Looking back on his 35-year career at the Red Sea Film Festival, Andy Garcia noted how far things had changed since he started out as a Cuban American actor. “When I started there were no opportunities. Only gang members.” He would tell casting directors: “I didn’t study Latin acting 101, I studied Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams.” Has the situation improved? Garcia offered qualified optimism: “It’s gotten better, especially in the casting. Not so much in the stories.”
His career has included working alongside stars like Sean Connery, Al Pacino and George Clooney, and under the direction of top helmers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and Steven Soderbergh.
“It was a dream for me to be an actor and work on films. I’ve really been blessed, but I’m still dreaming. There are a lot of things I want to do, but I’ve had a great blessing in that I’ve worked with extraordinary people.”
Garcia credited the “man upstairs” for his good fortune but also “the example my parents gave me – the work ethic – to keep me in the game until I got an opportunity to do it.”
Garcia had been a fan of the cinema “from a very early age – in the sixties. I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor, but I had a very deep relationship to films.” His cinematic heroes were Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Connery; the latter two Garcia would get to work with. When acting came, it presented as almost an involuntary urge at the age of 17. “It was like a virus. It kind of picks you. You don’t pick it. It tapped into this love I had, and I began to study acting, continued in college, and then moved to Los Angeles.”
Although supportive, his family at first were worried about his decision to pursue an acting career. “My parents had a business. My father was eager for me to be part of the business along with my brother. So, he was very concerned because he didn’t understand.” In comparison, two of his own daughters have become actors, knowing the pitfalls that come with the business. His parents in contrast “come from a generation when an actor was Humphrey Bogart, or Cary Grant. I’m sure they loved me very much, but they also thought: my son’s no Humphrey Bogart.”
“8 Million Ways to Die” first put Garcia on the map and got him an audition for Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.” Initially he was to play Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s gunman, eventually played by Billy Drago. Garcia lobbied instead for the role of George Stone, partly so he could work opposite Connery, and partly because “the movie was called ‘The Untouchables’ and not ‘The Frank Nitti Story.’”
With his profile on the rise, Garcia was given several movies at Paramount under Frank Mancuso. “They had developed ‘Internal Affairs’ for me,” Garcia said, when Francis Ford Coppola spoke to Garcia about a potential role in the new “Godfather” instalment, but it wasn’t until right before the production began that he secured the role. “I was the last person to screentest. He was testing people all summer. I was desperate to go in. But I tested and I got the part, and we started rehearsing two days later.” Having been inspired by the original film to start acting, the role was another dream come true. “I manifested it in a way,” Garcia says.
Garcia’s work with Coppola as well as Brian De Palma, Ridley Scott and Hal Ashby inspired his own decision to take the director’s chair. “It was a masterclass. I took advantage of it. I went to dailies with Gordon Willis. It was my chance to absorb everything.”
In 2005, Garcia directed his first film “The Lost City,” an adaptation of Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s novel. He had rented a piano in Rome while filming “The Godfather Part III” (1990), in order to prepare for his lead role, but the development process took so long he ended up being proficient enough to also score the film as well as play in character.
Garcia spoke also of the experience of filmmaking, sharing anecdotes about working on the “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) remake with Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney as well as Cher casting him in “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!” (2018) as Fernando, and acting alongside Mick Jagger in “The Man from Elysian Fields” (2001).