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Why Andy Garcia Refused To Change His Last Name

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ANDY GARCIA
NALIP honored actor Andy Garcia this week at the 15th Annual NALIP Media Summit. | Corbis & Splash

Andy Garcia knows Hollywood isn't the same place it was 30 years ago.

Garcia, 58, was honored with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers' Lifetime Achievement Award this past Saturday. The Cuban-born actor took some time before the NALIP ceremony to chat with The Huffington Post about how diversity in Hollywood has evolved over the years, why he refused to change his last name and why he doesn't frame himself as a Hispanic actor.

Congratulations on being honored with NALIP's Lifetime Achievement Award. How did you feel when you were told you'd receive the award?

It's very flattering, I feel very honored that my peers think of me in those terms. It gives you a moment of reflection when someone approaches you that way for your work. You go about the business of creating a body of work as an actor or producer or director -- and I feel blessed that I've been given the opportunity to do that for the past 30 years or so -- and when you feel that someone is acknowledging the work that you've been doing, it's a great honor. It's very touching.

In recent years there's been a lot of conversation about bringing more diversity into Hollywood. You've been in the business for a very long time. You've found great success in franchises like "Ocean's Eleven" and "The Godfather" -- so, tell me about the changes you've seen along the way.

Well you know, when I first arrived to Los Angeles to look for work as an actor in 1978 -- first, the only places that were places to work in terms of film or television were about five studios, more or less, the major studios that we all know of. Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Fox, MGM and PBS. There were no cable outlets. So the opportunities for actors to work in film or television were much more limited.

And I also think they still had not made any kind of real headway or transition in terms of stereotyping actors because of their cultural or ethnic backgrounds. You were limited as an actor. An actor of Hispanic descent or with a Hispanic surname, I would say, [was] pigeonholed into parts that require a character that they think could be Hispanic or can represent a Hispanic -- whether it'd be Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican, it didn't matter. But there weren't that many roles written specifically for characters of that culture or heritage [either]. So combined with the stereotyping of the actor and the lack of roles, there wasn't a lot of work out there.

It was very difficult for [an] actor that comes from a specific cultural background and had certain surnames to, sometimes in the casting process, be able to cross over and say, 'Just look at that person as an actor, don't look at him as an actor of Mexican descent or an Asian or whatever, just look at him for what he can bring to the story and how he can enhance your film by his participation and his talents as an actor or actress.' ... So that's always been the challenge.

The experience for Latino actors in Hollywood has certainly changed drastically, but I'd say it's taken a long time to see significant change.

Many, many years prior to when I was attempting to start a career, there were different eras in Hollywood films. You know, in the '30s or '40s, an actor that had a sort of Hispanic or Latin surname was kind of invoked -- the "Latin Lover" was invoked for many years. It was an asset in a way. And then that kind of disappeared, and actors who had Hispanic surnames felt the pressure to change their last names in order not to be stereotyped and create more opportunities for themselves.

I think as time passed into the '80s and '90s and the opportunities became greater for diversity in film and television, [there were] more places to actually work ... And the audiences asked for and [wanted] to identify with characters of all kind of cultures and points of view and experiences. So the opportunity for an actor now is much greater when you're going to audition for work, and the level of stereotyping, in my opinion, has been reduced tremendously. It will always exist, actors are always trying to break that mold, but it has gotten much better over the years. Now, the fact that you may have a Hispanic surname or you're Asian or any diversified culture like that -- [it's] not as much of hindrance as it once was.

Did you personally ever feel pressured to change your last name?

Yes, yes. From early on, all the agents that I met when I came to town, first thing they would say is 'Change your name.'

Why did you decide not to?

Well, I think that the most important thing as an artist is to [have] a very personal connection to who you are. I always felt that in changing the name I would lose sort of the essence of how I could personalize the work, my point of view. And it would be, in a way, betraying that, betraying my inner self. So on a personal note I was just never prepared to go that route. You think about it very strongly because you want to be able to work, but at the end of the day I decided not to go that route. It's very difficult, I think, when someone asks you who you are and you state your name and it's not really your name.

In the past, however, you've said you don't consider yourself a "Latino actor." Could you elaborate on those comments?

Philosophically for me, I frame myself as an actor, I do not frame myself as a Hispanic-actor. That sort of hyphenation is not where you're coming from. I think people who are successful that happen to be from a Hispanic background are successful because of their talents as a producer or as a director or as an actor and their training. It's about the work that they bring. I think it's important to recognize that you're casting the artist ... what their sensibilities are and what their talents are for a particular project.

Some of the greatest performances have been given by actors who were not of the same cultural background as the characters that they were playing. Even someone like José Ferrer in "Cyrano de Bergerac" or Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" -- Marlon Brando is not Italian. Does it matter? Ultimately it's all about the art form and the actor's ability to personify his parts.

And speaking of portraying characters of other cultures, you're going to be starring as a Spanish expat living in Cuba for your upcoming film "Hemingway & Fuentes." The movie is an original concept of yours and you co-wrote the script with the late author's niece, Hilary Hemingway. Tell me about why you were drawn to produce and direct a film like this.

Gregorio Fuentes was a character that was with Ernest Hemingway for the last 20 years of his life. He was the captain of his boat the Pilar ... My interest in Hemingway and my love of "The Old Man and the Sea" -- why he wrote it, how he wrote it and what motivated him to write, but also to spend the time he did in Cuba in the world of Cojimar -- that was the initial spark for me. For many years, I always wanted to explore that story of what happened, what was the relationship and what prompted him to write the book, which became probably his most famous and recognized piece of work.

And the movie sets out to answer just that and explore the relationship between Hemingway and Fuentes during their fishing trips off the coast of Cuba. As a Cuban-born actor I can imagine you will be bringing a personal perspective to the set.

Well you know I was born [in Cuba] and I spent the first five and a half years of my life there, but I've been very involved culturally with my heritage. I dedicated really all my life [to] its history and its music because it's something that I'm very connected to. So, that is the perspective that I bring -- my connection to it and I guess my understanding of what that world was like in the '50s.

My parents grew up in that era and I grew up in an exile [Cuban] community, which was always profoundly nostalgic and loving and filled with memories from that time period. That stimulated my own interest in it and to this day I still continue to have a profound connection to that era, the 1940s and '50s in Cuba. I left when I was a child, but in my subconscious I sort of lived it as an adult. Through the people who lived [it], sort of through osmosis and hearing their stories and music, you're able to kind of imagine yourself living in that era and understanding its beauties and its tragedies.

Earlier on HuffPost:

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