Andy Garcia: The Conscience of a Conservative
For a while in the nineties, Andy Garcia was one of those guys everyone expected to become a movie star. While he was a respected actor, stardom never quite happened. By the time Martha Frankel interviewed Garcia for the September 1995 issue of Movieline, the “next big thing” talk was starting to die down. But Garcia doesn’t seem overly motivated by the fame thing. Instead, he comes across as a pretty level-headed perhaps a bit old fashioned kind of guy.
I’m all alone in an enormous hotel suite at the Sheraton in Universal Studios. And I mean enormous: bedroom, living room, three bath-rooms, kitchenette and a full dining room. Room service has already delivered enough bagels and cream cheese to feed a Miami Beach family for a month. Andy Garcia has refused to meet me in my own hotel in Hollywood so I’m forced to go to Universal City where Savoy Pictures, for whom Garcia made the Andy Davis-written-and-directed Steal Big/Steal Little, has rented this suite for interviews. When the doorbell rings, I answer it to find Garcia smiling like a canary.
“Remember me?” he asks.
“Of course I do,” I say. “I’ve interviewed you before.”
“Yes,” says Garcia. “And we also met another time, at a premiere.” I remember it well: Garcia seemed even more ill at ease than I felt.
If there is such a thing as a reluctant movie star (do you really think stardom happens by accident?), Andy Garcia is it. Every director who works with him seems to feel he will be the one to bring Garcia to superstardom, but for the most part Garcia has chosen roles that don’t make for superstardom. He lives in L.A., yes; but he keeps a low profile and lives in the unfashionable San Fernando Valley. He’s sexy, yes; but he plays against it. He’s never denied his Cuban roots: but he refuses to be the spokesman for Latinos everywhere.
Garcia eyes the breakfast tray and goes straight to the phone. “Can I have scrambled egg whites with herbs?” he asks sweetly. “No butter, please, and dry toast with jam.”
“Cholesterol?” I ask.
“Just trying to take care of myself,” he says.
“I watched all your movies this week,” I tell him. “In reverse. Starting with When a Man Loves a Woman and going all the way back to 8 Million Ways to Die.”
He looks at me with a slight grimace.
“It was cool,” I assure him. “Except that you keep getting younger. And crazier!”
“In the beginning of my career.” he says, referring to the mid-’80s, “I was offered every psycho role out there. After 8 Million Ways to Die, it was like they couldn’t imagine anyone else playing a druglord.”
“It’s because you were so perfect as Angel Maldonado,” I say, referring to the cocaine-sniffing. Gaudí-loving menace he played in Hal Ashby’s folly.
In fact, it was Ashby who first told me what a huge star Garcia would become. “This movie is going to gel him onto everyone’s A-list,” Ashby said before the release of 8 Million Ways to Die. Francis Coppola fell the same way during the shooting of The Godfather, Part III. “Andy’s gonna be huge,” he told me at the time. Geena Davis felt that Hero would be the movie that propelled Garcia into the stratosphere.” After people see Andy in Hero,” she told me, “they’ll begin to see that he can do just about anything.” Andy Davis, his director on Steal Big/Steal Little, agrees. “After this film,” he told me, “Andy is going to be a huge star.”
But if all this talk about hugeness, or the general inaccuracy of the prophecies so far, has any effect on Garcia, he doesn’t show it. “I’ve done some great films and worked with some great directors,” he says. “The rest is just filler and gossip.”
“Remember the last time we met?” he asks. “And we discovered that we both lived in the same neighborhood in Miami Beach?”
“Same block! You said I reminded you of all the wild Jewish girls you used to know. And I said you reminded me of all the conservative Cuban guys I used to know.”
“I have to thank you, though.” I tell him. “You saved me from Hurricane Andrew.” “How’d I do that?”
“You were dicking me around about an interview–I was supposed to go to Miami, and then I wasn’t, and then it was on again and I made reservations, but you canceled. The hurricane hit the night I was supposed to arrive.”
“But I wasn’t personally dicking you around…”
“No, nothing like that. I know you don’t like to do these things,” I say, waving to include the tape recorder and notes.
“Well, it’s just that you want to pick the right time. You want it to support the movie. But I remember once, someone from a magazine came on the set, and then we got a call from so-and-so and they said, “If you do a fashion layout for us this month, we’ll promise you a cover in December.’ And I said, ‘Tell them, What makes them think I want a cover in December?’ I’d rather not be on the cover if I can help it. The last thing I want is to see my face on a newsstand. And I’ve done them, and I’m sure I’ll do them again, but they’ll be few and far between. One image per year on a cover is enough for me to handle, really. I mean, isn’t it kind of disconcerting to see your face on a news stand?”
“Well, it’s never happened to me,” I remind him.
“Trust me,” he says. “You get off a plane and you’re rushing through the airport and–bam!– you’re staring back at yourself. It’s so bizarre.”
“Looking back at all your movies, like The Untouchables, 8 Million Ways to Die, Black Rain, The Godfather, Part III, Internal Affairs, it’s like they were all boy movies…”
“No,” he says testily, “women liked them, too.”
“That’s not what I mean. All of them were stories about you and the guys. You were either a cop or a scumbag. And even when you had a wife or a girlfriend in those stories, she was secondary to the plot.”
“That’s not true of When a Man Loves a Woman.” he says, about the movie he starred in last year with Meg Ryan, that concerned a woman with an out-of-control drinking habit that her husband (Garcia) is only dimly aware of.
“I thought you got a bad rap in that film,” I tell him. “I thought your character was a wonderful husband, a terrific father, and somehow, her drinking all came down on him.”
“It’s a heavy concept, that enabler thing. It’s about co-dependency. The point they were trying to make was that he needed someone to take care of in order to find worth in his life.”
“I knew that’s what they were saying, but I didn’t buy it. I thought he would have been just as happy had she gotten up in the morning, made breakfast for the kids, not thrown up and gone off to work without a hangover. I doubt he would have been packing a bottle of wine for her lunch.”
“I agree.” he says. “But that’s the dilemma that I had to face in the film. I mean, there are no answers, it’s just the process, it’s not so clear-cut. The interesting thing is that men did not want to see this movie. And the women did. And the men would say, ‘Come on, it’s Friday night. I don’t want to see this.’ But then they would, and they would really enjoy it. They related to it because it was so wrenching. I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I’ve stopped drinking since I’ve seen that movie.’ And that’s a big thing. I was at Paty’s [a restaurant in the Valley] just when the movie came out, and a whole section of about 15 people started clapping.”
“An AA meeting?” I venture.
Garcia smiles as if I’ve just answered the Daily Double on “Jeopardy.” “Yes,” he says, “it was. Those people who told me they’ve been sober, well. I think there’s a responsibility when you do a movie. It’s not so casual. When I did Dead Again, I had those scenes where my character was smoking a cigarette through his tracheostomy.”
“Oh, I remember, it was one of the sickest things ever seen on-screen.”
”Yeah, I had done a little research on my own and found out that’s how it would have been done. Even [director Kenneth] Branagh and the writer were surprised. After that, I’d walk down the street and people would say, ‘Hey. Andy, I finally stopped smoking!’ And it felt good, it fell like I had touched someone, changed something.” You see? Garcia really is our conscience. Maybe he should do a movie about domestic violence next (“Hey, Andy, I stopped beating the shit out of my wife…”).
“I thought the best chemistry you ever had on-screen was with Tina Majorino, the girl who played your daughter in When a Man Loves a Woman.”
Garcia looks as if he doesn’t know whether to laugh or slap my hand. ‘”Is that a compliment?”
“Yes, I think so. You were just so wonderful with her, so sweet and sensitive. And as I said, it’s not like we’ve gotten to see you being with women so often in films. When I interviewed you last time, you told me, and I quote, ‘I think a lot of what’s on the screen today is visual pornography. You will never see me do one of those pictures where nothing is left to the imagination. Never, It’s not my cup of tea. I’d rather see a girl in a one-piece bathing suit than a bikini. That’s the kind of guy I am.'”
We stare at each other for a full minute until I break the tension. “So, has anything changed?”
He shakes his head from side to side.
“No Basic Instinct II in your future?”
“In Jennifer 8, there was a moment when I thought there might be something hot between you and Uma Thurman, but…”
“Jennifer 8 is a movie that was reduced by 20 minutes and they took the heart out of the picture. They took three or four scenes of the interrogation out between me and John Malkovich. The script was originally called A Policeman’s Story, and in the end, there was no policeman’s story! It was a movie about him dealing with demons, and finding light and a muse in this blind girl. And there was an alcoholic struggle in the script which is not in the movie. It was a better film at 2 hours and 20 minutes long instead of 2 hours. There were electrifying moments between my character and Malkovich, and that interrogation was precluded by an all-night alcoholic binge by my character. When they come to arrest me, I was naked, with my pants down, in complete emotional shambles. But they cut that out and diminished the whole film.”
“Wait a minute.” I interrupt. “The one chance we’ve ever had to see Andy Garcia naked, and they cut it?”
“With my pants down, yeah,”
“With your pants down and your shirt off?” I ask hopefully.
“Ah, no. It was about 20 degrees. My character was in a very pitiful situation, and had begun to drink again because of the death of his partner. So when you cut to me sitting in the interrogation room all cleaned up, it’s a front. So consequently it’s a totally different movie. It’s a thriller, and it works as a thriller, but that’s all it is. How do you deeply care about people if you don’t give the audience a chance to care about them or to understand them? That was my argument. So that was painful on many fronts, that whole process, for everybody concerned, really.”
Pants down, huh? When Garcia had a love scene with Bridget Fonda in The Godfather, Part III, he kept on his V-necked T-shirt!
“If they make The Godfather, Part IV, you’d be the star, right?” I ask.
“Yes, at least in the abstract. It depends how Coppola structures it. He might go back in time. Who knows. There have been a lot of rumors. I know there was an idea for doing a double story, of De Niro playing the Godfather in the ’30s or ’40s, what they call the happy years. And then Vincent in the ’90s, with both of them intertwined.”
“Would you do it again?”
“Oh yes, absolutely. I’d work with Francis at the drop of a hat. The Godfather is like a soap opera, just one long ongoing saga. It’s a movie people want to see. It’s the one question I get asked every day of my life–people scream out to me, ‘Hey, Andy, when’s Godfather IV coming out?’ They just can’t wait to see it.”
“You just did Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, and that’s about the mob, too…”
“Different, though. It’s a black comedy about this protagonist, his name is Jimmy the Saint, who’s the character I play. He’s been out of the mob business for a number of years. He was in jail for a while and then he came out and started a business, which is called After Life Videos. And what he does is he puts people on tape just before they die, and they talk about all the different subjects that they would like their family and friends to ask them about later on for guidance. This is his concept, but it’s not doing too well. Christopher Walken plays a quadriplegic mob boss from Denver. All he can move is his head.”
“Sounds like a boy movie to me,” I say.
Garcia rolls his eyes. “This is a very funny movie, a very smart script. You’re gonna eat your words.”
I’d rather eat my bagel, so I switch so another topic. “You fled Cuba when you were five. Did you speak English when you came to Miami?”
“No. My mother was an English teacher, my father a lawyer and farmer. I remember when we were here for a few months, my brother and I were at the beach and these little kids, same as my brother and me, were playing with each other. And I got really upset and said to my brother, ‘How come they know how to speak English?’ But my father always told this story that after we were in Miami for a year or so, he passed the park on his way home and he saw me fighting with some kids. He stopped and watched, and then he went home and told my mother, ‘Don’t worry about your son. He’s going to do just fine.’ Because I was fighting in English.”
“Did you feel happy to come to America’?”
“I had the greatest childhood I could ever want. The only one I would change it for was to have grown up in Cuba. That would have been heaven on earth. But not Castro’s Cuba. And hopefully it wouldn’t have been Batista’s Cuba, but a democratic Cuba. That would have been paradise, for me anyway.”
“Your wife, Marivi, emigrated about the same time you did. You’ve been married for 15 years or so…”
He nods and smiles.
“…So, when you’re alone, what language do you speak?”
He looks thoughtful. “We speak Spanish and English. I talk to the kids in Spanish but they prefer English. I guess when my wife and I are alone, I probably talk to her in Spanish. It’s funny, I never thought about it.”
“Didn’t you have a part in Dangerous Minds?”
“I don’t know what’s going on with that movie. I’m no longer involved with it.”
“They cut you out of it, right?”
“I really don’t know.”
“Well, you filmed some scenes, and those scenes are no longer in the film. Isn’t that what they mean when they say you were cut out of a film?”
Garcia smiles, but it’s a little tighter than normal. “I did this as a favor for Michelle [Pfeiffer]. She asked me to come in, and then we were gonna try to create this thing for her character, a love interest. There was nothing in the script. It was basically an improvisation. We did a bunch of scenes, danced and a lot of other stuff. Then they didn’t use it. Michelle said that she kept telling them to get me back in to do some more scenes, to make the movie about their relationship. I have no comment, because to me it was a favor and I was very happy with what we did together, and I was also very happy to know that everybody else was happy with it. But they decided to go and tell the story about the kids and that’s fine. I do movies for the process. I don’t do movies for the box office or to see myself on the screen or anything like that. If the process is great and you’re collaborating with the right people, you’re ahead of the game.”
“In your new film, Steal Big/Steal Little, you play twin brothers. Someone told me you are a twin..”
Garcia looks distrustful. “Who told you that?” he demands.
“I don’t remember…”
“Because I almost had a twin in real life,” he says. “I was born with a cyst on my shoulder. My mother told me this story, and she has this tendency to exaggerate, but she said it had little arms and legs and hair and everything. Now, this could be completely medically untrue, but she told me it was a twin that never developed. I always envisioned that if he had lived, we would have been attached, like that movie, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, where he just got an extra head. My mother said it was quite large, the size of a Softball. They just snipped it off.”
We let that sink in while we sip our juice.
“Steal Big/Steal Little was the most effervescent film I ever worked on.” Garcia offers. “This is Andy Davis’s first film since The Fugitive. As Alan Arkin said, ‘Nobody should be allowed to have this much fun.’ It was one long improvisation on a theme, and the theme is about greed and the importance of community and family and sharing, and how greed tampers with that. It’s structured around identical twin brothers. They grow up on the same farm, but one becomes a developer, a greedy guy, and the other wants to work the land, grow avocados.”
“Which one did you relate to?”
“Oh, no contest, the avocado guy. It’s a very involved story, with these twin brothers impersonating each other, a big happy mess of a story. And my daughter in the movie is played by my oldest daughter, Dominik…”
“Has she ever done any acting?”
“No. She’s 12. She’s acted in school plays and has taken classes and stuff. Then Andy Davis saw her and said he wanted her in the film, and I asked her, and of course she said yes. She did a beautiful job.”
“Do I have to remind you that this is the hardest, most upsetting, cutthroat business in the world? Why in hell would you let your daughter do that?”
Garcia’s eyes flash. “She’s not in the business, she just did this one movie.”
“I know, but you know what’ll happen now…”
“No, Martha, I don’t know what will happen now. I’m certainly not gonna get in the way of her own desires. Why would I? Then she’ll do things for the wrong reasons. She’s no dummy, and anyway, it’s her life, not mine. My other daughters had little bits in the movie, too. And it was a joy to work with them.”
I am properly chastised. “Okay, one last thing. You always look so good in clothes. I was wondering, who dresses you?”
“Who dresses me?” he asks, his voice rising. “I think I’m old enough to dress myself.”
“No, I mean who picks out your clothes. Do you just have a good sense of style?”
“I don’t shop for clothes, I just keep my wardrobe from the films I do. This coat I’m wearing is from Jennifer 8, I designed it.”
“‘It’s like an old pea coat, right?”‘
“Yeah, but we did it from scratch. It’s an actor’s thing, you know. Basically, it was a coat that I wanted to be able to button all the way to my neck. Because I knew it was going to be cold and I wanted a military look to it. So we designed it from scratch.”
He gets up to show me the coat buttons. And it looks great. But I can’t help thinking– Andy Garcia would look great in anything. Or in nothing! But we aren’t about to see that anytime soon.
Martha Frankel interviewed Jennifer Beals for the August Movieline.