Actor, producer, writer, musician, cigar devotee, golfer, family man, and now director: Andy Garcia, stand up, take a bow and please - relax!

By Aaron Sigmond, Photo by Greg Gorman

As with most movie stars one encounters, I remember quite distinctly the first time I met Andy Garcia. I was in queue at a sumptuous Cuban cuisine buffet on a hotel rooftop in Las Vegas one evening this past spring. The spicy smorgasbord was part of a night-long celebration marking the grand opening of the new Casa Fuente cigar boutique and bar. Situated directly between the roasted pulled pork and seafood empanadas, I was clutching onto a half-imbibed mojito when a mutual friend introduced us. Sadly, after all of these years of hobnobbing I still never quite know what to say under these circumstances, so, like a schmuck, I mumbled something to the effect of, "I'm a big fan." With that, he shook my hand firmly, smiled perfunctorily, and continued to move down the buffet as if it were a receiving line.

Later that night the party guests were treated to a concert by legendary Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval (Garcia portrayed him in an HBO biopic), who blew his horn for an hour-long set supported by an accompanying band, all while Garcia banged out the beat on a set of bongos with the neon lights of the world-famous Strip as a backdrop.

Garcia, who is often described in the press as "one of Hollywood's most private and guarded leading men" or "a reluctant movie star," did not strike me that way in the least. He was, in fact, just a person who carefully chose his words and found no need to be the least bit loquacious. In short, he is reserved, not shy. There always seems to be a certain vibe that both precedes a celeb and lingers after he has departed; it's almost as if they have their own personal orchestra which fades in and fades out when they do. Garcia certainly emits this leading man vivacity, but he does so quietly.

Several months after our initial and brief encounter I phoned Garcia at his production offices in Los Angeles where he was immersed in the post-production of his most personal work to date, The Lost City, which fellow actor-director Kenneth Branagh once commented, "will be the most important thing that he will ever do." Garcia confirms, "This movie is my life's work." The film, which was penned by master Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante and co-stars Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray, marks Garcia's first effort as a feature film director.

In The Lost City, Meyer Lanksy (Dustin Hoffman) offers Fico Fellove (Garcia) a new life in America as a club operator in Las Vegas, the mob's replacement for Havana, now in the hands of Fidel Castro. In the background: the Writer (Bill Murray) and Victor (Alfredo Alvarez Calderon).
While certainly known for his cinematic efforts, it is actually music which seems to drive Garcia. The songs of his native Cuba seem to nourish his every personal creative endeavor. "The music of Cuba was what motivated me to do Lost City," he confesses, and it is no accident that his documentary, DVD, and now theatrical feature film directorial debut are all connected in one way or another to the Latin rhythms he holds so dear. Prior to doing The Lost City Garcia had directed the feature-length documentary concert film Cachao...Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos (Like His Rhythm There is No Other), about Cuban musician/ bassist and one of the "founding fathers of the mambo," Israel "Cachao" Lopez.

As with The Lost City, it was his love for music that led him to a Golden Globe-nominated role in For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story. When queried about how City satisfied his creative expression in comparison to Country Garcia said, "It is a different time period, obviously. Lost City starts right at the turn of the revolution and it ends within two years after. The late-'50s in Havana was the end of an era, the end of a particular style, in all aspects, not just politically. It was really the end of a musical era. To me Lost City is a movie that really captures that passing; at the heart of it, it is a story of impossible love, the metaphor for having to leave your country. You can love her but you just can't be with her. Arturo's story takes place thirty-five years after Lost City. It is a look at what happened to the country and to its system. From a political point of view it is a totally different time period."

Not one to just appreciate music as an abject listener, Garcia is a record producer with his own label, CineSon, and a musician in his own right. He has produced and performed on four albums with Israel "Cachao" Lopez including Cachao: Master Sessions Volume I and Volume II. All four disks were either Grammy and Latin Grammy-award-winning or nominated. In addition to his work with Cachao, Garcia also composed four songs for the Disappearance of Garcia Lorca soundtrack and produced, wrote and performed several songs on the Just the Ticket and Steal Big, Steal Little soundtracks. For The Lost City Garcia's musical accomplishments continued when he composed the original score and produced the soundtrack.

The Lost City is a project Garcia has been developing for 16 years. It took him that long to secure the financing and shoot the story, described as that of a family with three brothers and a beautiful woman (naturally) whose lives are dramatically tied to a nation in the midst of revolutionary turmoil. Garcia plays Fico Fellove, the owner of a fictional Havana nightclub, El Tropico, who tries to hold together his family, his business, and the love of his life, played by stunning Spanish film star In?s Sastre. It is through Fico's eyes and ears that we see the family disintegrated, a culture vanish, and a people transformed. However, even as a way of life dies, the heartbeat of its music lives on in exile, where Fico finds solace in the one thing that never betrayed him - his music. All of which is to say that The Lost City gives all the appearance of being Garcia's past life fantasy. Fico seems to be a fictionalized version of what Garcia might have been if he hadn't been three years old when the movie actually takes place. Impressively, principal photography lasted for only 35 days - roughly a third to half of what most feature films require - simply unheard of for a period piece. While it has been shown on the film fest circuit, Garcia is hopeful the film, which as of yet has no set release date, will be in theaters in the summer of 2006.

Garcia and Arturo Sandoval performing at the grand opening celebration of the Fuente family's Casa Fuente lounge/store in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.
Garcia has long been considered what people often dub a 'director's actor.' From the onset of his career he has had a string of remarkable collaborations with many of Hollywood's most celebrated directors. "When you play a protagonist, you wind up working with the director so closely that the relationship become intense - you are conspiring together." Yet, as with so many before him, what Garcia "really wanted to do was direct" something himself. Now, of course, with The Lost City, he has. In discussing his own directorial efforts, our conversation eventually arrived at the great auteurs that he has been fortunate to work with over the years. The almost unparalleled list includes Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, Sydney Lumet, Steven Soderbergh, Mike Figgis and Ridley Scott. "I learned from everybody. I enjoy watching people work. In a sense these projects were my film school. I love the process of making films and when I wasn't working [as an actor] I was there watching."

Garcia has often been quoted saying that he entered Godfather: Part III "as an actor and left as a filmmaker." Garcia clarifies, "I was always interested in the idea of making movies and not just acting in them. I always took advantage of these opportunities I was getting as an actor. Francis [Ford Coppola] is a very inspirational individual and in a way there is a very professorial quality about him, that he is not only directing but he is teaching as he goes along. He was very inspirational and I spent a great deal of time with him. I talked to him a lot about directing and his passion and his commitment and desire to make films were very infectious. Right after the Godfather III was when I started developing Lost City."

In addition to his love of music and film, Garcia seems to enjoy cigars and the culture that flourishes around them. A number of the scenes in Lost City were filmed at Chateau de la Fuente, the famous finca owned by Don Carlos Fuente and Carlos (Carlito) Fuente, Jr. In addition to filming on their tobacco farm Garcia also did the Spanish narration (Joe Mantegna provides the English voice-over) on the DVD documentary The Fuente Family: An American Dream.

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SMOKE - Winter, 2005/2006


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