IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Keeping the Faith
Ian Spelling
Friday, June 01, 2012

ANDY GARCIA’s latest film has him fighting for the Catholic church, and he tells us what inspired him to take up For Greater Glory and everything else he’s done in his cinematic career

It’s a rarity to see Andy Garcia in a major-studio film these days. Ocean’s 13 (2007) and the lamentable The Pink Panther 2 (2009) are the actor’s only recent Hollywood outings. Instead Garcia has been turning up, with increasingly frequency, in independent features such as The Air I Breathe (2007), City Island (2009), 5 Days of War and his latest, For Greater Glory, which will open in limited release today.

“It’s the nature of the material I’m attracted to, I think,” Garcia says, speaking by telephone from a Manhattan hotel.

“The independent-film movement today in the world, and specifically in America, has changed. Movies that we make independently now used to be studio movies in the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s. Studio movies have obviously changed a lot, and there’s less and less support for the production of the kinds of dramas that used to be produced.

“A movie like Midnight Cowboy (1969) would be an independent movie now,” he says. “Any Hal Ashby movie, any early Coppola movie, they’d be independent movies now. You could even argue that The Godfather (1972) would have to be an independent movie today.

“That’s basically why I’m doing so many independent films,” Garcia continues. “If you’re attracted to things that interest you, to subject matters that are about human nature, character and relationships, you’re pretty much going to find those things in the independent cinema. You’re available to do the other things, but your heart... My heart goes out to the things that stimulate me, and I go wherever that is, no matter where it is.”

Garcia’s heart most recently led him to For Greater Glory.

The Mexican-made drama depicts the Cristero War of 1926-1929, which pitted the people of Mexico against President Plutarco Calles (Ruben Blades), who launched a campaign against the Catholic church that went so far as to kill Catholic priests in cold blood. Garcia stars as Enrique Gorostieta, a formidable ex-general who emerges from retirement to lead the rebel forces against Calles.

Eva Longoria plays Tulita, the general’s beloved wife, whose strong religious faith adds to his motivation. Peter O’Toole co-stars as Father Christopher, a brave priest who confronts Calles’ soldiers, with Oscar Isaac as rebel leader Victoriano Ramirez and Mauricio Kuri as Jose Luis Sanchez, a boy from Father Christopher’s church who joins the Cristeros and forges a bond with Gorostieta.

He had never heard of the Cristero War before he received the For Greater Glory script, Garcia admits. In fact, the story of the Cristero War is not well known in general, even to those broadly familiar with Mexican history, and people who are familiar with the events rarely speak of them.

“I got the script and they said, Cristiada,” Garcia recalls, referring to the film by its Mexican title. “I said, ‘Great title.’ I read it and said, ‘Wait a second. This is not Zapata and all that. Did this really happen? I’ve never heard about any of this. It’s fascinating’. You read these kinds of scripts, these classic Hollywood epics, like a John Ford movie, large vistas, and think, ‘This could be very interesting. I guess this story is true, but why have I never heard of it?’

“I started asking around,” the actor continues. “I talked to Mexican-American friends of mine, guys who grew up in Mexico, and they didn’t know anything about it. I thought that was curious. I Googled my character, and there was information on him. I Googled the Cristiada, and there was information on it. It was interesting to me that the people themselves have not been taught about that as they’ve grown up.

“A lot of the immigration in the 1920s to America from Mexico was because of this war,” Garcia adds. “So it’s a very curious thing that it was kind of swept under the rug.”

Garcia credits first-time director Dean Wright, previously best known for special-effects work on such films as Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), with capturing both the grandeur of the Mexican landscape and the intimacy of the story of Gorostieta’s war.

“Dean wanted to make this classical, large-scope, beautiful, epic film,” he says, “and focus on the struggle of these people and this fight for religious freedom. I see that as a larger umbrella, which is just absolute freedom, and religion falls underneath that. In this case, the fight was specifically about the right to practise your faith.

“I think Dean was able to capture this sprawling scenery that was the entire country of Mexico,” Garcia says. “We shot in five different states and very exotic locations. Everything he told me we were going to try to do, he took us there and did it. His designers designed everything beautifully. He really captured that time period.”

Meanwhile Garcia focused on his own task, bringing General Gorostieta’s rich and complicated reality to life on the screen.

“He was a decorated general from the Mexican Revolution who was retired and owned a soap factory,” Garcia says. “He was arguably agnostic or atheist, did not believe. He gets called upon by this rebel army in need of a leader to organise them. He was probably not in favour with the current government and probably had the itch to get back in the saddle again. As they say, ‘Once a general, always a general.’

“He decides — with the encouragement of his wife, who at first criticised the hypocrisy of someone who was a nonbeliever fighting for this cause — to take up the battle,” the actor says. “He realises that maybe this cause would not succeed without someone like him, and in his journey there’s a transformation. He finds himself, or at least the possibility of having faith. So he gets behind the idea, even though he wasn’t religious, of helping these people fight for their right to religious freedom.

“Then, through the examples of this young boy, Jose, and his fellow Cristeros, he has a spiritual awakening,” Garcia continues. “That was a beautiful arc to play. As an actor these are large, heroic arcs that you’d see in a Shakespeare play. So for me it was a great honour, not only because he was a historical character, but because of the character’s great arc.”

Hard as it may be to believe, looking at him, Garcia is 56 and has been acting professionally since 1978. The Untouchables (1987) made him a star, and he’s worked nonstop practically ever since.

“For me it’s been a blessing, in the sense that all my dreams as a young boy and young actor have been fulfilled,” Garcia says. “I just go to bed every night and I keep dreaming. I have new dreams to fulfill, but the ones that I had, to initiate why I wanted to do this, have fulfilled themselves.

“I have absolutely no complaints,” he says. “But I keep dreaming. I still have a lot of things I want to do.”

While Garcia can’t control what projects he’s offered, he can control what he creates. To that end, he has already established himself as a producer, and yearns to do many more films in this capacity.

He already has produced a dozen projects, most notably The Lost City (2005) and City Island, and has three more films on the way: Next up is The Truth, a thriller in which he stars with Eva Longoria and Forest Whitaker.

Admissions is a romantic drama that will pair him with Vera Farmiga, while Hemingway & Fuentes will, if all goes according to plan, cast Anthony Hopkins as Ernest Hemingway and Garcia as Gregorio Fuentes, the boat captain who inspired Hemingway’s classic 1952 novel The Old Man and the Sea.

“There’s nothing easy about producing movies,” Garcia says. “One movie I produced, The Lost City, about a family during the Cuban Revolution, took 16 years of my life to get done. Hemingway & Fuentes, I’m two years into it. Admissions, we’re close to two years into it. The Truth took a year and change to get off the ground.

“These movies are not easy to do,” he continues. “It’s very difficult to find money independently to produce a film. It’s a process. If you don’t have the domestic support up front, if you’re making the movie and then selling it once you’ve made it, it’s hard, because the initial support of a distributor is key in putting financing together.

“It’s hard either way, actually, but it’s what you have to do if you want to make the movie you want to make.

“It’s worth it, though,” Garcia concludes. “The basic thing is that I didn’t get into this only because I wanted to act. My desire was always to make movies and, if you want to make movies, you have to take responsibility for doing so.”

 

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