The discreet charm of Andy Garcia

The Godfather star on roots, Cuba, marriage, and sex scenes

by Richard Mowe

Andy Garcia - recipient of the Leopard Club Award at the Locarno Film Festival: "I have taken my shirt off once or twice. But not to take anything else off is a matter of policy.”
Andy Garcia - recipient of the Leopard Club Award at the Locarno Film Festival: "I have taken my shirt off once or twice. But not to take anything else off is a matter of policy.” Photo: Locarno Film Festival

Andy Garcia, even while perspiring and mopping his brow, has a certain blasé charm - and a fabled electric smile. It’s all in the genes of his coveted Cuban roots. Once dubbed “the next Al Pacino,” now he’s content to be Andy Garcia, a family man who's happy to work in both studio films and independent titles. Garcia, 58, has a reputation as a smart dresser, mainly Armani, and keeps suits from his movie roles. He appears for his encounter at the Locarno Film Festival in a dark blue suit, shiny black shoes and jazzy socks - despite the sweltering temperatures - and for most of the time lurks behind dark glasses. Last night (7 August) he received the Leopard Club Award for his screen achievements.

The 58-year-old manages his professional life with the same care and attention he devotes to his family. Unusually for a Hollywood icon, albeit a reluctant one, he has been married for more than three decades to the same woman, Marivi Lorido Garcia, and has three daughters, Dominique, 25, Daniella, 21, and 17-year-old Alessandra. They married before he made his mark in Tinsel Town and his wife has been by his side through thick and thin.

His connection to his Cuban roots remains as strong as ever. He was born on the island but in 1961, after the Bay of Pigs, his parents fled with their three children (Garcia has an elder brother Rene Jr and sister Tessi) to the States and settled in Miami. His father Rene, who had been a lawyer in Havana, earned a livelihood doing menial jobs and his mother Amelie, an English teacher, managed to find work in schools at a lower level. She became the main breadwinner and gradually the family became assimilated.

Thirsty work for Andy Garcia in Locarno: "he political situation is Cuba has not turned. There is one government, a dictatorship. The Castros are still in power.”
Thirsty work for Andy Garcia in Locarno: "he political situation is Cuba has not turned. There is one government, a dictatorship. The Castros are still in power.” Photo: Richard Mowe

Q:Against the odds for Hollywood your marriage has endured over the years. How did you first meet up with Marivi?

AG: I saw her from a distance first and was struck by her beauty - so it was absolutely love at first sight. Her sister had arranged for us to meet on a blind date. There was an immediate chemistry. She was a bit taken aback - because I was a bit forward and she insisted on a very long engagement. But we dated from that time on. I came to Los Angeles to look for work in 1978, I experienced stereotyping because of my last name, and people not seeing past that.

Q:You have always been reluctant to engage in explicit sex scenes on screen - why?

AG: I have always believed that being emotionally explicit absolves me from the need to go further in a physical sense. I have taken my shirt off once or twice. But not to take anything else off is a matter of policy. The true romance and the true sexuality is in the foreplay. The act itself is private as far as I’m concerned. I raised three daughters and last thing I want my daughter to see is me butt-fucking someone on screen. There were some great parts like that but I passed on them.

Q:Did you find it difficult to stop yourself being typecast in Latino roles?

AG: With me it was more my name and not my look. When I went to some casting sessions they would say you are not Mexican. Obviously when they were going through the lists and saw the name Garcia they thought I would ethnic and they said bring him in. It was hard for people to get past that yet I played far more characters who were non-Hispanic and than were Hispanic. Getting an agent was difficult and I was on my own for a while. It took seven years before I got representation that got me inside a door on the way to getting a job. I was doing stage work at night, hanging around trying to get my career going during the day.

Q:You have turned to producing - what motivated you to get involved?

AG: You produce out of necessity - when there is material you are attracted to which was the case for Modigliani and several other films I have made. You can either become involved at an early stage - or go off and ask them to call you when it’s ready. The trouble is, they may forget to call at that point. The two directors who had most influence on me were Hal Ashby [Eight Million Ways To Die] and Francis Ford Coppola [The Godfather III for which Garcia was Oscar nominated]. I was always much taken with American and European independent films. Learning how to direct and edit a film seemed a natural thing and I took it upon myself to learn from the word go. Watching Ridley Scott at work meant I learned a lot from the shoot of Black Rain. It was the same with Mike Figgis [Internal Affairs] who was very open in the cutting process. And Francis [Ford Coppola] is like a professor who is stimulated by having young people around him.

Q:Who gave you your sense of family values?

AG: I guess that was my father who was a very moral man. He never complained once about America or his job there. We felt we were lucky to be there. He wasn't too keen that I should be an actor and when I started turning up in bit parts in Miami Vice he asked me to reconsider. But I couldn’t - it was in my blood right from the time I was in my formative years and growing up in the cinema, watching films with James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Sean Connery and those wonderful comedies with Peter Sellers. I didn’t start to take it seriously until late in high school. Illness prevented me from continuing with sports and I switched to acting class and that was it. I had found my muse.

Andy Garcia: "I still have a kind of romanic idealism about my work and continue to dream about parts I want to do.”
Andy Garcia: "I still have a kind of romanic idealism about my work and continue to dream about parts I want to do.” Photo: Richard Mowe

Q:How did your father feel when you were Oscar nominated as best supporting actor for The Godfather III?

AG: He was so proud, because up to that point he hadn’t told people much about what I was doing. My mother said that after that nomination he couldn’t stop talking about me to the neighbours.

Q:Like your friend Gloria Estefan you are still much involved in Cuban culture..?

AG: I’m not involved in the political scene as such. My parents had to flee the place they loved because of Fidel Castro - not just them but thousands of Cubans. But the fact that we were able to get out and the opportunities we have enjoyed was a blessing. There was never any regret about leaving, but more a regret about the situation the country was in. In terms of today’s asylum seekers I believe that anyone who needs help and solace from persecution should be given it. The tragedy of exiles is exile. You find comfort in the music and that is particularly true of Cuban exiles. Music is so important for us, and that’s how you carry your culture with you and the nostalgia for your country. It’s something to ease the pain. The political situation is Cuba has not turned. There is one government, a dictatorship. The Castros are still in power. There’s never been a popular election in Cuba. Nothing will change in Cuba until the Castro regime leaves and the people are free.

Q:How do you cope with the fickle nature of fame?

AG: Look, my career is something I want to be able to do until I die. Nobody can sustain a career at the top of the tree forever, and there is a price to be paid in terms of making the kind of movies that keep you at that level even for a short time. I am not interested in those kind of movies. I did not compromise - on the contrary. To compromise would have been to have made those movies where you see in me in a loin cloth charging around with a big machine gun. I still have a kind of romantic idealism about my work and continue to dream about parts I want to do. What I love most about the process is the collaboration.

Q:You have managed to achieve a nice balance in your career - going from the low-budget films to studio ones like the Oceans franchise. How does it work?

AG: Well it is full of contrasts - I just do it regardless, because it is the way I want to live my life. I go to the material I am attracted to and adapt myself accordingly to the parameters that those movies are being filmed under. If it is a 100 million dollar studio movie I adapt myself to that, and if it is an independent movie with no distribution in place then you have to adapt yourself to that situation also.

Q:Do people in the business know that you are fairly open-minded about your choice of material?

AG: I guess so but it is really about the quality of the material and what you are prepared to sacrifice to make a movie. A movie can start off going one way, and then can change and go another way entirely so you have to be prepared to go in either direction. Recent roles I have been in have been as varied as What About Love?, Rob The Mob, Rio 2 and Kill The Messenger.

Q:What about your own directorial plans?

AG: There is my second fiction feature directorial gig, Hemingway & Fuentes which is now fully-financed, though I had to lower the budget to do that. Originally it was announced in 2009 with Anthony Hopkins, then Jon Voight to play Hemingway. Voigt is still on board. And I will play Fuentes, the captain of Hemingway’s boat. I have written the screenplay with Hilary Hemingway, the writer’s niece. So it’s written but I am still working on the material. I have also written another screenplay, which I would describe as a contemporary film noir detective story. In 2005, i explored my Cuban heritage with The Lost City, a film about people caught in the Cuban revolution as Fidel Castro came to power, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray.

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