Andy Garcia was the opening-night guest for the KCET Cinema Series, a great parade of movies each Tuesday night at the Television Academy. The night is hosted by Pete Hammond, who conducts a Q&A with stars and filmmakers after each screening. It was a return visit for Garcia, who happily screened his latest film City Island for KCET supporters, and later sat down with Hammond and writer-director Raymond De Felitta afterwards to talk about the heartfelt comedy that seemed infused with the spirit of Moonstruck. The lively discussion delighted the audience members, who also had a chance to ask questions.
Garcia is happy that the Cinema Series puts the spotlight on some great independent films, and he noted that The Lost City, which he directed, was part of the schedule a couple of years ago. It’s an enthusiastic audience that attends and shows interest in the background of what he calls “the little films that struggle for distribution.”
City Island, from Anchor Bay Films, now playing at the Landmark Theatre in Los Angeles, recently won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival. It also stars Julianna Margulies, Alan Arkin, and Garcia’s daughter Dominik Garcia-Lorido (who actually plays his daughter). Garcia plays a New York City corrections officer who has a secret desire to become an actor. His family members are also hiding some big secrets that turn their lives upside down in a small island community in the Bronx.
Garcia calls it “a little film with big ideas,” with themes about family, honesty and loyalty. “That’s all important,” Garcia told me when we chatted one on one.
Having enjoyed City Island so much, my first question was to ask him what he would say to encourage folks to see this happy, crazy, full-of-heart, family movie. Garcia enthused, “I would say just about everything you just said, that it’s a happy, crazy, full-of-heart, family fun, emotional joyride. Really, it’s all good.”
Although Garcia plays a fellow who is following his secret passion for acting, he said the character has qualities we all share. “I think everyone can identify with someone like that guy, because everyone has a dream, and if you are participating in your dream, and you’ve committed to it early in your life, then you can feel fulfilled. But if you have a dream that you did not commit to, then along comes midlife, and that’s the time you start thinking about something you’ve wanted for many years,” he explained.
“I identify with Vince because I also had a dream. But, unlike him, I had a chance to commit to it. But I can understand his pain and his desire to explore something that might turn his dream into a reality.”
Born in Cuba, Garcia was five when his family came to the U.S. to flee Castro’s takeover. After playing high school sports in Florida, he turned to acting while attending college, and then headed to Hollywood to make it as an actor. “Actually, it was an interest that I had inside of me from a very young age. It was lying dormant in terms of trying to pursue it as a profession, but it was there. It was really the interest in film, the enjoyment of it at a very young age, that eventually got me into acting. Then, obviously later, I got into making films, producing and directing.”
Among the notable films Garcia has to his credit are starring in The Untouchables, Black Rain, Internal Affairs, The Godfather Part III and the Ocean’s Eleven series of films, along with producing The Man From Elysian Fields, and directing the magnificent drama The Lost City and the upcoming “Hemingway & Fuentes.”
So what hard-earned lessons did Garcia learn starting out, that he can pass along and make the road a little bit easier for others? What does he want to say to the guys like his City Island character Vince, who are out there and want to live their dream?
Garcia explained, “Well, you have to study and prepare your craft. That goes for whatever line of work you choose to pursue. It is all an art form and you have to prepare and be in control of it, because you will stumble. There will be a lot of rejection.”
He suggested, “When you walk in that door you want to be able to create an impression. In the case of actors [going on auditions], you have to create a very strong impression. And through the series of impressions you create in the audition process, that’s what will build your opportunities and your career.”
You might not get all the parts, Garcia noted. “But you can begin to build resonance in your work. And for the people who are watching you, your resonance registers, and like word of mouth, your work begins to spread.”
There’s a lot of wisdom in what Garcia says. And I was curious if he sat down with his daughter Dominik to give her that same advice. “Yes, many times,” he assured. “We discussed it a lot. With both my daughters, Dominik, and my middle daughter Daniella, who is also an actress. And that advice applies to any profession, not just to acting.”
But for the acting process, he has told them that while the audition is a very important thing, “don’t worry about getting the part, because there are so many things you can’t control. You could be the best actress in the room for the part, and still not get the part. So what you need to worry about is the performance. The work itself. And when you go into a room you have to be prepared to have a moment in that room with the people who are experiencing what you’re doing. So when you walk out of the room, they have to say, ‘Wow, that was beautiful.’ You might not get the part, but I guarantee you that they’ll never forget you. And that’s how you build a career.”
From his own experience, Garcia reported, “People won’t forget you, and they’ll start calling you back. And eventually one day they’ll call and say ‘We want to offer you the part. We don’t need you to audition. We know what you can do.’ And that’s because of those impressions that you create. That’s been my strategy, and that’s what I’ve advised my own kids. And that’s the advice I’d give to anyone.”
Garcia also has some strong advice for the Hollywood studios, who should be supporting more independent films. “It’s inconceivable that the American independent film has to struggle so much to get made,” he said. “I would hope that all the studios reignite their classics division and independent film divisions. A movie like City Island, or those that got Oscar attention, Hurt Locker and An Education, all these movies have to struggle to find a way to get made. But they are the movies that explore important themes, and they can break out and become commercially successful for the studios.”
Wrapping up our conversation, Garcia noted that a sense of family and a sense of community are very important to him. And having a local newspaper that “lets you know what’s going on in our neighborhood is fantastic.” And I’m happy to report his local neighborhood newspaper is The Tolucan Times.