An Interview with Andy Garcia
“Never take a step backwards, not even to gain momentum,” said actor Andy Garcia regarding his receipt of a 1997 Hispanic Heritage Award. The non-profit Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., presented the award to Garcia in recognition of “His passion for and engagement to his work, family and charitable causes that are rooted in his profound connection to Cuba.”
Garcia’s 16-year struggle to make his heart movie, The Lost City, came to fruition recently when the film opened on the big screen. “This is a project I have been developing over the past 10 years with Lions Gate,” Garcia said in our interview. “It’s an epic love story set against the cabaret scene of Havana in the late 1950s at the brink of the Cuban Revolution. I've dreamed about making this film, and I'm directing it because I have a story to tell. I've lived with that story, I've lived with that journey, and I understand it. I know the cultural ramifications of it and the cultural background for it. It's just a story that I have a passion to tell.”
Many filmmakers who are committed to making that “one” film, must often sacrifice something to get it made. Luckily Garcia didn’t have to give up much. “We shot the film for nine and a half million dollars in 35 days,” he said. “We assembled three and a half hours of film, and to make a period picture in that amount of time makes it more difficult. There were things I had to redesign but I didn’t sacrifice the story arc.”
Although Garcia was a major part of The Lost City, he knew early on only one man could write the screenplay -- novelist G. Cabrera Infante. “When I read his novels, particularly Tres Tristes Tigres, he had such a command of that world and that genre that I responded to it. He was the guy to write the script. With his charm he created the part of a Shakespearean fool’s character, played by Bill Murray, which is basically Infante himself commenting on the obscurities that he witnessed in that time period when he was there.”
I had to admit the Bill Murray character just didn’t work for me. “It works for some, but not for others,” replied Garcia. “For me it was important to bring that kind of levity to the situation. Also you have to know that for Infante, it’s particular to his sense of humor and style of writing. It’s a device. Bill understood it, and a lot of the dialogue is his own words.”
During his many talks about The Lost City, Garcia once said he was influenced by Casablanca. I wanted to know if that’s why Fico doesn’t get his woman. “The influence of Casablanca is of a protagonist who is a nightclub owner in Havana, a guy caught up in all these storms. Which way does he go? What happens to his life? And stylistically Casablanca could have just as well been in Havana. The reason Fico can’t get the girl, however, is because she’s a metaphor for the country. You can love her, but you can’t be with her. That’s the tragic of exile.”
The nightclub, its performers and the music in The Lost City are sensational and really steep the viewer in the culture of Cuba at that time. Realizing that’s where Garcia was born, I had to ask him “What kind of emotional journey was it for you to film those scenes?”
“It was very emotional,” he admitted. “A lot of the things that happened in the movie happened to my family and me personally, were stories that I grew up with or appeared in my research because of our cultural history. I went through the airport with my family to leave when I was five. Just like the character in the movie, I and others can relate to it because we had to go through check point Charlie. It’s kind of like the last bit of humiliation you go though. They took everything we had of value. I remember my sister had five little gold rings around her wrists, and they couldn’t get them off because she had grown into them. I remember them holding her hand and they brought out a shear and I thought they were going to cut her hand off. They cut off the rings. Like the scene in the movie they made little boys take off their clothes and then ridiculed them.”
Garcia showed the movie to Mel Martinez, the Senator from Florida, who is from Cuba. “He was part of the Peter Pan kids, children whose parents couldn’t get out of the country, so the kids were sent through the archdiocese of the church to Miami,” said Garcia. “He was very caught up with the film and started crying and had to walk away because he and his brother went through that. The film affected a lot of the actors in the film personally. There’s a lot of story to tell, and I knew it would be a longer movie because of that, and we wanted to respect the arc of those stories.”
In 1993, Garcia stepped behind the camera to produce and make his directorial debut with Cachao…Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos. Cachao (Like His Rhythm There Is No Other), a feature-length documentary concert film on legendary Cuban bass player and composer Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who is said to have created the Mambo. Garcia composed and produced Cachao on a Grammy-award-winning album, "Cachao Master Sessions Volume I" and Grammy-nominated "Volume II." Garcia is passionate about the Latino music he grew up with, and even added some of his own touches to the score of Just the Ticket. So it was no surprise that he wrote the original score for The Lost City.
“I’ve been doing music all my life, and the prime motivation for making this movie for me and Infante, is the music being performed in cabarets, night clubs and cafés of Cuba,” Garcia explained. “It brought an extraordinary vibrancy to our city in terms of its music and culture. Havana was called the Paris of the Caribbean, and people came from all over the world for an abundance of nightlife. You could go down Prado Avenue and there were hotels and cafes along that strip and outdoor cafés with a band in every café. It was an extraordinary place at the time and that was the light at the end of the tunnel for us. I said, “Let’s make a movie with the music as the protagonist, in a way. I’ve been collecting music all my life so I had the pre-recorded songs of the era that we re-mastered, and songs I’ve worked with over the last few years that I needed for the movie. While editing the picture I had a piano in the editing room so it was a work in progress all these years.”
As with most movies, there is a varied response from the audience. “I always thought the movie would be controversial because some people do support the Cuban regime, and I expected that,” said Garcia. “I know there are people who will attack the film, but those people do not determine the life of a film, and we’ve been very successful in an art house roll out. There’s been a natural response to the film and the distributor is happy about that. For me personally, it’s a success already because I know it will have a long life and it was important that the story be told.”
Garcia has a reputation as one of the most private and guarded actors in Hollywood, so how does he manage to blend family and work?
“Well, it’s not so private any more,” he answered with a chuckle. “I’ve talked more about this movie more than all my movies in the last 20 years. My family understands my work schedule and my daughters also act. My oldest daughter, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, plays my sister-in law, Mercedes Fellove in the film. My son, Andrés Garcia-Lorido, plays her son and my middle daughter, Daniella García-Lorido, plays a waitress in the New York scenes. When they were younger, if I thought a movie was worthy everybody would go with me. But as they got older, we couldn’t take them out of school. And sometimes you just say, ‘I’m not going to do the film,’ because I don’t think a family can take that kind of time apart. Although the girls are in college and acting, now we’re starting all over again with my young son, and Dominik just finished work on Chinaman’s Chance. It’s a constant balance, when is it important to go and when is it not important to go? It’s a decision the whole family has to make.”
Check out Diana Saenger’s review of The Lost City by clicking here.
(Read Diana’s reviews of classic films at http://classicfilm.about.com.)