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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 3)

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.

"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.

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