it refueled my interest in it," he says. He continued to study acting, first at Florida International University and then in Los Angeles.
His first break was a small but pivotal part in The Mean Season. "That was the role that took me away from waiting tables and doing things other than acting," Garcia says. He then scored a role as a villainous kingpin opposite Jeff Bridges's alcoholic ex-cop in Hal Ashby's 1986 film 8 Million Ways to Die, which he says got him noticed in the film industry. After seeing him in that film, veteran director Brian De Palma cast Garcia in The Untouchables, which was the final piece of the puzzle. "That film showed the industry that I could be a marketable commodity," he says, "and that opened up a lot of choices for me as an actor."
Independent cinema, however, has been the lifeblood of Garcia's more than 20-year career. He enjoys donning a producer's cap for many of the independent films he makes and he finds it fulfilling to collaborate with directors.
"I want the movie to exist and then see what happens," Garcia says. "Real success, as William Saroyan says, is that it exists. The real success is that you've been able to create the film."
As he talks about his personal projects, Garcia's speech picks up speed. His voice becomes charged and he stares intently across the table. "I'm not trying to be in the Forbes 500. I've made a comfortable living. I'm financially secure. I don't need to go to work for cash…sometimes the movies that you are the most proud of are the least commercial of the films you do."
There's another element, too, even more personal perhaps. His devotion to the independent film world, and his desire to do more directing and producing, has meant that he can control his commitments and limit the time away from his family. "I can fit it around my schedule…you're more on your own time."
It's not just lip service to hear Garcia talk about how his life revolves around his family. He's been married to Marivi Lorido Garcia since 1982. The couple has three daughters, Dominik, Daniella and Alessandra, and a little boy, Andrés, who turned two in January. Only twice in the last 20 years has he been away from them for longer than five days. Once was for Black Rain, when Maria was pregnant with their second daughter and he spent four weeks in Japan filming the thriller with Michael Douglas; the other time was last summer, when he shot a film about Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani in Romania. The family had actually planned to join him there after Alessandra's elementary school graduation, but his eldest daughter caught mononucleosis. By then, Garcia had shot one week of the film, returned to the United States for the graduation, and realized that Romania wasn't going to be a great place for the family.
"Generally, we all go or I pass," Garcia says. "Certain movies deserve packing everybody up and going, and other movies it's just not worth it. Life is what happens while you're making movies, and the life is your children."
His personal projects also reflect an abiding bond with the land of his birth. He was born Andrés Arturo García Meñendez in Havana, Cuba, on April 12, 1956, and fled with his family to Miami in 1961 with not much more than the clothes on their backs. "We had to borrow a dime when we got there to make a phone call at the airport to call a relative living in Miami," Garcia says. That link to Cuba has involved Garcia in one of his most passionate pursuits, Cuban music, and led to his collaboration with the world-famous Cuban bass player Cachao. Garcia has filmed two documentaries about and released several CDs with the musician, who is 85. One recording won a Grammy award in 1994 and a second was nominated for a Grammy in 1995. Garcia recently finished the second film about the making of a new Cachao CD, which was composed and recorded in 36 hours—three days of 12-hour sessions. Garcia even played conga drums on some of the tracks. The film is scheduled to be released in April.
Those Cuba-related projects are Garcia's way of keeping the memory of Cuba alive. "I'm a Cuban, or more specifically, I'm Cuban American, and I'm proud of it. I have the benefit of two great cultures and I love both of them," Garcia says. But that reality of his dual roots doesn't diminish his feelings toward Cuba. "The tragedy of exile is exile. We didn't come as immigrants. We came as political exiles. You are always at a loss for the one thing you most cherish, the country you were born in."
Cuba's political system and particularly Fidel Castro receive nothing but scorn from Garcia. Although not a radical activist in the Cuban-American community, Garcia nevertheless holds very sharply defined beliefs about the Cuban leader. "The great hypocrisy of the Cuban regime is that the Cuban revolution has never fulfilled its promise. The Cuban revolution was not a Marxist-Leninist revolution. It was motivated and financed by the middle and upper class, the intellectuals, the people who were embarrassed by the lack of pluralism in the [Fulgencio] Batista regime, his corrupt government and his abolishing to a great degree of the Cuban constitution," Garcia says.
He argues that Castro betrayed the 26 July Movement's basic principles, including the restoration of the constitution, democracy, elections and the understanding that its members would not seek political office. He says that within a year Castro had imposed his personal agenda on the revolution, and then quickly consolidated power by eliminating or imprisoning his rivals. "There's been a huge betrayal of humanity there. There have been a lot of atrocities against human beings and human rights in Cuba for 40 years," Garcia says.
Garcia also echoes one of the themes of America's Cuban exile population, that the embargo against Castro should not be lifted until Castro is held accountable for his human rights record. "There are two embargoes that need to be lifted. Yes, America's embargo on Cuba, but Castro needs to lift the embargo of human rights for the Cuban people," Garcia says. He acknowledges that hard-liners exist in the exile community who emphatically state that they will never make a deal with the devil. "But who stops it? Fidel…he's the first one who doesn't want the embargo lifted, because for now he still has his enemy and he can blame the United States for all his troubles."
Technically, Garcia has never set foot on Cuban soil since he left in 1961, but he did visit the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay in 1995 to take part in a concert with fellow Cuban-American Gloria Estefan for 16,000 refugees who had fled Cuba but failed to reach the U.S. mainland. "Oh, I was definitely in Cuba. The only word I can find is it was ethereal. You could hear the wind blow," Garcia says. His voice fades away as he struggles for a more detailed description of what it was like to be there.
"To me it's all a great tragedy. It is a very sad thing. All you can hope is that someday it will change. I think there are people there who want it to change, but in order to survive in that society, you have to have two faces," Garcia says. "Why were we dealt this black card of destiny? The island doesn't deserve it. The people don't deserve [it]. But unfortunately, we are in a bit of a standstill…there's nothing that will happen until he [Castro] dies."
Besides Garcia's love of Cuba and its music, he also enjoys smoking premium cigars on special occasions. "My grandfather smoked cigars until he died and my father smoked cigars and cigarettes when he was younger. It was just part of Cuban culture," Garcia says. "I try to be moderate about it because I really don't want a chain cigar habit."
His favorite smokes include Cuban Montecristos and the Dominican Fuente Fuente OpusX. "I've had the Montecristo No. 5 leadoff, followed by No. 4 batting second, the No. 2 bats third, and then in the cleanup spot, I have the OpusX," Garcia says.
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