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Andy Garcia Finds Love at Middleton

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Since making a splash as crack shot George Stone in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, Andy Garcia has become one of the cinema's most prolific and diverse actors. The Cuban-born Garcia boasts over 100 credits on his resume, with roles ranging from actor, director, producer and musical performer.

At Middleton, which arrived on DVD and Blu-ray April 1 from Anchor Bay Entertainment, features Garcia as a slightly befuddled doctor who finds an unexpected love connection with another parent (Vera Farmiga) while accompanying their kids on a tour of a tony East Coast college. Andy Garcia spoke with us recently about this and other career highlights. Here's what transpired:

I don't think I've ever seen you play a guy who's not cool, so it was a pleasant surprise to see you in At Middleton, which marks a change of pace.

Andy Garcia: (laughs) Well, he has a certain charm, but yes, that's a big part of the reason I was drawn to the part. I saw him as a combination of Jacques Tati, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton: lovable but a bit befuddled. It's a privilege that people think of you for a part at all, but we actors are always trying to think out of the box.

You're also a producer on this as well, so something about it must have struck a chord. Was a big part of it that you have kids who are now college-aged?

That was certainly a part of it, but to me it was the characters and the structure of the material and the quality of the writing. It all comes down to the writing at the end of the day. Then when Vera said she'd do it that was a clincher for me, because she's an actor who's always been on my bucket list to work with. She's a sublime actress, one of the greatest of her generation.

So it sounds like your respective processes complimented one another.

Yes, absolutely. We shot the film in twenty days and shot all of our scenes the first seventeen days. When I came out the first day dressed in my wardrobe for the movie, she started to laugh. I knew right then we were going to have a great time together. I asked her after the wardrobe test if she wanted to go over the script at all. She said "No, I like it the way it is. I just want to execute." So over the next seventeen days we really got to know each other as actors and as friends. The first rehearsal was the first take. You can't ask for more than that.

You were born in Havana, Cuba and your family immigrated to Miami after the Bay of Pigs.

Yeah, it was two and half years after Castro took power.

Do you have any memories of Cuba as a small kid?

Oh yeah, lots of memories. My memories are from the point of view of a five year-old. I've remained fascinated with the culture and Cuba's history my entire life. I've been a longtime collector of traditional Cuban music, have produced records, and just finished a short film, produced by the people at Martell Cognac, called Mi Maestro, which is on You Tube. It's about a great Cuban musician named Cachao, who was an icon of Mambo music. So it's memories, built upon research, built upon stories handed down, built upon music. I made my film The Lost City about what happened to my father's generation in the 1950s, and therefore what happened to my own. I grew up there in the '50s as a small child, then continued to grow up there as a teenager and adult in my collected memories. I think most exiles around the world have this sort of nostalgia for their country they've left, because they know they can never go back. So they protect those memories that they have, enhance them and in many ways, embellish them.

Have you been back to Cuba since?

I went to the naval base at Guantanamo to do a music concert in the 1990s, but that's it. We didn't go into Havana.

As a kid, when did you realize you were an actor?

I got sick my senior year of high school. I played basketball, but was 5'7 and 140 pounds, and wasn't dunking. (laughs) I missed out on basketball season, and took my first drama class instead. My teacher was very encouraging and that's where it started.

Was the realization a gradual process or was there one epiphanous moment?

I was always completely enamored with film, since I was a child. I would identify a lot with the people in the movies. My heroes were actors of the sixties like Sean Connery, Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Peter Sellers. I loved Peter Sellers. Then, ironically, I worked with Connery and Coburn later in my life. I think seeing the first Godfather film, in 1972, really crystalized everything for me. I was already taking acting classes and knew that's what I wanted to do with my life.

The synchronicity in that is pretty amazing.

Yes, it is. You've got to give it up to the higher ups for that. Not that I didn't work hard for it.

The first movie I remember seeing you in was the last film of one of my favorite directors: Hal Ashby's 8 Million Ways to Die.

Hal was one of my heroes. Hal, Francis Coppola, and Martin Scorsese were all of my go-to guys in the '70s whose work really stimulated me. Hal was very improvisation in nature. He kind of throws out the script and lets the actors bring their own ideas to it. I also had an extraordinary experience working with Jeff Bridges, who remains a close friend.

That was a troubled production and was taken away from Ashby in the end and re-cut. You can still see a great movie in there, though.

Yeah, there's an entire movie that wound up on the cutting room floor. It had to do with this sort of parallel, blackout, alcoholic mind of Jeff's character, Matt Scudder, and that whole parallel movie that was going to be intercut we improvised and shot every afternoon. It had me and Jeff dancing together, really crazy, crazy stuff. They were going to be intercut as blackout flashes. When the editors got the footage, without Hal there to explain it, they were confounded as to what it all meant, and just cut it all.

One good thing that came out of that film was Brian De Palma seeing you in it and casting you in The Untouchables. Were you intimidated to be working with icons like De Palma and Sean Connery?

I wouldn't say "intimidation" is the right word. I'd say I was "overly prepared." (laughs) In acting, they say that "the boards are the great equalizer." To me that means you can hide behind your character. You might be intimidated inside, but your character can help you hide that. My character George Stone, for example, had to be the guy that could knock the clipboard out of Connery's hands. I also really identified with Stone and his history.

I remember when Godfather III was being cast, your role had almost as much buzz and as many casting rumors as Scarlett O'Hara had fifty years before. When they finally announced you'd been cast, I was very happy, because you had always reminded me so much of Al Pacino.

People have always said we had a physical resemblance to one another. I met Al years before Godfather III when my friend Steven Bauer was doing Scarface, he introduced us. Al looked me over and said "Yeah, I see it. I see it." (laughs)

What was the shoot like?

It was long, six or seven months, but remarkable. I mean, you had Francis, Al, Diane Keaton, Gordon Willis, Dean Tavoularis, Milena Canonero and all these other amazing artists collaborating. To be a part of that trilogy was a dream come true. To see Francis work as a filmmaker was like coming full circle for me. I've always been moved by the work of independent filmmakers and at his heart, Francis is an independent filmmaker. Watching him work was a great inspiration for me because I had the script for The Lost City and was trying to get financing for it. It took me sixteen years to finally do it, but the script was already in my hands when we were doing Godfather III. So it was a great master class for me, as was working with all the great directors I've been lucky enough to work with. I used to go watch dailies every day with Gordon Willis. I had had that with Hal, too, and Ridley Scott and Sidney Lumet and many others. It was like sitting at the feet of the masters as they worked. If these people know that you have an interest and a passion for the work, they're usually happy to answer questions and let you observe.

You mentioned Sidney Lumet, who you worked with in Night Falls on Manhattan.

I read Sidney's book on directing before I did that film, and he didn't waver one inch from what he talked about in his book. He was completely straightforward, didn't call attention to himself in his films or on the set. He usually shot one take, then moved on. Only once did I ask for an extra take. "Don't need it, kid. I already got it." (laughs) I said 'Sidney, I really think I have more to give.' So he gave me one more, said "Cut, print that one. You were right. Moving on! "(laughs)

How well did you get to know James Gandolfini on that shoot?

Very well. I miss Jim dearly. He was a very warm-hearted, shy individual when I met him. Painfully shy, but extremely kind and humble, with that kind of Santa Claus/Falstaffian smile of his that had kind of a Cheshire Cat quality to it. And also very generous and brilliant as an actor and collaborator. It was one of those huge loses, like Philip Seymour Hoffman.

You and Phil Hoffman were friends, also, right?

Yes, yes. We worked together briefly in When a Man Loves a Woman, but remained in touch over the years and were more in touch recently, since Capote. Again, another sublime actor and one of the greats of our generation. Unfortunately, there is pain and destruction sometimes along with brilliance. It's hard to understand. You live in denial that these things happen and it angers all of us. You say 'Why? Why? Why?' I can't negate that pain is sometimes a source of inspiration and depth in our work and the characters we play. Sometimes you have to go there and reveal that, but you also have to have a catharsis while doing it and it doesn't spill over into your regular life.

When you finally got to direct The Lost City, what was it like stepping behind the camera for the first time?

The toughest part was just securing the financing, which as I said, took sixteen years. Then when we were shooting, we did it for nine million dollars in thirty five days, which was a lot to do. We shot a lot of footage. Our assembly was over three and a half hours long. I felt very at home doing it. I said to Frank Mancuso, Jr., who produced the movie with me, 'I just want to be in a position to have a problem to solve.' If you're solving, it means you're shooting. You're not just talking about shooting.

I know you shot it all in the Dominican Republic, but you used an almost entirely Cuban cast. Speaking of catharsis, I imagine it was a cathartic experience for all involved.

It was. First off all, they're all great actors; it wasn't just because they were Cuban. But also, almost all of them had been associated, either directly or indirectly with the dream of making the movie for many, many years. I started off playing the younger brother and ended up playing the older one, sixteen years later. (laughs) It was cathartic for all of us, not only because we all wanted to see it made, but because we had a deep connection to the story. Nestor Carbonell, for example, had an uncle who was executed by Che Guevara. These are things you can't help but get touched by.