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Interview : Andy Garcia

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Andy Garcia has done it all – action, comedy, drama, and, er, even a talking-dog movie! – but what he hasn’t done is had to compete with the great Steve Martin for laughs. To the surprise of many, Garcia holds his own, and snags many of the laughs, in “The Pink Panther 2″ playing Vicenzo. ASHLEY HILLARD caught up with the actor in Los Angeles.

Q: How long did it take to get your character’s name down?
Andy: [Laughs] That was easy. It was written. Jessica Drake was the dialect coach for the film, and we tried to find the right accent. The movie is full of crazy accents. It’s part of the charm of Pink Panther. The crazier the accent, the better. It has to be crazy and almost over-the-top. But, being that this character was an Italian from Rome trying to speak English, and not an Italian American, she pulled from her library about half a dozen different Romans talking English, and then we found one that we felt was the funniest and that suited my tone of voice and register, and we started working on that accent. She was great. And, we had fun with it. You try to get to the point where you don’t think abut it anymore and you understand the rules of the dialect — what to pronounce and not to pronounce, and why you’re “s” might turn into a “z,” and all that kind of stuff.

Q: But, you must have more room for comedy with something like this, so that it doesn’t have to be die-hard accurate, right?
Andy: Right. And, also, the stranger the better..

Q: You’ve done so many serious and dramatic roles, and this is slapstick comedy. Is it fun for you to just let go?
Andy: It was a lot of fun. When I first moved to L.A., I was involved in an improvisational comedy group that performed in the cabarets here and the Comedy Store, among other places. And, I’ve always been a great fan of comedy. I don’t really watch much TV at night, other than maybe a little late night thing, when I’m in bed at the end of the night, or I’ll watch the Golf Channel for a little bit. But, when I do watch TV because I’m in bed earlier or I have the time, I search out comedies. I prefer to watch Everybody Loves Raymond than going to an hour drama. It’s something I enjoy. I enjoy the art form of comedy, very much. So, given an opportunity to do something with Steve Martin, Alfred Molina and John Cleese, it was very nostalgic for me because the Pink Panther was something I grew up with and they were movies that I really enjoyed. It was just a gas. I said, “I would love to be in a Pink Panther movie. Are you kidding me?” Just to see that little Pink Panther in the beginning, running around to the Henry Mancini tune had a lot of fond memories for me.

Q: Was it fun getting to work with Steve Martin?

Andy: Oh, yeah. He’s a joy.

Q: Were there any good outtakes?
Andy: There were some gag reels. I’m sure there’s some stuff out there. We had a lot of laughs. Sometimes it was when the camera wasn’t even rolling, and we were just hanging out. It was pretty raunchy. I wanted to make my character more raunchy than what ended up in the film, but they kept saying, “I don’t think that’s gonna fly.” I’d say things with double meaning, and Sony didn’t want to go in that direction. I said, “But, the adults will get it. The kids won’t know what I’m saying. I’m not using bad words.” And, he said, “Yes, but maybe the parents won’t appreciate it.” It was a battle I lost.

Q: Did you get to improv a lot on set?
Andy: A little bit, yeah. Sometimes I’d ask Steve, “What if I say this?,” because he wrote it and I wanted to respect that. I remember saying one thing that had a double meaning and he got embarrassed. I couldn’t believe Steve got embarrassed and turned red. He’s very pale, so I could see the red. [Laughs] It was the scene I have with Emily Mortimer, when we’re going down the hallway. She said, “Okay, it’s time for lunch. We can eat Japanese, French, Italian and surely not English because nobody wants to eat English.” That was her line, as we were walking down the hallway. And, I said to Steve, “Because I’m always doing things to make you jealous, what if I said ‘I would like to eat French,’ since Emily’s character is French,” and Steve turned red and said, “Oh, I don’t think so.” I embarrassed him, and I didn’t anticipate that I could embarrass him. He didn’t go for it. That’s just one of the many examples of Vicenzo getting out of control.

Q: Was he in character the whole time?
Andy: No.

Q: You’ve been cast as Italian before. What is it that makes Latin translate to Italian?
Andy: Well, the languages are very similar. You can go to Italy and speak Spanish to them, and they’ll understand you, just like if you’re Spanish and you hear someone speaking Italian, you can understand what they’re saying. When I go to Italy, I speak a little Italian, but when I reach for words, I just say them in Spanish with an Italian accent [laughs], which is kind of a crutch ‘cause you never learn Italian. But, I get by. The cultures are very similar. The Italian culture and the Spanish culture, or in my case the Cuban culture, are very similar. There is the love of life and food, and traditional family values. There are a lot of people, eating a lot of things around a table, and screaming at each other and drinking wine, but you can probably say that about every culture. [Laughs]

Q: Is music more of a passion for you than acting?
Andy: It was, initially. It was my first passion, before I consciously said I wanted to act. I was always enamored with film. That was a real escapist thing for me. I would do a lot of that, as a young boy. But, music was something I was very consumed with, from a very early age. I used to go to sleep with the radio next to my bed, really low, and I used to sing. In those days, I was mostly listening to Motown. And then, the Cuban music began to take over and push Motown out, and really consumed my life. I started studying it and collecting it. I discovered Cachao, and it turned my life around, musically.

Q: What are you doing in the music realm now?

Andy: I produced the last four records in Cachao’s life, and I did a musical documentary on his life, before he passed away. Cachao: Uno Mas, which I produced, is going to play at the Miami Film Festival. He passed away this past year. A lot of the players that would play with him, who live in the Los Angeles area, asked me to continue the traditions of the band, so we’ve stayed together and we’ve been playing different shows. We played at the Nokia Theatre over the holidays. George Lopez asked us to open for him, so we did that. When I can get the guys off the road, because they’re all-star players, who play with people like James Taylor, we play together. They want to keep traditional Cuban music alive in their lives, so we made a pact to stay together and continue, in the traditional sense. We call if the Cachao movement.

Q: What’s going on with City Island?
Andy: We just showed it for the first time. It’s an independent movie that I produced this summer, that I also act in, with Julianna Margulies playing my wife and Emily Mortimer playing my muse in it. Alan Arkin is in it. My daughter, Dominik, is in it. Ezra Miller, who is a young boy on Californication, and Steven Strait, who is from 10,000 B.C., are both in it. It’s about a dysfunctional Italian American family in City Island, New York, and it’s a dramedy with a Little Miss Sunshine type of tonality to it. I play a correctional officer, who clandestinely tells his wife that he has a poker game once a week, but he’s actually taking acting classes. He wants to be an actor. But, also, in the process, he meets, in prison, a son that he abandoned, very early on in his life. He’s from a previous relationship. They separated and she purposely kept the boy away from him, so he lost track of him. He discovers him in prison and brings him home without telling him. He’s on provisional parole, where he can be released to someone willing to take responsibility for him, so he does that without telling him that he’s his son. So, he brings him into his house, and some complications begin to happen.

Q: Does Dominik play your daughter in it?
Andy: Yeah.

Q: She’s done that before, right?
Andy: Andy Davis cast her as my daughter when she was 12, in Steal Big Steal Little. He said, “What about your daughter playing your daughter? We need a 12-year-old and she’s 12 years old, and she’s your daughter..” I said, “Well, she does act. She’s been acting since she was 5. But, it’s up to you. You talk to her about it and, if she wants to do it, that’s between you and her. I’ll embrace it, but it’s got to be your thing with her.” I told him, “I want you to tell her what her responsibilities would be. Leave me out of it. I support it, but it’s between you and her.” So, he did.

Q: What’s it like acting with your daughter?
Andy: She’s a great actress. She’s ready to go. She was in The Lost City, the movie I directed, with me. She played my sister-in-law. And, my little boy, Andres, who’s now 7, was the little boy in the movie that played her son. And then, Daniella, my other daughter, also did a scene in the movie with Bill Murray, at the end of the film. She’s also at Cal Arts in the theatre program. I have a bunch of stray bullets, like myself, in the family. My little boy and I were watching highlights of the Tiger Woods U.S. Open last year and I said, “You know why Tiger is such a good golfer?,” and he said, “I know papi, practice.” I always tell him, “You’ve got to practice to be good at anything. If you don’t practice, you’re not going to be good.” He said, “Papi, don’t worry about those things. When I grow up, I’m going to be an actor.” [Laughs] I said, “But, you’ve still got to practice.”

Q: Do you enjoy producing?
Andy: I produce out of necessity. If I have an idea that I want to tell, or an idea comes my way, if I can contribute to it getting made than I take on that responsibility. The reality is that, if you don’t, you can’t expect someone else to take it on for you. If you want something to get made, what are you prepared to do for that ultimate goal? It’s easy to produce, if you can take it to Warner Bros. and they go, “When can you start? We love it,” and they throw a bucket of money at you. That’s easy. But, when everyone says, “It’s very nice, but no thank you, we’re looking for other things,” and you get turned down by everyone, and you still have this story. You have to decide what you’re prepared to do. Are you going to say, “Oh, forget it! We’ll give up on the idea,” or do you continue to say, “Let’s see what we can do to get this thing made.” That’s more frustrating, but also more rewarding, at the end of the day. The Lost City took me 16 years to get made. And, City Island, when I got involved, took us about 2 ½ years to finally get it financed, and we were able to get it made.. Do I say, “I need to produce”? No. I do it as part of the effort of getting something made. It’s rewarding because it’s an accomplishment. If you want to tell a director’s story, you have to take responsibility for it. You can’t expect other people to fight the fight for you.

Q: Does City Island have distribution?
Andy: No. We just showed it, for the first time, to some distributors, and it will be going to the Market in Berlin. We’re in the process of selling it now.

Q: Is it hard for you to work on a project that you’re both acting in and producing?
Andy: No. You don’t produce alone. There are many levels to the process. You have to delegate your responsibility. The line producer is watching the daily numbers and, if there’s an issue, then they’ll come to you and say, “Listen, we really can’t go passed 4 o’clock today. We have to wrap at 4 because the bond company is saying that we were late two days before.” And then, maybe as a producer, you have to go to the director and say, “Up until 4 o’clock, you can do whatever you want. But, at 4 o’clock we have to stop.” Sometimes, you have to be the bearer of bad news.

Q: In the case of The Lost City, where you’re the producer, the director, the composer and the star, was that exhausting or was it even more exhilarating?
Andy: It was more exhilarating. And, I produced it with Frank Mancuso, Jr., so he took the brunt of the physical production and the organization, and gave me the opportunity to think about producing it from a creative standpoint, and doing the directing and the acting, and all that. He was a great partner for me. You don’t do it alone. You’re not the only guy doing everything. Sometimes a producer is just a financier. Sometimes a producer is involved more as a creative element in the piece. But, there are delineations of jobs. There are production managers, production supervisors, line producers, producers, creative producers, etc. I don’t mind the responsibility, but it usually comes out of the desire to get something done and taking some responsibility for that journey.

Q: What was the worst audition you ever had?
Andy: Probably the most insensitive one. Sometimes there’s a lot of insensitivity in the audition process. One of the things that the actors should negotiate is that, in any audition, an actor should be hired to read with other actors. It doesn’t have to be the normal scale, for when you’re working professionally, but even if it’s $100, someone should come in and read, for three or four hours. That actor gets a chance to show his stuff, and he pays for his gas or some of his rent that day, and the fellow actor should have a chance to read with other actors, as opposed to reading with casting directors. Not to say that they’re not good readers, but some of them are not. They’re also in a judgmental state. They’re reading and passing judgment, at the same time. They’re doing several things, as opposed to just kicking back and watching, and letting the actor read. And then, they could have input. That would be something that would help the audition process a lot more. I remember, one time, I went into an audition. This was many, many years ago, like maybe 1978, when I first got here, so I was probably in my early 20’s. I would get one audition, every eight months. And, after waiting and waiting, I remember going in for this TV pilot or something, and I was ready to start and then the phone rang. She picked up the phone and looked at me and said, “Go ahead.” She wanted me to do the audition, as she was talking on the phone. So, I looked at her and said, “No. I’m going to go back outside and wait about another 20 seconds, and then I’ll come back in and, if you’re not off the phone, I’m leaving.” And, she said, “Okay, wait a second,” and she said, “I’ll call you right back,” and hung up the phone. She was completely flustered because no one had probably ever said that to her, since she was the casting director. It was just disrespectful. You don’t have to like my acting, but you should do your job with more respect. You should respect the people that are there, trying to provide something for you. Things like that happen pretty frequently. There are a lot of great casting directors, but there are a lot of moments of insensitivity, in the acting process, which is unfortunate.

Q: Did that get you the job?
Andy: No, not at all..

Q: What is The Last Full Measure?
Andy: It’s a movie that Todd Robinson wrote, but it has not been financed. He’s asked me to participate in it, and I told him I would, but it’s not been done yet.

Q: Do you have any advice for young actors?
Andy: Don’t do it.

Q: Is that what you’d tell your children?
Andy: No. That really comes from Matt Damon. He said that’s what he tells young actors because, if that discourages them, then they shouldn’t have been doing it.. I thought it was an interesting philosophy. Plus, it leaves a little bit more room for us guys who are still trying to make a living. What I tell my own children, and what I tell young actors, is take your craft seriously and prepare like if you’re going to be a doctor. Be prepared so that, when an opportunity comes, you’re ready. And, every time you go into an audition, the room is yours, not theirs. It’s your moment. You have to control the room. It’s not about getting the job, but it’s about making an impression that resonates with the people in that room, so that they don’t forget you. There are so many influences for why you didn’t get the job that have nothing to do with your acting, but you definitely won’t get the job, if you’re a bad actor. [Laughs] You will get a job from that casting director, or somebody in that room, down the road, based on the quality of what you did in that room. So, if you can leave the room and have people go, “He’s totally wrong for the part, but that’s a good actor,” that turns into a career, eventually.. You’ve got to be ready to make that impression, and the only way you’re going to be ready is to nurture whatever talent God might have given you, to the point where you can own it and make an impression with it. There’s no such thing as someone who’s a natural.

Q: When you are working with less experienced actors, like with Yuki Matsuzaki and Aishwarya Rai in this film, is there anything you do to help make them feel more comfortable and less intimidated by working with someone like you?
Andy: Jeff Bridges is probably one of the most generous actors I’ve ever worked with. He certainly set the barometer for me to measure everybody else by because I worked with him very early on in my life here. You can’t get a more generous and gracious individual than Jeff Bridges. And, he said, “My philosophy is that I’m the host. I’m here every day, so I have to be the most important supporting actor in the movie. The movie is in my rhythm. A guy comes off the street to do one scene, he’s stepping into our rhythm, so it’s important for me, as the protagonist, to make it comfortable to do his thing, and to engage him in our process and make him feel at ease. It’s my responsibility. Everyone else is going to be uncomfortable, but if I can be gracious, hospitable and welcoming, it takes the pressure off.” I thought that was a great lesson. That was a gift from Jeff to me, and Jeff was a gift to me himself. It’s a philosophy that I’ve tried to carry on. One of the philosophies of acting that I studied was the school of Sanford Meisner. One of his main things is taking the performance off of the other actor. The more you give, the more you receive, and vice versa. Acting has a great deal to do with generosity. You don’t act in a vacuum. In that reciprocal situation is where the chemistry is. If you’re available and generous, as a metaphor to your favorite characters in the piece, the most important work is really done off camera. The more I can feed someone on camera, the better the whole is going to be. And, the more they can feed me on camera, the better my performance is going to be. That’s my philosophy.

Q: If they want to bring the Dream Team back for Pink Panther 3, are you signed or on board?
Andy: I’m not signed, but I’m prepared to negotiate. [Laughs]

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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