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A Moment With Andy Garcia: An interview with the very private star.

The first time I saw Andy Garcia was in “The Untouchables” and I remember being mesmerized by the young actor who lit up the screen with his compelling presence. Garcia has continued to light up screens for decades – whether in a leading or supporting role. A very private Garcia agreed to give an exclusive interview to the Santa Monica Mirror following a recent press conference, which was primarily devoted to discussing his latest film, “Across the Line: The Exodus of Charlie Wright” [see our Nov. 26 – Dec. 2, 2010 edition, pg. 25 for a discussion with Garcia and Danny Pino]. The following has been edited for print purposes.

Mirror: Was your first important acting job on “Hill Street Blues?”

Garcia: I did a few things before that, but it was certainly one of the first.

Mirror: How did it come about?

Garcia: I was part of an improvisational troop for two or three years here in Los Angeles and we performed in different cabarets around town, but mostly at the Comedy Store on Sunset. One of the actors performing was Betty Thomas who came from Second City. She said she was shooting a pilot for a new show in which she was playing a police officer and said that there was a part that would be great for me. She talked to the casting director about me and had set up a meeting. I auditioned and was cast as a gang member and was in the first scene in the pilot where the camera travels through the police station over the credits. My character was there because someone had stolen my car and I was having an argument with my girlfriend. They called me back and I ended up doing four different shows over a period of two or three years.

Mirror: You have a stunning body of work including “Stand and Deliver,” “Black Rain,” “Internal Affairs,” “The Godfather: Part III,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story,” “Smokin’ Aces,” “City Island,” and the “Ocean’s” series. Which role was the most emotionally demanding?

Garcia: All the roles have emotionally demanding aspects. “When A Man Loves A Woman” would certainly be one that was very difficult emotionally to explore because it was about the destruction of a family due to my alcoholic wife who was played by Meg Ryan. Those takes were pretty heavy in every scene and there wasn’t a lot of relaxation in that film. That said, even a movie like “City Island,” which is very comedic, was extremely emotional at times.

Mirror: Do you have a very profound childhood memory that you’ve carried with you your entire life?

Garcia: Yes. I was born in Havana and my family left when I was 5-and-a-half. I remember the transition and some memories of being in Havana. I tried to analyze this and I think all exiles who have to leave a country that you love develop a profound nostalgia for where that you were born but can no longer be there – like an impossible love. You protect those memories and don’t take them for granted. It’s different for someone who grew up and still lives in the same city because they do take their memories for granted. For me, I’m very nostalgic – not only about my time in Havana, but my 30 years in Miami Beach. All those memories are pretty vivid and I guard and cherish them. I also use those recollections in my work.

Mirror: You’re a very famous, international movie star and have to juggle a busy career with being a father and keeping your marriage stable and happy. How do you manage this?

Garcia: Well, I wake up as a father to my four kids first. Once you have children, that’s your first priority and you have to be present in that relationship. Yes, we juggle everything and sometimes I turn down work because it’s too stressful on my relationship with my wife, Maria Victoria, and my children. To be away for five or six months is not a good idea. I’m blessed in that my career is such that I have choices and financially can afford to say that although I would like to do the movie, I’m not going away for twelve weeks because my kids are settled in. I don’t want to take them out of school and go to Yugoslavia, for example. So artistically you might not explore a possibility but I protect something that’s very important to me, and that’s my family.

Mirror: What other training did you get besides college?

Garcia: I studied with Sanford Meisner, and a little bit of The Method. I also took classes with Jose Quintero and did Shakespearean workshops with visiting instructors from RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.) I took a lot of workshops and did extensive improvisational theatre, including the famous Viola Spolin Theatre Games and also worked with folks from Second City.

Mirror: You can always tell when an actor has the kind of training you’ve had, as they have the ability to be in the moment, to be spontaneous, and react. Can you sum it up?

Garcia: Meisner’s whole philosophy is that you take your performance off the other person and the technique I learned from him was very helpful in my approach to developing a character and it applies equally to both stage and film acting.

Mirror: Do you ever hang out in Santa Monica?

Garcia: I don’t live near that area but I visit friends who live in Venice. Also, my kids were born at St. John’s, which is a magnificent hospital, so our doctors are there. We use, to go to Ye Old King’s Head but honestly I’m not up to speed on the new restaurants.

Mirror: What kind of food do you enjoy?

Garcia: I’m a burger connoisseur and I heard about this place that’s supposed to be terrific on Montana.

Mirror: It’s called Father’s Office. You have to scramble to find a seat but it’s a fun place. There’s another restaurant across from the Aero Theatre called R + D Kitchen and they make the best veggie burgers in town.

Garcia: Ah, who cares about veggie burgers (laughs). Burgers are meat. It’s like ordering a tofu burger. I’ll never be the guy ordering either (laughs).

Mirror: Thank you so much. This was delightful.

Garcia: You’re welcome. It was fun.

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