He directs, produces, writes and composes, but Andy Garcia is best known for his iconic roles in films like The Untouchables (1987), The Godfather: Part III (1990) and the Ocean’s Eleven franchise. Here he talks about his latest film City Island, his Cuban roots and the art of acting.
What attracted you to produce City Island, as well as starring in it?
My agent read it, said, ‘You’re going to really love this script.’ I’ve produced half-a-dozen films on my own independently, so they knew that that’s something I’m prepared to do if I like it; I’ll jump on board and try to help out, because it’s hard to make a film independently. I read the material, and I was very stimulated, and I said, ‘We have a shot at maybe getting a studio involved.’ But I was prepared to make the commitment, if that didn’t happen, to go the independent route and try to get the movie made anyway, because I really responded to the material.
City Island focuses on a family whose particular dysfunction is lying, but your character Vince is also an aspiring actor. Is there any connection between acting and lying?
For me acting is about living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. It’s not about lying at all, it’s the complete opposite: truth and honesty. As an actor you’re there to reveal yourself, and reveal the most private parts of who you are.
Over your career you’ve starred in everything from comedies to crime thrillers. Which sort of role do you prefer?
Someone asked me the other day if I preferred playing Lorca [The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca, 1996], or Modigliani [Modigliani, 2004], or a gangster. I said Lorca or Modigliani, of course—but, you know, I would play another gangster in a heartbeat if it was the right film. I have nothing against that, and I’ve played them, but it’s all about who you’re working with, who’s directing, who are the creative people involved, has the script stimulated you to play the part? I love comedy, and I’d like to do more of it. People don’t usually think of me in those terms—although I have done them—but I’m not the first guy that comes to mind when they say, ‘Who can be in this comedy?’ So this film was an opportunity to be able to do a genre that I’m very attracted to. I started as a young actor on stage doing comedy in improvisational theatre and stuff like that, so actually a lot of my early training came from that.
The things that I watch and respond to a lot, whether it be on film or television, are always comedies, so if you knew me like my colleagues who know me well and my friends, you would say, ‘Oh yeah, you should be doing more comedies.’ So it’s something I’m very comfortable with, but you get known, thank God, for anything as an actor, because you can build a career on something that people think they want to market you as. So I got known dramatically in those kind of parts, so therefore it becomes part of your persona. It is part of my persona, but it’s not the only part of my persona or my understanding or my interest.
Although you were born in Cuba, you tend to get cast as Italian Americans—and we shall soon see you playing Georgia’s President in 5 Days of August. Is there a part of you that longs for more Cuban roles?
I don’t consider myself a Cuban actor or a Hispanic actor, I’m just an actor. I study to act, to adapt myself. There are certain limits that any actor has—sometimes your physical type will limit what you can do. If you want me to play a Viking, that might be a little bit of a physical stretch. And although we have seen Robert Downey Jr. play an African-American man [in Tropic Thunder, 2008], in a realistic drama you probably wouldn’t go there.
I’m interested in my Cuban heritage and culture as a storyteller. I made a movie about Cuba called The Lost City. It took me 16 years of my life to get it made, and it’s a movie I directed and starred in, I wrote the original music for the film. It was out in 2005, Dustin Hoffman’s in it with me, and Bill Murray. It’s probably the movie I’m most proud of in my life. I’m interested in the Sandoval movie I produced too [For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story, 2000]. So there are stories that are connected to my culture that I’m very attracted to, and I want to tell them.
I’m in the process of completing the financing on a movie called Hemingway & Fuentes, about the last 10 years of Hemingway’s life in Cuba and his relationship with his wife Mary Welsh and the captain of his boat Gregorio Fuentes, and Sir Anthony Hopkins is involved, with me and Annette Bening, and I’m going to direct that. So obviously I’m interested in stories that come out of my cultural history and that island’s history, just like Martin Scorsese is interested in Italian-American stories every so often. That’s natural. But as an actor, would I like to see more characters that are specifically Cuban? If they were written, yes, absolutely. I don’t shy away from Hispanic parts or any part. I’m just looking for great parts. If I’m stimulated, I’m in.