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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

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."

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