Andy Garcia is pretty picky when it comes to taking on movie roles, but when he read the script for City Island he immediately knew he had to be on board. Best known for films like The Untouchables, The Godfather III and the Ocean’s Eleven movies, not only does Garcia play the lead character in City Island, but he also took on the role of producer.
Set in the Bronx, City Island follows the Rizzos, a family that might get along a lot better if only they could tell each other the truth. Dad Vince (Garcia) is the worst offender. But since the prison guard won’t even admit that poker night is in fact acting class, how’s he ever going to explain about his illegitimate son? His daughter works as a stripper when she’s supposed to be in college, while young Vinnie Jr. has a secret sexual fetish that involves a 24-hour webcam and the family’s 300-pound neighbor. Vince’s wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) is the family’s rock, but it’s been a year since she enjoyed intimacy with her husband, and it’s no surprise she thinks poker night spells A-F-F-A-I-R. When former prisoner Tony enters the Rizzos’ lives, Joyce begins to suspect that the handsome young Tony isn’t who Vince says he is.
Tribute’s Bonnie Laufer spoke to Andy Garcia by phone about working on the film and his talented castmates, and what it was like for him to have his real-life daughter play his daughter in the movie.
Q: So how are you holding up with all the promotion you are doing for “City Island?”
A.G. Well, my voice is taking a bit of a toll, but it’s been great. You know when you have a child and people are receiving her so well, you want to talk about her! I’m just thrilled to be talking about his movie because I am just so proud of it.
Q: Was that what initially turned you on about the project?
A.G. The script was just so charming, so genuine and so fresh I couldn’t resist it. It was very human, there were no real jokes in it but I found it hilarious, yet at times very painful. It had that great quality where this guy Vince Rizzo (who I play) has some real issues in his life; he is the heart of this family. Here he is in midlife, with this real deep serious desire to explore a dream he’s had all of this life. He’s never had the courage to explore his dream, which is to become an actor. He’s insecure about it, he doesn’t believe he has any talent and he doesn’t even have the courage to let anyone know he is even in acting class, so I really felt for this guy.
Q: I love going to New York, especially Long Island and I find the people who live there are so unique and genuine. Did you feel the same?
A.G. For sure, all those cultures who live in the outer boroughs of New York are great working class people who many of us can relate to. There is a lot of family unity and it’s a great place to mingle. I didn’t know the Bronx so much because I hadn’t spent too much time there before but while I was there, especially in “City Island” which is a particular area of the Bronx, I felt very welcome and at home.
Q: You’ve been acting for many years Andy, but your character Vince is a guy who really wants to pursue acting. Was it hard for you to pull back the reins and start from square one again?
A.G. (laughs) Oh no, not at all. I just identified with him from when I was young and had the drive to take acting classes and become better. It’s a very private thing and you want to keep it quiet. Like my daughter who grew up in an industry town and acting family, it was more out in the open. For me, there were no actors in my family or a professional actor near where I grew up in Miami, so I could totally understand where Vince was coming from. The predicaments and journey of this character was something I really liked and was excited to explore.
Q: The characters are pretty much all is denial, again something most of us can relate to. Have you have ever been in denial in your life and then realized, hey wait a minute here?
A.G. Oh, for sure. I’m constantly in denial, but I have great people around me who make sure that doesn’t last too long! (laughs). That’s what I loved about the characters in this movie, they are all in denial but I think what brings them together actually is the first step my character takes to confront his own denial is taking responsibility for his illegitimate son that he had not seen since that child was born. That move gets everyone in the family to talk about what their secrets are and what they are really feeling.
Q: You are surrounded by a fantastic cast. You also signed on as a producer, so one of your jobs was to help find the cast.
Q: So, you figured, let’s call up some of my friends and see who I can get on board. You have some very nice and talented friends!
A.G. That is for sure! I mean if you can’t count on your friends to help you out, who can you call? ( laughs). Well, we got the genius of Alan Arkin, plus Julianna Margulies and Emily Mortimer. These are people who I not only admire but have worked with before and have become good friends with over the years. It blew my mind that they came on board. I also knew that they were perfect for these characters and that the script would attract them in a heartbeat. Julianna was outstanding and I knew she’d be able to pick up that Bronx accent quickly and do a good job as my wife in the film. We see a different side of her and she really went above a beyond. It was fun to play opposite her in this film.
Q: Having worked with Emily Mortimer on Pink Panther 2, you knew what she was capable of.
A.G. Yes I actually immediately thought of her for the role when I read. She is so warm and charming and has such great acting sensibilities. She worked out very well.
Q: Now we have to talk about your real-life daughter Dominik who plays your daughter in the film. She did a great job, but her “secret” in the film is that she is a stripper. Was it a little hard for you as a dad to see?
A.G. Well, it’s a PG-13 movie so we knew she could only push that so far. (laughs). However, when I do watch the movie back, I do take a moment to tie my shoes!
Q: Is it true that she didn’t even want you on the set when she shot those scenes?
A.G. Yes, it is true. When she took the role, she said I had to stay out of her acting process, so that’s the way we played it. I didn’t go to the set the day she shot her stripper scenes. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable and it seemed to work out just fine.
Q: Was it inevitable having an acting dad that she would be an actor herself? Was this a lifelong dream of hers?
A.G. Yes, since she was five, both her and my middle daughter Daniela have been in the theater and acting. This is the third time we have worked together and I have worked with Daniela twice so it’s in their blood. My youngest daughter Alexandra likes to work backstage on productions; she never liked the onstage thing. She is in college talking Communications, so we will see what path she ends up taking. I am so proud of all my girls, they are pretty amazing. It’s beautiful to see your daughters grow and begin to fulfill their dreams. They understand how difficult it is and are realistic about the business; I have to say they all have good heads on their shoulders and work hard. So I only wish them the best of luck, because I know it’s not easy.
Q: I understand that we will be seeing a film from you soon that will put you back in the director’s chair.
A.G. Yes, I am just trying to work out the financing, but hopefully it will all come together soon. It’s called “Hemingway and Fuentes” and it’s a movie I wrote with Hilary Hemingway who is Ernest’s niece. It focuses on the last 10 years of Hemingway’s life in Cuba during the time he wrote “The Old Man and the Sea.” The main relationship is with his wife, and Gregorio Fuentes who was the captain of his boat who I will play. Sir Anthony Hopkins has signed on to play Hemingway. I’m very proud of the screenplay and I think we can make a beautiful movie; it’s just a question of raising the funds to get it started.
Q: “City Island” just recently picked up the Audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival. What is it about the film that resonates with audiences?�
A.G. You know, I think it’s just the humanity in it. Everybody is pulling for these characters to do well and resolve their issues. Also the ride this family and the other characters go on is like a roller coaster and the catharsis that the audiences have with laughter and emotion is something that (from what I have been told) is what is touching people. It’s like they are laughing and laughing so hard, and then the next minute they are crying. It’s quite an emotional journey you take with these people and it was such an amazing journey for me to take as an actor and producer.
City Island opens March 26 in Toronto then rolls out nationally from there.