Film: How big a star do I have to be?

Andy Garcia, once tipped as the next Al Pacino, has a string of hit films behind him. But recently things have gone a little... quiet. Has this Cuban-born staunch Catholic's love of family and `good work' blighted a brilliant career? By Liese Spencer

During the late Eighties, Andy Garcia made his name as a volatile screen presence in a string of violent films. In The Untouchables he was the sharpshooter to Kevin Costner's Elliott Ness. In Internal Affairs his righteous detective pursued Richard Gere, eaten up by an Othello-sized sexual jealousy. In Black Rain he played good cop, bad cop with Michael Douglas, giving a striking supporting turn before being beheaded by the motorcycle-riding Japanese Yakuza.

By 1990, the edgy co-star had netted his first major leading role as the most violent, volatile anti-hero of them all - Vincent Mancini in The Godfather Part III. Hailed both on screen and off as a pretender to Al Pacino's throne, Garcia gave a passionate performance, chewed off Joe Mantegna's ear and picked up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But while Vincent won power over the Corleone clan, Garcia himself never quite ascended into Hollywood's screen royalty. "The first wave of attention one gets as a movie star is overwhelming," says the actor. "For that month, or that 15 minutes, you become everyone's focus. But I resisted it. I think it's my nature. When the spotlight's on me, I tend to step out of it."

Nearly a decade on from Coppola's ill-fated sequel, Garcia seems comfortable away from the Hollywood glare. A practising Catholic and fiercely traditional family man, he's happy to devote himself to Marivi, his wife of 17 years ("We met in a bar. I proposed that night. I was struck by the thunderbolt, you might say"), and their three girls Dominik, 14, Daniella, 10, and Alessandra, six. They're waiting at the hotel for their dad to finish his interview so that they can see London. "All we do on these trips is talk and eat," says Garcia, with a flash of white teeth. "Tonight we're going to eat."

Beneath his expensive, immaculately-cut suit, the lean anti-hero has filled out. His face seems rounder than before, soft around the edges. Is it possible that Garcia has lost his hunger for acting? "Absolutely not," says the star, although years in the business have taught him a trick or two. "When you're younger and they say `action', you run through the wall. As you get older you can sort of metamorphose yourself through the wall. Or you can open the door and just walk to the other side. That doesn't mean I've lost my passion. It's just different. "I still have a great appetite for acting. I'm still hungry."

Born Andres Arturo Garcia Menendez, Garcia left his home town of Havana when he was five. Fleeing Castro's regime, his parents settled in Miami Beach with "little more than their human rights". After a brief period of isolation when he couldn't speak the language, the young Garcia "learnt how to fight in English" and began school, where he was coached in basketball by Mickey Rourke ("Mickey had a rough upbringing, and that always shapes you, but to me he's always been a very dear friend"). Never growing tall enough to achieve his hoop dreams, Garcia decided instead to study theatre at Florida University.

After performing, penniless, in Florida theatres, Garcia made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles in 1978. Loading trucks and working as a waiter (for one job he dressed up as a pirate, for the after-dinner entertainment at a Puerto Rican hotel) he did the rounds of low-rent agents, trying to get some representation. "They sort of analyse you, you know? `Cut your hair. Change the colour of your eyes. Change your name. How tall are you? Get lifts. Lose your Spanish accent.' Whatever. They dissect you, as if you were a product." At one audition, a female casting director asked Garcia to take his shirt off. "I will if you will," he quipped before sailing out through the door.

Despite his sensuous good looks, with eyes one excited journalist described as "burnt sienna", Garcia has continued to resist roles as the Latin lover, and to avoid gratuitous nudity. "I prefer to be a romantic," says the man who was later to keep his T-shirt on throughout a love scene with Bridget Fonda during the filming of The Godfather Part III.

These days, of course, Garcia is enough of a player to pick and choose his own projects. In his latest movie, Just The Ticket, he escapes a career spent playing cops and robbers to cast himself as a flaky, New York ticket tout. Getting into character, Garcia hit the back streets of Times Square, "scalping" tickets for Cats while a hidden camera recorded the scenes for the film. "This woman came up to me," he smiles. "She said, `Andy, you're a very fine actor. You shouldn't have to be doing this'."

With a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and a fleet of workers just putting the finishing touches to the landscaped garden of his mansion in Miami, Garcia can afford to laugh, and yet there is a sense in which the 43-year-old's career is, if not exactly on the skids, then suffering a certain comfortable dereliction. While not exactly down and out in Beverly Hills, Garcia seems to be retreating from the razor-sharp promise of his early roles. In the Nineties he played opposite a series of big name co-stars in a string of post-Godfather duds such as the serial killer thriller Jennifer 8 with Uma Thurman, and An Accidental Hero with Dustin Hoffman. Sure, he can still open a romantic drama, such as When a Man Loves a Woman opposite Meg Ryan, or work with a venerated director such as Sidney Lumet in Night Falls on Manhattan, but none of these films are anything more than solidly made, unmemorable Hollywood fare.

Garcia the actor/ producer shows even less savvy of what's likely to be box-office, but its hard to hate him for his vanity projects. No self- aggrandising Streisand, he makes hopelessly well-meaning movies about his Cuban ancestry, such as the soft-centred social comedy Steal Big, Steal Little, the elegiac drama The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca and The Lost City, his collaboration with the novelist and fellow Cuban exile, Guillermo Cabrera Infante. His directorial debut, Cachao... Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos (Like his Rhythm, There is No Other) saw the star mamboing to the tunes of his childhood hero, the renowned Cuban bassist Israel Lopez, "Cachao".

"I can be attracted by anything in a script," says Garcia, "It doesn't take much for me to say `yes', but I need to fall in love with something. I did Steal Big, Steal Little because I always wanted to play a guy who grew avocados. My father used to grow avocados, so that was enough!" Garcia laughs. "You have an avocado tree in the script, I'll do it."

Apart from avocados, the thing that determines Garcia's career moves, of course, is the "moral priority" he gives his family. He avoids roles that would take him away from them on location shoots for too long, calls Marivi's job as a wife and mother "the hardest profession in the world" and skips Hollywood parties to "help the girls with their homework". In the La La land of sex-addicted leading men and Heidi Fleiss sleaze, Garcia is a rare breed indeed. Although he admits to a quick temper, his only vices appear to be the occasional cigar and an amateur passion for the bongos.

In 1990 Andy Garcia was voted star of the year by the National Association of Theatre Owners after his performances in Internal Affairs and The Godfather Part III. In 1998 he was voted Father of the Year by the Father's Day Council. There's no question which award is the bigger accolade, but ask him if he's put his career on the backburner for his family and he looks a little hurt.

"How much bigger star do I need to be? How much more famous? You know I just want to be able to do good work in the kind of things I want to be associated with, and provide a living for my family. It really doesn't get much more complicated than that."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor