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TALK ASIA

Interview with Actor and Filmmaker, Andy Garcia

Aired November 30, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAN GRANT, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): He's one of Tinsel Town's most enduring stars.

ANDY GARCIA, ACTOR: This much better than you, you stinking Irish pig.

SEAN CONNERY, ACTOR: Oh, I like him.

GRANT (voiceover): Thrust into the limelight for his role as the sharpshooting Italian cop in the Oscar nominated film, "The Untouchables".

GARCIA: All I want to do is protect you from these guys and you I can do that.

AL PACINO, ACTOR: You can do that?

GARCIA: Yeah, I can do that.

GRANT (voiceover): Andy Garcia then snagged his own Academy Award nomination playing Sonny Corleone's illegitimate son, Vincent Mancini, in the final chapter of the Godfather Trilogy.

GARCIA: I know everything that's happening in my hotels.

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: So I should put those towels back?

GARCIA: No, the towels you can keep.

GRANT (voiceover): More recently, Garcia shined on the silver screen alongside Hollywood heavyweights as the ruthless Los Vegas casino owner, Terry Benedict in "Ocean's Eleven" and its sequels.

This week on "Talk Asia", Anna Coren meets the Hollywood veteran in China as he opens up about one of his off-screen passions.

GARCIA: It's a jealous mistress.

(LAUGHTER)

GRANT (voiceover): His affection for his native home (ph).

GARCIA: It's like impossible love, you know? You can love her, but you can't be with her.

GRANT (voiceover): And his latest project.

ANNA COREN, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN INTERNATIONAL: So when someone like Anthony Hopkins agrees to star in your film, how does that feel?

GARCIA: Somebody up there likes me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COREN: Andy Garcia, welcome to "Talk Asia".

GARCIA: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

COREN: And welcome to China. You've had an amazing career over the past 30 years.

GARCIA: Thank you, thank you.

COREN: Starring in something like 40 movies. That is an extraordinary amount of work.

GARCIA: I've been blessed. I've been blessed that God gave me the fortitude to be persistent with it, you know. Because it's a learning curve. You know, you start out and it's very difficult to get work as an actor. And you get turned down a lot and it takes a long time to work your way through the obstacles.

COREN: What do you believe is the reason for your success?

GARCIA: Well, I think study and preparation and persistence. What my father used to say to me as a young man - he gave me a little quote of his that I've always cherished. He said, "Never take a step backward, not even to gain momentum". And pretty much, that's been my philosophy, you know.

And what I try to sort of hand down to my kids. You know, that it's - you have to prepare yourself for what you want to do with passion, but you also have to be very persistent and be steady as she goes, because you'll encounter a lot of obstacles. And, in the case of the auditioning process, there'll be a lot of "Thank you very much for coming in" and, you know, a lot of that stuff. And you got to work your way through it, you know?

COREN: And you were born in Havana, Cuba.

GARCIA: Yes, I was.

COREN: Just before the Cuban Revolution kicked off.

GARCIA: Ah, well, I was born in '56, so it was - you know, the Revolution was - well, it started around '57 or so. But Castro came into power '58, '59. You know, New Year's Eve, actually.

COREN: And you stayed in Cuba until the age of five. What were your -

GARCIA: Five and a half, yes. Four and a half years under the Castro Regime, yes.

COREN: What were your memories of that time?

GARCIA: There was a fervor of transformation and propaganda and the indoctrination process started very early on. Even if you weren't in school, you were receiving the energy. I remember my mother tells me that she - my father came home one day and she said, "We need to leave the country". And my father was kind of going, "I know, but let's see what happens".

And she says, "Look at your son". He says, "I came home, your son was marching today and he was humming "The Internationale". You know, which is the Communist, sort of, theme song, you know. And so, you know, my family just, you know, they wanted to get us out of there.

COREN: Well, your family, like thousands of other Cubans, fled to the United States.

GARCIA: Yes.

COREN: Was that a tough time?

GARCIA: Well, for me, I didn't - initially it wasn't a thing where I felt where I was going to be there. It was like a - I thought it was just like a vacation, you know. It wasn't presented as though we were moving there for good. I think the hope of all the exiles that left was to return. You know, it was a temporary thing and no one felt that he could sustain that kind of dogma that he was putting together.

And we all lived in a one-bedroom apartment. Six of us. And it was like, you know, it was an adventure. So I had a great upbringing, really, in America. And I grew up in a predominantly small exile community and Jewish-American community in Miami Beach. And I had a great childhood, you know. And I was fortunate that my parents, you know, had the courage to start over from scratch, you know, and bring us out. Because if that wouldn't have happened, I wouldn't be talking to you right now.

COREN: Well, after almost 50 years, Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother in 2008. Do you think that Cuba has changed under Raul Castro?

GARCIA: No.

COREN: No reforms?

GARCIA: No. It's all smoke and mirrors. It continues to be a, you know, centralized dictatorship, you know, run by a family, really. Two brothers, you know, it's like a mafia, you know. You know, the Don retires, and the young Corleone takes over.

COREN: Do you miss Cuba?

GARCIA: Of course. Yes. Of course.

COREN: Would you go back?

GARCIA: I go back every day. Yes. No, definitely, but not under that regime. I really have no interest. Certainly, of course, I'd like to go back and I'm connected culturally to the country in a very profound way, but I really have no interest in supporting them. So, therefore, the tragedy of exile is exile.

But the thing is, that I think that people who have left their country like that for political reasons - it's like impossible love. You know, you can love her, but you can't be with her.

COREN: Well, Andy, you are the first actor in your family.

GARCIA: Yes.

COREN: How did they feel about you entering this world?

GARCIA: It was completely foreign to them. You know, they were very concerned, I'm sure. You know, because they had no concept of how even an actor made a living, you know?

COREN: What drew you to this career?

GARCIA: I was pretty much a young athlete, you know. So I was preoccupied with organized sports most of my life until my twelfth - senior year in high school. And I got an illness and I wasn't be able to do any sports that whole year. And I took an acting class. And, again, it was very rewarding and the teacher was very encouraging.

And so I studying after that, and I just kind of - and I committed to it. And I - at that same time, I had just seen, shortly thereafter, "The Godfather, Part I". And when I saw that movie, it solidified, you know, privately - I said, "I want to do to that with my life. I want to be in a movie like that". You know.

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GARCIA: Even Brando auditioned for the films. In disguise, because the studio did not want Brando in the film.

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KEVIN COSTNER, ACTOR: You got him?

GARCIA: Yes, I got him.

VITO D'AMBROSIO, ACTOR: One.

JACK KEHOE, ACTOR: Will you stop it?

COSTNER: Take him.

GARCIA: Two.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COREN: And you moved to Hollywood in 1978. It was after something like 10 years of bit roles that you finally landed the position in "The Untouchables".

GARCIA: Yes, yes. Yes, it took me a while to - it took me a while just to get an agent. You know, and without an agent in Los Angeles, you really have very little opportunities. And in those days, the opportunities weren't that many. There was only - there was no cable television. There was just three networks and about five studios, so, without an agent, you really were - I couldn't get the opportunities to audition.

But, you know, slowly, I kind of, you know, I kind of just kept making my way and I finally got an agent that was very helpful. And she was able to get me out on some auditions. And I landed a couple films prior to "The Untouchables". One in particular that they saw and they asked me to - it was the last move that Hal Ashby did, called, "8 Million Ways to Die". And they saw me in that film and they called me in to play the killer in the film, Frank Nitti. Which was Capone's killer. Because the character I played in that other movie was not a good - you know, he was a bad guy.

COREN: But it was that role in "The Untouchables" that really put you out there. People finally knew who Andy Garcia was.

GARCIA: Well, you know, yes, well, the thing was that it was a very successful film. You know, whenever you're in a movie that was successful around the world, then all of a sudden, somehow, you know, there's - your marketing value goes up, therefore your opportunities as an actor go up.

COREN: You worked with director, Ridley Scott, in "Black Rain"?

GARCIA: Yes.

COREN: With Michael Douglas.

GARCIA: Yes, yes, with Mike Douglas, yes.

COREN: And what was that like?

GARCIA: Oh, lovely. I mean, Ridley is one - you know, from very early on, I was interested not only in being an actor, but being a filmmaker, you know. So I had these opportunities that I got with great filmmakers. Starting from Hal Ashby and then De Palma and then Ridley Scott and so on and so forth. And so it was a great opportunity to watch Ridley work, you know. And what his particular design for this movie was and I learned a lot from them.

You know, I was always kind of looking over his shoulder. And then I was, you know, I had the blessing of working with Michael Douglas who - if you ever want to be in the trenches with somebody, you know, there's a couple guys that I would turn to and immediately would be Michael Douglas and Jeff Bridges, you know.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vincenzo.

GARCIA: Gratzie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don Corleone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don Vincenzo Corleone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COREN: Francis Ford Coppola.

GARCIA: Yes.

COREN: He saw you and he thought he wanted you in -

GARCIA: I'm not so sure about that.

COREN: No?

GARCIA: No, that's not the way it worked at all, actually. I was doing a movie for Paramount called "Internal Affairs". And produced by Frank Mancuso Jr. And Frank Senior, who was at the head of the studio came to me and at lunch one day and he said, "What are you doing in September?" This was like in May. He said, "What are you doing in September? Because I want you to be - you know, play this character of Vincent Corleone".

And it was already rumored what it was and they were looking for a young man. The script wasn't really released but there was - everybody knew they were looking for a young guy to be the young Corleone. So I said to him, I said, "Well, I'll check my schedule. I'll get back to you".

The thing was, that if you know about "The Godfather" history, in "Godfather I" the studio suggested all these people for - to play the brothers, including Michael Corleone, which was the lead. And even Brando was not - they didn't want Brando in the movie, but Brando auditioned for the film in disguise, because the studio did not want Brando in the film.

So, you know, the people that would always - the studio would suggest to Francis - from Francis point of view, which was a ludicrous suggestion, you know. So the fact that I was being suggested by a studio already, I thought, you know - for me, I was honored but for Francis, it was like, "OK, who do they have now?"

I met Francis once. So we just had a meeting and then I was the last person to screen test on a Friday. And they gave me the part on Saturday, and we started rehearsal on Monday, so.

COREN: That must have been a dream come true for someone who was inspired by -

GARCIA: It was an extraordinary thing, you know, that obviously, you have to give it up to, you know, the people who gave you the fortitude to pursue that dream, you know. And all of a sudden, you find yourself in, sort of, facing your own sort of imaginary destiny that you thought you might - you know, like your dream all of a sudden became a reality.

COREN: Well, I guess the Oscar nomination must have just topped it off.

GARCIA: Well, you know, that's the greatest honor that an actor can have, is when your peers, you know, single out your work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: OK, tell me about Benedict.

MATT DAMON, ACTOR: That guy's a machine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon, Mr. Benedict.

DAMON: He arrives at the Bellagio every day at 2 pm. Same car, same driver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- Mr. Benedict.

GARCIA: How are you, Tommy? How's the baby?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very well, thank you.

DAMON: Remembers every valet's name on the way in. Not bad for a guy worth three quarters of a billion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COREN: 2001, you joined the modern-day rat pack, starring in "Ocean's Eleven".

GARCIA: Well, I wasn't technically a member of the rat pack.

COREN: No, you weren't but you were part of the gang. You were on- set with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon.

GARCIA: Yes, I was, I was.

COREN: What was that like?

GARCIA: Oh, they're wonderful people, you know. Really, you know, "good eggs" as they say, you know. They're generous and very easy-going and warm-hearted. It was great. The entire cast - Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Bernie Mac, God bless his soul. The whole gang, you know, was fantastic. I was surprised they called me back, because then they did two more and my character really didn't have to play into them, but I guess they -

COREN: So you were part of the gang.

GARCIA: I imagine, yes, I became part of the gang, exactly.

COREN: Will there be an "Ocean's Fourteen"?

GARCIA: I don't think so.

COREN: No?

GARCIA: No, I don't think so.

COREN: And this year you start in "For Greater Glory", which is based on the true story about Mexico's fight for religious freedom. You play the general that led the rebellion. What is it like playing historical figures?

GARCIA: You try to gather as much information that you can about the real character and you try to find that agorosiete(ph) inside of you, you know. Because ultimately you have to find the, sort of, the emotional parallels in your life that could - the same passions that he had, the same vulnerabilities that he might have had.

COREN: I can only presume, though, that you would put yourself under a great deal of pressure, because you are playing somebody who has lived.

GARCIA: Yes, you know, I don't feel pressure when I act.

COREN: No?

GARCIA: No, it's so invigorating for me. I feel honored when I'm acting, but I don't feel pressure. Pressure's not healthy for the acting process, you know? Relaxation is your friend. And spontaneity and what you can do is prepare yourself with all the homework and everything and prepare the character so you can completely, you know, be in the moment at the time and let things manifest themselves, you know, depending on what you're feeling around.

I learned very early on about - because I did a lot of improvisation of theater that I realized that it's OK to fall on your face, but what's important is that you fall forward. Because you always get a - when you get up, you're at least a step ahead of where you were before.

My only concern is to make a great film, you know? It's a lot of things you can't control. You know, advertising, commerciality, you know, whether a studio spends money on the movie to promote it or not. And what's most important to me is that a great movie - a great movie exists.

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GARCIA: It's a very addicting sport.

COREN: Is it really?

GARCIA: Yes. It's a very jealous mistress.

(LAUGHTER)

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COREN: You are here for the Mission Hills Pro-Am Golf Tournament.

GARCIA: Yes.

COREN: And I hear you're quite the golfer.

GARCIA: On a given day I can be OK, I can be OK.

COREN: And is it something that you enjoy doing?

GARCIA: I've been playing golf since I was a kid. I started when I was about 12 for a couple years and then I let it go. And then I started again around late 20s, '85. It's a very addicting sport.

COREN: Is it really?

GARCIA: Yes. It's a - it's a jealous mistress.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: You have to spend a lot of time on it to cultivate, you know, game. And it challenges you to keep, you know, honing it. It's a very sublime thing, you know.

COREN: Let's talk about some of your own personal projects. "The Lost City", which I believe took something like 16 years --

GARCIA: 16 years now.

COREN: -- to finally make.

GARCIA: Yes, 16 years.

COREN: You wrote it, directed it -

GARCIA: No, I didn't write it. It was written by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the great Cuban writer, novelist. But I developed the script, you know, with him. And I actually started developing at the time of "The Godfather". It was Frank Senior - Mancuso Senior who gave me the ability to develop the script. And then eventually he left the studio and the script came into turnaround and then I struggled with trying to find someone to do it with, you know, for 16 years. Nobody would support the film.

COREN: This, of course, is a film about the Cuban Revolution. So obviously very personal.

GARCIA: Yes, it's about a family - it's about a family sort of the microcosm of the country is in this family and what happens to them during the process between the brothers. And the main metaphor of the movie is the metaphor of impossible love, you know.

COREN: And two of your daughters starred in that film with you. Is that right?

GARCIA: Yes, yes. My two oldest actresses. Yes.

COREN: Yes? What was that like, working with your -

GARCIA: Oh, it was fantastic, you know. My little boy was in the movie, too. He played my daughter's son in the movie. It was great. I mean, they - Dominik, who's the oldest, who is now on a TV series called "Magic City", for Starz. I had worked with her before when she was 12. She played my daughter in a film. And both her and Daniella - Daniella just finished a film with me this summer. They've been acting since they're five. So, you know, it was very natural, to work with them. You know, they were very well trained, you know. They've been training themselves since they were kids.

COREN: And from what I have read about you, you do have this passion project. And that is to make a film about Ernest Hemingway's days in Cuba.

GARCIA: Yes.

COREN: And his friendship with a Cuban fisherman.

GARCIA: Yes.

COREN: How's that all going?

GARCIA: It's going well. We plan to be shooting in May and, you know, again, it's an independent film. I've been in it now for about two and a half years. And I've had the great blessing to have the support of Sir Anthony Hopkins and Annette Bening, who are going to work with me. And we're just putting all the ducks, you know, gathering all the ducks and putting them in a row to shoot the film, you know?

COREN: And you'll be starting in it?

GARCIA: I'll be co-starring with Anthony, who's playing Hemingway and Annette will play Mary Welsh, his last wife. I'll be playing the captain, Gregorio Fuentes, and directing. I co-wrote the script with Hilary Hemingway - Ernest's niece. And it's an idea I've had for - even before "The Lost City". You know, it's just been something I've wanted to do for many, many years. And once I got "The Lost City" done, I was, you know, able to begin focusing on that, you know.

COREN: So, when someone like Sir Anthony Hopkins agrees to star in your film, your baby, how does that feel?

GARCIA: Well, you know, somebody up there likes me, you know. You know, it's a great honor. You know, he's one of the most sublime actors in the history of the craft, so -

COREN: You've been married to your wife, Marivi, for 30 years.

GARCIA: Yes.

COREN: That is unheard of in Hollywood.

GARCIA: I'm not so sure about that. I mean, I think you don't hear about it, because it doesn't sell any newspapers or tabloids, you know. But there's no -

COREN: But in that environment, you know, it doesn't always last.

GARCIA: I understand this, the sort of the cliche of that, but I know a lot, you know, I know a lot of people in the industry that have been together for a long time.

COREN: But what is the secret to that lasting?

GARCIA: Well, she's the love of my life, you know? And, you know, I think it's important. You know, you raise a family together, there's, you know, respect and tradition. You know, so that's what's important.

COREN: Tell me, Andy, what do you think is your greatest achievement?

GARCIA: Well, my family. My kids. Yes. Sure. That's, you know, the role of a father is the most important role that a man can have. You know, once you're a father, everything else can exist with it, but it cannot take - you cannot ignore that part. And you have to be present, because I think the most important thing for me is to try to set a good example. Because, you know, you're going to, you know, you're going to make mistake. You can't say something to somebody if you're not, you know, walking the talk kind of thing you know. And they learn more by watching you than they do by listening to you, anyway. So I think you just try to set the best example you can. You're going to mess up. You're going to, you know, sometimes, you know, not measure up to what you should. But in the long run, you know, those will be minimal compared to the long-term commitment of you as a father.

COREN: Andy Garcia, an absolute pleasure to meet you.

GARCIA: Thank you, I appreciate it.

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