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Capone grills Andy Garcia on THE LOST CITY, Cuba, OCEAN'S 13 and mucho mas!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here face to face with my nemesis from THE UNTOUCHABLES, Mr. Andy Garcia, who has several key films coming out in the next year or so, including THE LOST CITY, which he directed after struggling to get it made for 16 years. Let’s dive in, shall we?


Capone: Right off the bat, I have to say THE LOST CITY has been almost as much fun hearing about what went in to getting it made as it was just watching it. There’s a whole story that most people are never going to know. Many references in the research have cited that this has been a passion project of yours for upwards of 16 years. When it finally hit you that this was actually going to get made--they say there’s nothing scarier than having your dreams come true--was it terrifying for you?

Andy Garcia: Be careful what you wish for!

C: Exactly. Was it scary?

AG: No, not really, to tell you the truth. You know, it’s like 16 years trying to get it made, and then you get six weeks to prep it. Because of the weather situation in the Caribbean, we had to get the movie shot, and I was working on OCEAN’S TWELVE, and I worked for, like, six days, like a week or ten days at the most on that. Then I left for the Dominican to prep and shoot my movie, and then I came back and worked one day--the last day of OCEAN’S TWELVE. After that, I had gone to Europe and then come back and worked a day, so while they went to Europe, I prepped and shot my movie. So, it was kind of hit the ground running, but, you know, first of all, I was surrounded by an all-star cast of actors, and people behind the camera, you know, designers and other people that I really respect and who are at the top of their field. The movie was shot in 35 days on a $9.5 million budget.

C: Good grief. I didn’t realize it was that short a shoot.

AG: Yeah, so everybody was hustling and trying to make the most out of very limited funds. As I joked with [costume designer] Deborah Scott, I said I have to use Deborah...this is one of the most elegant eras in recent history, the ‘50s was a very elegant era, and the fashions and stuff like that of the ‘50s...even the guy pumping gas was well dressed. And, in Cuba, there was a very heightened sense of style with the European influence. So I had the opportunity to do this film, but I explained to her that the budget is going to be less than the shoe budget of TITANIC. She laughed and went, “I understand, I understand.”

I guess what I’m saying is that we were so invigorated that when we finally had an opportunity to tell the story, there was no fear. I didn’t have any fear at all. I guess the only concern was that the weather would be on our side, that we wouldn’t get delayed, because that would throw us for a loop. But, I got to say, I’m very comfortable on a film set. I’ve been fortunate to have been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve produced movies, you know, I’ve been in the position of having to be responsible for bringing a movie in on time and on budget as a producer. So, it wasn’t foreign territory for me... how to run a set. I was never saying, “Okay, what do I do? What does a director do?” And, I knew the story I wanted to tell, so I didn’t have to figure it out when I got there.

So, all those things helped me. I did the preparation, which helped eliminate any of those kinds of fears. I think that’s something to learn in anything that one does. If you’re well prepared going in, you’ve done your homework, then you can relax and try to have a sort of moment-to-moment organic experience.

C: You certainly had a lot of time to get prepared.

AG: Exactly, exactly.

C: In terms of the screenplay, how crucial was it to you in making this film to have a screenplay obviously by not only a prestigious writer, but also a Cuban exile who clearly lived at least a portion of the story told in the film?

AG: That was the whole thing. When I read [G. Cabrera Infante’s] novels, I felt that I had found the voice of the movie that I wanted to make, prior even to him writing it. This this is what I was thinking about making, and privately saying I’d like to make a movie about Havana in that time period. When I started to read Cabrere Infante’s novels, I found what I felt was the voice of the movie. And, then when I got the opportunity to develop the screenplay at Paramount, I went to visit him and he graced us with, “Okay, I’ll jump in with you.” So, he is sort of like our Hemingway. He is probably the most important Cuban writer in this past century, or certainly one of them. So, when you get that kind of insight to that world, it’s a real blessing and also to be able to collaborate with him over the 16 years, you know, and have that kind of relationship with him. It’s a blessing, you know.

C: I realize this was shot a while ago. Before he passed away last year, was he able to see the finished product?

AG: He saw the finished version of the film, actually two different versions of the finished film that I had locked. In one, I had taken a thing out of the film--it was like a crucial moment. So, I showed him both versions. And, I said, basically, “One of these two versions is the film that I’m comfortable with and let me know how you feel. Give me some notes.” And, he had basically no notes, other than to say, “I like the version where you took out the thing better than the other one.” I said, “Okay, we’re going to go with that one. That’ll be great.” And, he was very pleased and very proud of the film, which pleased me to no end, because obviously after so many years, entrusting his words to me....he wrote a 350-page screenplay. I had to...from that, over the years, tell that story and try to get as much in as I could. I always knew it would be a longer film, but I mean, still, 350 pages is real long, comparable to a mini-series.

C: How long ago did he turn that in?

AG: That was May 1990.

C: In terms of the music, I think there will be some people who come to see this film because of the music, but had you always intended on supplying the score?

AG: No, that’s something that came out when he delivered the screenplay. I always intended to design the music of the movie and produce it and, pick the songs, but when he delivered the screenplay to me in May 1990, I was on the way to shoot THE GODFATHER III in Rome, and my character Fico, who was noted to play the piano privately, his way of finding solace. And, so I’ve always been interested in learning the piano. I had studied percussion as a young man and was an avid percussionist, but the piano was something that my aunt played, something that sort of called to me, but I never I never had a piano. I rented a piano in Rome in the house I had rented there, and they brought it to the house, and I started figuring at least I needed to get a little familiar with it so I can fake it. But, my movie took so long to get made that I ended up teaching myself how to play piano.

C: Now, you’re the maestro on the piano, right?

AG: Well, I’m not the maestro, but that led me to start composing and writing music. While I was in the editing room, I had a piano in the editing room, and I started writing the score.

C: So, the decision came fairly late, then, in the editing stage.

AG: No, once I started the movie, I already had been working on being inspired to write the score. Remember, this was 16 years. Maybe in Year 14, I was already composing things that I wanted to use, like there’s a piece called “Solitude,” which is one of my character’s themes, that is used in several ways in the movie. It’s used as solo piano; it’s also used in a 6/8 piece where the character Leonela dances to it, a folkloric tune; and, it’s used when Meyer Lansky [played by Dustin Hoffman] comes back to New York. That’s a song that I wrote for the movie, but I wrote it two years ago. By then, I already knew that I was inside the film and I was writing from Fico’s point of view. And, the editor took the opportunity to start playing with the transitional pieces and the main theme, THE LOST CITY Main Theme, which is played when we say goodbye to the family, and then over in the end credits, there’s a vocal version of it.

C: Right. I thought the music was really beautiful.

AG: Thank you.

C: I’m a big fan of films that drop a character into the middle of history, which you’ve done here, and to a degree in another film, MODIGLIANI, which I’ve also seen, although he was part of the history, but still there’s so much history going on around him. What is more important in your eyes: the characters, whether fictional or real, or the events surrounding them?

AG: I think the events are the background, like you said, the stage onto which your characters are thrown. The prime motivation for me in the movie and for Mr. Infante was really to pay tribute to that time period, the music and culture of Cuba at the end of the ‘50s--and predominantly the music, you know, the cabaret scene, that world that was so magical in Cuba with all these extraordinary artists that were playing all over town there. And, that’s what motivated the idea of the movie. I always said let’s make a movie where we can use Cuban music as a tapestry in the story and as the protagonist in the story, really. And, that was the motivation, so everything else was just elements that were part of what was going on in that time period. But, it was always really an excuse just to hightlight the music. Because both Infante and myself’s where we came together. Obviously, he wrote many of his novels that catered to that world, that night cabaret scene. And, the music of Cuba was prevalent in all his writings, and even in his first draft, there were lyrical adaptations in the script where the songs were commenting on the scene, and the lyrics of the song were motivating why and how he wrote the scene.

C: I should add that there are also some really nice dance numbers, too, in the film. With all the family and music and the political upheaval and passion running through the film, this is maybe one of the weightiest films I’ve ever seen that deals with Cuban history. Was there an effort on your part to make this a sort of definitive representation of this moment in Cuban history, this turning point?

AG: Well, the thing is that Infante and myself are products of this story, of what happened there. So are my parents and the generation that brought me here. Once you set a movie in that time period, there was a very dramatic social, political, ideological change in that country. And, Mr. Infante’s script immediately went into that world by saying, This is a movie about impossible love, having to leave the thing you most cherish, because all exiles or immigrants...specifically exiles, because the exile mentality is, We’ve come here, but your hope is to go back, so it’s a different situation, where the immigrants say, We love our country, but we’re immigrating for good. The exile always has that sort of desire, or hole in the heart, to go back but you have to leave the thing you most cherish. You love her but you can’t be with her. But, you’re hoping to get back to her. It’s a transitional point of view. You’re always longing to go back to be with her. And, that’s what he captured in the first draft, and that is the central metaphor of the film. Like I said, that’s why it’s a personal film, because I’m a product of that feeling, you know. I still live with that feeling, and I’m second generation, butI was born in Cuba, I came at a very young age, but I still have that feeling, and that feeling permeates my film.

C: Have you been back to Cuba?

AG: I’ve only been back to the naval base in Guantanamo in 1995 when we did a concert for the refugees that were there.

C: Do you still hold on to that wish that you can go back?

AG: Yes.

C: To have the freedome to go wherever you’d like?

AG: Yes.

C: And do whatever you want?

AG: Yes.

C: And, do you see that day coming?

AG: Yes.

C: What do you see in terms of the near future?

AG: Well, I have to be optimistic, you know. The alternative is just unacceptable.

C: Do you fear that in its present condition, Cuba is in danger or in the process of losing some of its history and culture?

AG: There’s been a 47-year rule there, you know, and that kind of government does have an effect socially, morally, economically, everything--on a society. But, there’s always the ability to change. It’s an ever-growing situation. But, it can’t change until the system changes. People can’t be free until they’re actually granted their freedom. It’s as simple as that. And, the exchange of ideas freely without fear of repression or fear of your life can’t exist unless you’re in a free society.

C: Certainly themes that ring true even today.

AG: Yeah, that’s what’s happening. That’s just the nature of it. The reality is, as we state in our movie, that people hold a misconception about the Cuban revolution around the world. And, even some reviewers have said, “Where are all the peasants in the movie and the peasant struggle?” I said, “Well, first of all, the movie’s about Fico’s family. It’s not about someone in a province in the hills.” But, the reality is that the Cuban revolution was run by, motivated, organized by the middle class and the upper-middle class. That’s an historical fact. You might not know it, and you think we’re trying to ignore someone, but that’s not the case. Even Fidel himself was from that class and social class structure. And, we’re focusing on this particular family, and there was a lack of pluralism in the country, and everybody wanted to get rid of Batista--not only the peasants, but the upper class and middle class. I mean, there were people who supported Bastista, obviously, but there were other people who did not. And I think that’s very clear in the movie.

The reality is that the Cuban Revolution was the manifesto for the 26 July movement, which was penned by Fidel Castro himself, to restore the constitution and the democracy and have an election. That’s what it was about. That’s the reason why everyone banded together. It wasn’t a Marxist, Leninist, Communist revolution. That only happened very shortly after he solidified power. Within a year’s time, it quickly went in that direction. So, I guess, as a Cuban, I’m waiting for the day when the original promises are granted or achieved. That’s a long answer to your simple question. We’re still waiting for the constitution and the democracy to be upheld. Or else we wouldn’t have left. Some people committed to the new ideology and committed to what was promising or preaching or represented, and other people said, “No, we can’t live under these conditions, and we’re leaving.” That creates the split, and takes us back to the metaphor of impossible love. You can love her, but you just can’t be with her.

C: That’s taken literally in the film, too. Your character Fico is leaving a woman as well as his country.

AG: Exactly. Absolutely.

C: The heartbreaking scene at the end where Fico is in New York and he’s just working at the restaurant, and Lansky comes in...That’s one of my favorite scenes, because there is that look in his eye--the look of an exile--and you still get a sense that he’s very hopeful that this is a short-term move for him. Tell me about the club that you envision Fico opening in New York.

AG: You mean the sequel [laughs]?

C: Will he be able to achieve his former glory as a master club owner?

AG: Well, I think it opens strong, as indicated in the movie, but I think it’s a smaller-scale thing, maybe something like the size of the Cotton Club, but dynamic, you know, because the music scene was alive in New York. And, it’s only when Fico can emotionally rediscovers running a club that he can do it. He says in New York to Bill Murray, “I’m masquerading as an exile. I’m still in Cuba.” And, Murray says, “Where do you think I am, Jersey City?” And so, even though he’s there, he’s not able to really hear the music until he puts the relationship with Cuba and/or Aurora in a perspective where he says, “Okay, it looks like I’m here for a while.” He’s sort of like in limbo. That’s why we play that song, that Duke Ellington “Limbo Jazz.” And, he’s doing his thing, and he’s moving forward, and he’s working, or whatever, but he hasn’t come back from this whirlwind. He’s still in limbo emotionally, until she comes and says, “No, I’m not here to stay. I’m actually here because I’m still even more deeply committed to what my thoughts are.” And, at that point, he’s able to move forward and say, “Okay, we’re here for a long haul, and it’s time to move forward.”

C: Yeah, that’s the turning point for him, I guess--that visit from her.

AG: Then, the Pied Piper calls, and he walks into his own projection, and rediscovers the music and the musicians, and then the movie ends with that kind of hope. The movie ends with hope. It also ends with a Marti poem that talks about tolerance. So, that’s really the message of the film.

C: You mentioned Bill Murray before, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people scratching their heads about what he’s doing in this film...not why he’s in the film, but what he’s actually doing in the film.

AG: [laughs] He’s Infante. He’s the voice of Infante.

C: For a while, I thought maybe his nameless character wasn’t even real, that he was more a creation of Fico’s imagination, or the devil on his shoulder...

AG: Yes, Jiminy Cricket.

C: That’s what I thought until Murray started to talk to other people. What is it he is meant to represent?

AG: I think, metaphorically, he is exactly as you describe him. That is part of who he is. He’s sort of the guy on your shoulder, the Greek chorus, the Shakespearean fool, and ultimately, the voice of Infante, who uses him as a device to comment on the absurdities that are going on, sort of Kafkaan. Infante’s sort of like a Cuban Groucho Marx, you know. Bill Murray’s sort of like Groucho Marx in Fico’s life, who’s constantly saying, “Bring me some levity” to all the insanity that’s going on.

It’s a very unique character. For many years, over the years, people who read the script would go, “Oh-h-h, what is the part of the writer. Get rid of it!” But, I was always faithful to it, and, as you know, in the credits, he’s called The Writer. In the movie, he has no name; he refuses to divulge his name. But, in the credits, he’s called The Writer.

C: That’s right. Is he even supposed to be Cuban?

AG: No, he’s an American expatriate gag writer. He could have been Cuban--it depends on who played him. He didn’t have to be anything. He could have been American, he could have been Cuban, he could have been anything. The point is I always thought it would be a good character to make him an expat because there was a lot of that in Cuba. And, when you have the opportunity to have Bill Murray in your movie, you know, he so personifies that part that it’s incredible. That part that he played was 95 or 98 percent written material--Bill was not just improvising. This is written material. So, it shows you how much of Bill’s own style or persona fit the Infante persona. That was amazing.

C: He made it seem like he was just talking off the top of his head...

AG: Well, Bill Murray is an American genius.

C: Before we close, may I run through a couple titles of things you have coming up? I know you’re in the new Joe Carnahan film SMOKIN’ ACES. Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing in that film.

AG: I play the head of the FBI, the director of the FBI. And, I’m sort of organizing this investigation that’s going on. It’s a very unique screenplay, but complicated in the sense that it has a lot of mulitple layers of characters, of things that are going on. But, Joe Carnahan is an extremely talented guy, and I’m very stimulated by him. He’s a great writer, and I think the movie’s terrific. I’ve seen some pieces of it, I haven’t seen the whole thing.

C: The other one--it looks like it’s from a newer director--is an ensemble piece called THE AIR I BREATHE.

AG: Yes, the director Jieho Lee also co-wrote the script, which has an ensemble cast, which you probably know already--Kevin [Bacon] and Brendan Fraser and Sarah Michelle Gellar. It’s sort of a dark, allegorical tale.

Jieho, I believe, is Korean, and it sort of starts you out on an old allegorical Japanese, I think, or Korean folk tale, but modernized. And, I play this character called Fingers. And, all I can say is that they don’t call him Fingers because because he’s good at sewing.

C: I guess the obvious last question is, Where are things with OCEAN’S THIRTEEN?

AG: I’m shooting, I believe, in August or September. The films starts production at the end of July.

C: And how much more abuse and humiliation are they going to inflict upon poor Terry Benedict?

AG: Well, you know, in the last movie I got my money back, so I did pretty well.

C: Yeah, except that it looked like someone was about to grab it from you again in the last scene.

AG: Yeah, exactly. Well, you know, listen, somehow he’s got to make a living. As long as they keep calling back, I’m good. At this point, I either have to kill them or join them, but that’s as far as I’ll go or as much as I’m saying. And Al Pacino’s going to play the antagonist in the piece, so how can you go wrong?


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