The Reluctant Star
Actor Andy Garcia chooses roles that rouse his passions and cement his reputation as one of Hollywood's most likable nonconformists.
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"I smoke because of the camaraderie of it. It's a cultural thing ultimately, and it taps into your subconscious," Garcia says, as he puffs on an A. Fuente Don Carlos. "There's a certain companionship because it's part of the culture I grew up in. It's about sharing more than anything else."
Another pastime is golf, which Garcia became obsessed with when he rediscovered the game in 1985. But he found that he didn't have enough time to play to earn a single-digit handicap. "I have a 10 handicap now, which isn't bad for a weekend golfer," Garcia says. "But I have to start playing here because I'm going to the AT&T Pebble Beach in a few weeks." He's been paired with Paul Stankowski for the last four years, ever since they won the pro-am part of the tournament the first year they played together. "We haven't made the cut since," he says.
The actor first picked up a club when he was young and living in Miami Beach. "It was during the time of Arnie's Army, and some of the kids bought clubs, so we all bought clubs," says Garcia. "We used to sneak out before the course opened in the morning to save the $1.50 greens fee," he adds with a laugh.
He's laughing because the clandestine rounds tell all anyone needs to know about the reality of his childhood in Miami. He remembers that all his friends had odd jobs, scrambling to make pennies. His older brother, Rene, worked for Murf the Surf, a legendary Miami Beach figure, who, according to Garcia, ran the pools at several of the old Art Deco hotels along 71st Street and Collins Avenue. "My brother used to go there before school, lay out the mattresses for the tourists, go to school, come back in the afternoon and pick up the mattresses," Garcia says. "He used me to pick up cigarette butts with those dustpans on a handle, and for that he used to let me swim in the pool."
Many of the former well-to-do, educated Cuban exiles came to America and ended up working low-paying jobs as busboys or parking lot attendants to help feed and clothe their families, according to Garcia. "It was the spirit of the exile," Garcia says. His father, Rene, who had been a farmer and a lawyer in Cuba, first worked at a catering business that fed laborers coming home in the evening "because no one had time to cook for themselves," Garcia says. "And we ate well, too, as a result." The elder Garcia soon began selling sneakers on consignment and later acquired the distributorship for a sock business that produced a very particular style of almost transparent sock popular in the Cuban community. After selling socks for a while with his father, Andy's brother started a fragrance business that turned into a multimillion-dollar enterprise, and eventually, both Andy's father and mother joined the company. Although the original fragrance business was sold, the younger Garcia has started another company in the same industry.
"My father instilled in us a work ethic," Garcia says. "Everybody in our household had to work." He recalls leaving high school basketball practice and riding a bus from Miami Beach to Southwest 8th Street where his dad had a small warehouse. Garcia swept the floors before returning home with his father to Miami Beach, usually after 8 p.m. Garcia's sister, Tessi, is a successful interior designer in south Florida, and Garcia attributes her success to that same family work ethic. "It's inherent in the Cuban culture, but it's also inherent in the exile or the immigrant experience. You have the opportunity to move forward, but there's also the absolute necessity that you have to. You have to provide for your family. When things got tough, we all always had that example of our parents before us."
Recalling his early years in Florida, the actor says, "That's why it was a big deal to save the $1.50 greens fee. We didn't have much. We had to avoid the sprinklers, so you'd wait until the spray had passed by your ball and then you'd run in, hit your ball and get out. To this day, I don't spend a lot of time over the ball."
The teenage fascination with golf faded quickly, but while on the set of The Mean Season in 1985, one of Garcia's costars, Richard Bradford, said he was going to play golf after shooting was done for the day. Garcia recalls saying "Hey, I used to play golf" and tagging along. He was hooked again immediately.
"I still play once a week, and before Pebble Beach, I'll try to play for four or five days in a row to get some tempo," Garcia says. "But it's a beautiful, extraordinary game, and a game you can play by yourself. A lot of times I go out alone, and it's like a walk with a smoke…to me, it's more about the experience of moving the ball forward."
Garcia's description of how he approaches golf could be applied to the way he approaches life. Going out alone. Taking pleasure in the process. Moving forward. Not worrying about the results so much. That philosophy reflects why so many of his career choices have been independent films in which he has a personal stake, and not so much the surefire big-budget studio productions.
Take his answer to the question about his favorite role. He pauses for a minute and says, "I'd have to say it's Modigliani," a film that has been finished but to date has no distributor nor release date. "It's an interesting experience because of the nature of the film, the independence of the film, financed totally outside the studio system by one person with no distributor, with no involvement by anyone," Garcia says.
He admits that before Modigliani, his answer would have been Vincent Mancini in The Godfather: Part III.
"When the director [of Modigliani], Mick Davis, first came to me and said, 'I'm doing this movie and this script about Modigliani,' I said, 'I know what kind of life he led. If the script needs work, we'll work on it,'" says Garcia. "Because of the spirit of Modigliani, who was a free spirit, there was a certain liberty or freedom that I always try to bring to my work. Some parts empower that freedom.
"You are defined by who are, by your choices in life, in all regards, not just in doing movies. What you do. How you conduct yourself. What moral decisions you make. The small decisions in life define you. Who I am as an actor is no mystery. You can interpret or misinterpret it, but it's all there. I have no regrets of any movie I've ever done because the creative process is why I do it, to have relationships with the people who are in the movie.
"You just have to go with it. You have to take that kind of risk. I'm not afraid of risk or failure at all. There is no failure for me," Garcia says. "Sure, the end result will hopefully live up to your dream of what it could be. But if you don't attempt something, then you get back to that quote about not reaching. You just can't have all the knots and loose ends ironed out. Life is not that way. You have to put it out there.
"You have to step on the precipice."