I recently met with Andy Garcia at the legendary Lakeside Golf Club in Burbank, Calif., for an evening chat. The stars aligned, and I was able to catch up with him a couple of days before he would set off to Croatia to film the prequel to Mama Mia!, with Cher.
IT was a cool and damp, late-summer Monday night, and I was waiting for Andy under a passageway off the greens. I saw his distinct figure coming toward me through the darkness. He received me with a warm handshake and walked me through the esteemed club, making chit chat in Spanish with the staff as he toured me around. He explained that the club is his golfing home-away-from-home, where he mingles with friends like Ray Romano and George Lopez, who all share a passion for golf. We pretty much had the venue to ourselves since only a couple of members were in the club room.
Andy told me I’d need to remove my hat because Lakeside is a very traditional club. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and W.C. Fields were once members, along with Frank Sinatra and Gene Autry. Current stars who are known to enjoy the Lakeside links are Jack Nicholson, Joe Pesci, Justin Timberlake and Mark Wahlberg, to name a few.
Andy graciously offered me a beverage, and the bartender served us a couple of drinks.
“Why don’t we go outside and talk there?” Andy asked me.
I was up for it, even though there was a bit of a chill in the air. He incentivized me when he broke out two classic Romeo y Julieta Churchills. We set up outside, positioned a table and a couple of chairs to better catch the light emanating from the club, and proceeded to smoke and talk.
I mentioned to Andy the recent passing of Harry Dean Stanton, and asked him if Jack Nicholson’s acting advice to Stanton of “let the costume do the acting, and be yourself,” resonated with him.
“Definitely,” Andy responded. “Your character’s development is all about internal personalization. That’s very important to me. The process is organic, but you bring your own stylistic approach, too. It’s always germinating. You’re developing shades, and faders, and it enhances the dynamics you bring to the part.”
For over thirty years, Andy’s made an indelible mark in the arts as an actor, producer, director, screenwriter, and musician. It’s notable he’s stayed true to his standards, and successfully avoided the cartoonish “sexy action hero” route and other pitfalls actors sometimes encounter when they reach celebrity status. Andy has been an A-list actor since his breakout role in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), where he was able to work with one of his heroes, Sean Connery.
“I campaigned for the role,” he said. “Originally, they wanted me for [Capone henchman] Frank Nitti, but I didn’t want to be typecast. Sometimes being typecast means you’re working, but I needed something different.”
Andy’s since been highly regarded as an intense and intelligent actor who radiates a high emotional IQ. He connects strongly with his audience because of those qualities. We talked about what it’s like to be driven as a creative person, and how that fortifies him.
“There really are no limitations to being an actor—just what your subconscious imposes on it perhaps,” he said. “I have a commitment to the art form, but the most important thing is that it’s given me the opportunity to provide for my family. I’ve been very blessed because of that.”
I asked Andy about movies and actors who have impacted him. He told me that when he was young, he’d spend hours at the local movie theater.
“I can go back to being twelve years old in the late 60’s,” he said. “I’d take two buses on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, where I grew up, and be away from home most of the day. It was a different world back then.”
Andy was influenced by James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven (1960), and later, Al Pacino in The Godfather (1972) and Robert De Niro in The Godfather: Part II (1974).
About the latter, Andy said, “Ultimately, to be able to work with them was just incredible. Working with James Coburn [in 2001’s The Man from Elysian Fields] was a wonderful moment for me, too.”
Andy also mentioned his admiration for John Garfield, Spencer Tracy, and of course, Marlon Brando.
“Brando changed everything,” Andy said, with conviction.
I mentioned Andy’s spot-on Brando impression in the sharp and charming City Island from 2009.
“I got to know Brando a little,” said Andy. “He wrote me a letter that I cherish to this day. I was set to direct a film, and I called him to ask if he’d be interested in playing my father. There was a long, long pause. I thought maybe I’d offended him somehow. Finally, he came back with ‘Does the character get to play the congas?’”
Andy impersonated Brando when he quoted him, and we both laughed. I encouraged Andy to do some more Brando. His impression was comical and reverent at the same time.
HERITAGE & INFLUENCE
In addition to his love of acting, Andy has a passion for Cuban music and history that’s essential to his core. Whether he’s playing piano or congas with the Latin music band CineSon All Stars, or directing or producing lauded biographies and documentaries, his creativity often takes this expression. His film Cachao: Uno Mas (2008), about mambo innovator/Afro-Cuban conga player Israel (Cachao) López, was a love letter to his Cuban musical heritage.
“Making Cachao and The Lost City , about the courage my father’s generation showed in Cuba in the 50’s—directing films like that inspires me,” he said.
Another indie labor-of-love project Andy hopes to make is the film Hemingway and Fuentes. He co-wrote the screenplay with Ernest Hemingway’s niece, Hilary Hemingway. It tells the story of how Hemingway befriended Gregorio Fuentes, the boat captain who motivated Hemingway to write The Old Man and the Sea.
“Financing’s an interesting part of the industry,” said Andy of his quest to make the film. “Of course, it’s easier to get three million dollars together with backers, but ten or twelve is a challenge.”
We shifted from talking about the funny money business of the film industry to his influences in the directing realm.
“Working with Hal Ashby in 8 Million Ways to Die  was a lifechanging experience,” he said. “It was very improvisational. He had that theatre sensibility. It was very special—the encouragement to bring your own ideas to the character, Ashby’s sensitivity to the actor. Jeff Bridges, who’s one of the most generous actors, and a friend to this day, made that movie even more special.”
Andy added that many of the 70’s directors like Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, and Francis Ford Coppola were important in fueling his excitement about learning the filmmaking process. I took this as my chance to bring up Andy’s work with Coppola. Andy was nominated for a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for his dynamic portrayal of Vincent Mancini in The Godfather: Part III (1990).
“Frances is a genius and a mentor,” Andy said. “He understands the language of an actor, and that’s rare. The philosophical process, the inspiration to dream, and how he finalizes the execution of a film is what makes him Francis Ford Coppola. There’s so much to him, and I consider that time together, that movie, to have been a remarkable experience.”
Starring with Al Pacino was another career highlight for Andy.
“Working with Al took the experience to another level,” he said. “The impact he made on me in The Godfather, all of those actors, is what made me want to do this in the first place. After watching him and others, for me it was a calling.”
I brought up how De Niro intrinsically absorbed Brando’s mannerisms in his portrayal of the younger Vito Corleone, while Andy blended James Caan’s Sonny Corleone character into his portrayal of Vincent.
“There’s definitely something to that,” he responded. “Of course, it’s not an impersonation. It happens organically. It happens on its own.”
I expressed my belief that history would be very kind to The Godfather: Part III, and that Coppola’s decision to work at Cinecittà Studios added so much to the operatic and elegiac qualities of the film.
“I think so, too,” Andy said, after thinking for a minute. “It was a visually beautiful film. Gordon Willis, ya know, it can’t get any better than that. The cinematography he created was memorable.”
I asked Andy about the possibility of a The Godfather: Part IV.
“We talked about it,” he said. “I was somewhat involved. We thought we could run a storyline with Leonardo Di Caprio playing a young Sonny, dual stories with my character and his. It’s a movie Francis would need to want to make, but I feel he doesn’t want to revisit it. And Mario Puzo passed away, so that was it, really.”
Andy’s career continues to thrive even while some of his contemporaries who were popular a few decades ago haven’t had that good fortune.
“I still have that 1960’s idealism that I had when I initially wanted to be an actor,” he said. “I feel exactly the same about it. I’d like to think I’ll always have something to offer—bringing acting, writing and directing to the table.”
He smiled broadly and noted, “I can sing a little, too.”
Andy has a steady stream of projects lined up, in addition to the Mamma Mia! prequel. He’s also been cast as Ricardo Montalban in HBO’s upcoming movie, My Dinner With Hervé, which features Peter Dinklage, Jamie Dornan, and Oona Chaplin, and looks at the tragic life of actor Hervé Villechaize of Fantasy Island fame.
I asked Andy why he was attracted to the role of Montalban.
“I wanted to portray Ricardo with dignity,” he said. “Ricardo Montalban, José Ferrer, and Anthony Quinn—I was aware of them as a young actor, them being Hispanic, and that was important to me.”
I told him I thought his upcoming film Book Club (2018) looked like it had some sizzle.
“Book Club is on the horizon,” said Andy. “Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen. It’s about four friends and how reading 50 Shades of Grey sets their wheels in motion.”
SPORTS & CIGARS
Andy was a high school basketball player—a point guard—which should be no surprise. He told me he had a good shot, that his court presence was keen, and his ability to take charge of a team would serve him well later on as a director.
“I was a good player,” he said. “Probably enough to get interest from a small college. But I got mononucleosis, and that put an end to it. It was after that where I picked up acting.”
In addition to his love for golf, his enthusiasm for hoops is evident, and we recalled the old days when Jack Nicholson would fire up a stick mid-court at Lakers games. I lamented about being a long-suffering Knicks fan, and Andy said he was a Lakers fan but keeps an eye on the Miami Heat, too. We shared recollections of the era when there were “team first” franchises like Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, and how they played the game the right way.
“It’s been tough post-Kobe, but I have hope for the season,” he said. “I think Lonzo Ball is a true point guard. That’s going to make a difference.”
I remarked how I once witnessed his Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and Ocean’s Twelve (2004) co-star George Clooney playing basketball on the Warner Bros. lot a number of years ago. I asked Andy which one of them would win a game of one-on-one now. He chuckled.
“George would,” he said. “But only because he plays a lot more than me now.”
We talked about favorite cigars and spirits, and the camaraderie that we share when enjoying them with friends. Bacardi 8 and Zacapa are two that Andy likes to pair up with a favorite cigar.
“I’m Cuban. Of course, Bacardi has to be in there,” he said.
A variety of Cubans including H. Upmann and Montecristo blends are amongst his favorites. He agreed the Padron 1964 Anniversary Series that I relish are excellent smokes. It also came to light we are both Arturo Fuente enthusiasts.
“Opus X is one of my favorites,” he said. “Carlito [Carlos Fuente Jr.] and the Fuente family are special. Every year, Carlito sends me a bundle of cigars, ones that are personally grown to his liking. It’s an honor to receive them.”
I told Andy I was curious to see what type of work he’ll seek in the next chapter of his career, and thanked him for being so generous with his time. I turned off the recorder and expected we’d shake hands and go our separate ways.
But instead, Andy leaned back and took a nice long draw from his RyJ. We sat around for another half hour or so talking movies, cigars, hoops, and a bit more Brando.
It was a memorable night.
by Randy Mastronicola | Portraits by Greg Gorman