Garcia Breathes New Life Into Bad Guy Role
by Paul Fischer
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Andy Garcia has played his fair share of cinematic antagonists over the years, though one might be hard pressed to find a character quite as despicable as the mobster he plays in the dark indie drama The Air I Breathe. Yet audiences may be surprised that Garcia will next crop up in, of all things, the new Pink Panther comedy opposite Steve Martin, but for Garcia, that’s what acting is all about as he discussed with Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Paul Fischer: How irresistible a project was The Air I Breathe for you to take on? You had some really choice moments in this film, so was it the overall script, or was it the sort of rather fascinating character?
Andy Garcia: Well, it was a combination. I mean, obviously, first you read the script and you look at it, and it was an intriguing sort of predicament you have with the character that has such sort of unredeemable qualities. And you try to say, “Well, what kind of person is this?” And that becomes a stimulating question to answer. And then I was aware of some of the actors that were involved, which I liked a lot. And then I said, “Well, I’ll meet with the director and see what his feelings are.” What are they looking for? What kind of movie does he want to make? You know, kind of get a sense of who he is. And saw some of his work that he had done, some short films and stuff. And I was very taken by “Gia.” I thought it was going to be very intelligent and very passionate about it, and that it was a very personal involvement that he had with this story. So I was stimulated by it.
PF: Do you need to be empathetic with a character that is so unredeemable as the guy you play in this?
AG: Well, I’m not looking for him to be liked or redeemable is the first thing. But I am interested in finding what makes him tick, and then in how he processes information, and kind of his reaction to it. And what is it about a guy who can be, in a sense, evil, but at the same time say, “I’m not a bad person.” And if you say, “Well, if he really means that, if it’s not just a joke or a thing to manipulate,” then that opens up a whole series of questions that you have to ask yourself. If he really feels that he’s a victim and he’s not a bad person but he does bad things but they’re not his fault, that he’s being provoked, he has to do them, what kind of personality make up is a person like that? And you know, that begins the process, so it certainly becomes a stimulating process.
PF: How do you find a character like that within yourself? And do you rely totally on your imagination?
AG: Well, you have this screenplay, so you have the words that have been already indicated. So you have sort of that parameter to jump off of. But you have to fill this guy’s emotional life with your own. So your body and whatever you bring to the table is what you have to work with. And it’s not as something you can’t act the thing. You have to live the thing. You have to feel it. So you have to try to find in your subconscious and in your consciousness and everything, and in your history, things that come out you can substitute and make sense of this whole insanity of who this person is. And you do that by personalizing it and trying to stimulate parts of your psyche that somehow relate.
PF: Do you enjoy being evil on screen? It’s not the first time you’ve tapped into your dark side.
AG: Do I enjoy it? Well, I enjoy it in the sense that I enjoy acting and I enjoy the process. It’s a lot more fun to do a comedy than it is to play a character. You know, there is a residue, or as my friend, Jeff Bridges, once told me, “The bad guy blues.” You know, you do take a hit. You pay a price when you go into the dark side kind of thing. But there is something invigorating about it. But there is an emotional price you pay when you’re working to try to get to those places.
PF: I was looking through your filmography just to get a better sense of— I mean we’ve met before. And you’ve done close to 40 films, which is quite extraordinary. And I’m just wondering how much more selective you’ve become as you’ve gotten older.
AG: Well, I think it’s pretty much the same. First of all, you can only select from the things that are being offered, the things that are out there that come your way. You can’t select from something that you’re not being asked to participate in, obviously. So the things are presented to you, and then you kind of assess it. And then what you’re stimulated by, you jump in, and what you don’t, you don’t. And I think my process has been exactly the same all through my life, since I started pursing this work professionally. So my sensibilities have been kind of the same. And my process, it never really changed, for better or worse.
PF: Is there a lot of stuff that you turn down?
AG: Yeah. Yeah. I’d like to think the things I turned down don’t have any merit. To me personally, you know. So I think I would say it’s pretty easy to kind of sense out something that’s potentially good from the point of view that is genuine. And there’s genuine people involved, and other things, that where you go, “Ah, that’s just an exploitive thing. That’s good nothing. Pass on that one.” It becomes pretty obvious, I think. And I’m not talking about commercial or non-commercial, I’m just talking about something that the average anyone reads into this.
PF: Now the last thing I somehow expected to see you in would be a Pink Panther movie. But I guess Steve saw something in you that made him feel that you were perfect for this.
AG: I guess. I started in comedy when I first started as an actor on stage and doing improvisational theater and stuff like that. So a lot of people who know me know that sort of side of me. But I got the roles that I got as an young actor kind of steered me in a different direction, which were, at times, darker characters. And so comedy was not something that came easy for people to think of my in those terms. I’ve done parts that have had humor in it. You know, even in this character, there are moments when they’re humorous. But humor within the context of possibly darker material. You know what I mean? But the genre of a Pink Panther is just a specific genre, whether there even is real comedy involved or stuff like that. It’s a totally different thing.
PF: How much improvising did you do on that film?
AG: We did some. The script was very good. But there was always room to embellish. So sometimes there are scenes where you can enhance and put Steve in predicaments and say things to him that he can react off of and stuff like that. And you play around with that. And if it’s funny, if it works, everyone goes, “Great, just keep it.”
PF: Is it hard to keep a straight face?
AG: Oh, sure. [chuckle] Well, Steve is a really funny guy. We kind of lose it. And sometimes he loses it—I think he even owns the character even more so in this movie. I think it suits him tremendously. I think he has a real flair for it, both because he’s a great actor, but also, great physical comedian. But in a way, it’s a different kind of physical comedic presentation that is not a wild and crazy guy kind of presentation. It’s more stylistic. It’s more in the Jacques Tati mode and the old Clouseau mode than it is about what you would normally think of Steve Martin as.
PF: Who do you play?
AG: I play a detective.There’s four of us. We’re called The Dream Team, and are assembled to track down these artifacts that have been stolen. And I’m one of the four. It’s funny. I think it’s going to be very funny.
PF: What else are you working on?
AG: I just finished another independent film right before the holidays with Ray Liotta, myself and Bruce Davison, Esai Morales, Armand Assante, and my daughter, Dominique, is in it. It’s called “La Linea.” And we did that right before the end of the year.
PF: And you play Javier Salazar in that movie, I take it?
AG: Yes, I play also sort of an antagonistic figure.
PF: Wow, you really have that antagonistic thing down, I think.
AG: I don’t know. You know, it’s a living, I guess. [chuckle]
PF: Now there are rumors, of course, of you playing Lucky Luciano.
AG: They’ve approached me on it, and I’m certainly interested in it. I’ve played him once before, but this would come at a different part of his life. And I’m interested in it, but it’s not something that’s really come together at all.
PF: Have you signed on for anything else at the moment, or are you taking a break?
AG: No, I have not signed on for anything. I’m looking to do something. I have a movie that I’m trying to produce as we speak with Marcia Gay Harden and myself, that I will producing and acting in called City Island with Raymond Desalita, the writer-director. And we’re in the process of financing.
PF: What about directing again?
AG: I want to. And I have some things I want to do. But again, I’m looking for money, as they say.
PF: Will you direct a studio movie, or do you think you’re really—?
AG: Yes. If it’s something that they want me to do and that I was stimulating by, absolutely. I have nothing against the studios.
PF: How fulfilling is acting for you now and against how it was when you began all those years ago?
AG: It’s just as fulfilling. It depends. When it’s the right scenario, it’s just as stimulating and just as exciting for me. It’s just a question of finding a piece of material that lights a fire under you.
PF: But obviously, you’re still able to find them.
AG: Yes, exactly, exactly, exactly.
PF: Do you think there will be another Oceans movie, or do you think enough was enough?
AG: No, I don’t think so. But I didn’t think there was going to be a second one. I’m the wrong guy to ask. If they were doing another one and they called me, I would do one. Especially if Steven was directing it. But I like the character a lot. And I certainly enjoy being involved with all those guys in it and working with Steven, who’s an extraordinary director. So there’s nothing to complain about those films, for me, anyway.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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