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The Reluctant Star

Actor Andy Garcia chooses roles that rouse his passions and cement his reputation as one of Hollywood's most likable nonconformists.
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Andy Garcia, Mar/April 2004

(continued from page 1)

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."

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