Did anybody catch City Island during its earlier—and very brief—run locally? Xpress movie critic Justin Souther did, but he seems to be one of the few who did. So when it turned out that the film was being given a second chance at big-screen life in Asheville—starting this Friday at Carolina Asheville—Souther spoke with the film’s star, Andy Garcia, about this unusual turn of events, about the film itself and the state of independent movie production today.
Xpress: I want to start off by asking you about City Island, because that’s what’s opening—or reopening—this week here in Asheville. How did you get involved with that project?
Garcia: The project was submitted to me by the director [Raymond De Felitta]. We share a mutual agency, and an agent at the agency suggested me for the part, and he liked the idea. He submitted the script to me with the added interest in me co-producing the movie.
Xpress: I had the feeling watching the movie that the role is a little different than what you normally play. Did that help draw you to the film?
Garcia: Oh absolutely. I love to get these kinds of parts, it’s such a unique part, my character holds so many insecurities and issues in his life.
Xpress: I felt that he’s a lot more insecure than what you’re usually seen as.
Garcia: He’s the antithesis of what people might think of me.
Xpress: I also felt that he would be an easy character—if played wrong—he’d be kind of unlikable, but I felt that you did a good job of not doing that.
Garcia: You know, I don’t have a problem with being unlikable within a movie, you know what I’m saying? But the issue is I saw him as someone who is extremely human, with human frailties and mistakes he’s made and insecurities and lack of confidence. I never saw him as someone unlikable; at the base of it, he’s a very human character with very human issues. I just thought it was an extraordinary opportunity as an actor, for a characterization in a story, that I was completely charmed by the script and the humanity in the piece, the humor in the piece, so to me it was like a gift that was given to me. Not only to act in the movie, but as an opportunity to help get the movie made, which is easier said than done.
Xpress: I know in the past few years it seems like it’s harder for people to get independent films made. Are you finding that to be true?
Garcia: Yes. It’s always been difficult, but it’s becoming more difficult. A lot of the ways of structuring independent films is through foreign presales. It’s an independent movie usually because you don’t have a domestic distributor on board initially. Or else it really wouldn’t be so much of an independent movie. So in the past, the foreign pre-sale market was a lot softer, there was a base to it that you could at least depend on to almost get you to all of your budget and then you could raise the balance of it through equity or gap financing and so forth.
Xpress: I know that a lot of the larger studios had their smaller independent studios and a lot of those have been folded.
Garcia: I think “had” is the appropriate word.
Xpress: So you feel that’s going to be the norm for awhile?
Garcia: Well, I’m hopeful that it won’t be, because as we always see year in and year out, the independent films do make an impact. Every year’s the same thing, whether it be Little Miss Sunshine and an independent movie that does very well, or a movie like The Hurt Locker, which won the Best Picture Oscar and it was completely an independent film. I think these things are always constantly happening, every year, we see that happen over and over again. And, I would hope—and I would think—that the studios would rethink their lack of positioning in the marketplace and reestablish their independent acquisitions.
Xpress: You’ve done a lot of big budget stuff and large-scale productions lately. It seems as if you’ve been doing more independent things. Are those movies you’re more proud of?
Garcia: Well, obviously when you’re involved—not only as an actor, but as a producer or as a director on a piece—there’s an extra level of personal attachment to it. It’s like a child. You got in on the ground level, you nurtured it, you worked on the material, you raised the money, you asked people to believe in you, you tell them we’ll promise you we’ll make a great movie and I feel very confident that we’ll get distribution. It’s a very proud thing to be associated with, that whole process. Not to say that being in Ocean’s 11 is something I’m not proud of, but there’s a more personal attachment to something that you feel you were nurturing and you were pushing up the hill.
Xpress: I’ve seen that you’ve been directing. You’ve had one feature—
Garcia: I’ve directed one feature film, some television and a series of musical documentaries.
Xpress: And you have Hemingway and Fuentes you’re working on right now?
Garcia: It’s a script that I have written with Hilary Hemingway, Ernest’s niece, and we’re in the process of financing the film.
Xpress: Did you find it easy to go from acting to directing since you’ve been working in the business for such a long time?
Garcia: It’s difficult in terms of time consumption and all that, but I didn’t feel out of place. I’ve been producing movies and making movies—not features, but musical documentaries and stuff like that—I’ve been producing independent films from the beginning, all the way through editorial and the mix and post and all that. So when I started directing my first feature, I felt that I had put in the work over the last 30 years that I didn’t really feel any issues that way at all. I felt very comfortable, I had a story to tell, and I had great people who were around me, who were my collaborators, and we went out and we executed it. It was basically very simple. The most difficult thing was raising the money, which took me 16 years. Once we had the money, in the case of Lost City, we shot it in 35 days and it was a very large scope, so we had to move fast. I feel comfortable in that element. It doesn’t stress me.
Xpress: Have you felt it difficult to raise money for the Hemingway film?
Garcia: We have people attached, it’s just a higher budget movie and we just need some more. That’s the problem, when you get into the $15 to 20 million range it’s a more difficult scenario.
Xpress: You’ve worked with some very high-profile directors. Do you feel you’ve picked up a lot from them or just film in general?
Garcia: Not just directors, but editors and cinematographers, absolutely. I came to Los Angeles in the late ‘70s as a young actor looking for work, but really because I wanted to work in films. I wanted to make movies. I had an interest in filmmaking, not only as an actor. When I began to have the opportunity as an actor to work with these important directors and productions, to me it was like a master’s class every time I went to work. So I took it upon myself always to get involved, to look at dailies. The directors I was working with saw my interest so they would invite me into the editing room and to see post-production things and that’s how you learn. When I wasn’t working, I’d go into the editing room and sit in and just watch and ask questions and just absorb. I’d talk to the cinematographer and see what lenses he was using and why and what does that lens do, what does the 300mm lens do compared to a 35mm, all those kinds of things. You need to understand that if you want to direct films. To me it was a great opportunity, because I was a kid in a candy store.
Xpress: I want to go back to City Island for a second. How did you find working with the cast and the director?
Garcia: We had a great time. Raymond and I got a chance to really know each other a lot before we started shooting because we had two-and-a-half years trying to get the movie made. So we had to work some ideas into the script. We got a chance to get to know one another and talk about it. I suggested the three principals in the movie. Alan Arkin and Julianna [Margulies] and Emily [Mortimer] were colleagues of mine in other films and friends, and they were people I suggested for the movie and were specific calls that I made based on Raymond’s excitement about saying that they’d be great in the film. So for me, working with them—such congenial actors at the top of their craft—I was very honored that they came and supported the piece and that I got a chance to work with them again. And then the young kids in the cast, as you saw, were fantastic. It was a very organic, quick shoot. Everybody knew what they were getting into and we were all set because of the material.
Xpress: It sounds like you were extremely hands-on with the entire production.
Garcia: Well, that’s my responsibility as a producer. You don’t do it all, but you are involved in everything. For me, there’s three different stages in the productorial responsibilities. There’s the financial side, because that’s how we raised the money to get this movie made. What bank do we go to, is it partial pre-sales, is it partial equity, how do we scrape it together to make it, how much do we need? And then, once you have that done, then you have the specific strategy of budgeting, staying on budget, on time and scheduling and getting the thing done for the money you have. And that’s really a collaboration with a line producer of the film, which in this case, was Zachary Matz. There’s an art to line producing, it takes a lot of time, a lot of diligence. I’m accessible as a producer to him—any questions he might need from me, any answers or an opinion. But I trust that that person who’s my partner—and in this case, Ray’s partner also—is the person we know can handle and organize that part and we can concentrate on the creative. And if there are issues, obviously, we go to him. We got a problem, we got to make sure we can shoot this scene or we got to get out of here by Friday because of whatever it is. Or we’re running out of money, you need to defer your salary this week, whatever it might be. You know, they’ll come to you everyday with issues, so you have to have someone everyday taking care of that so you can concentrate on the creative producing. In my case, acting, and in his case, creative producing and directing the movie. And then in post, assuming you had made the movie on time and on budget—which we had, which I always have—you stay into the creative aspects of post-production, which is editorial, sound, music, the mix, testing the movie, getting the rhythm of the movie correctly. So once you raise the money, it becomes a little bit more on the creative side.
Xpress: City Island played here briefly at a large chain and the Carolina is bringing it back after it had been gone for about a week. I’ve never seen that happen to a film, at least in this city. What do you think about someone having that kind of faith in this movie?
Garcia: The movie’s playing so well and the audience is so in love with the film, that I think the distributor or the local distributor realized that, wherever it was, was maybe not the best venue for it. And he’s looking at the movie performing everywhere in the United States and saying, you know, I think this movie will do well here, you just got to put it in this theater. I’m not really hip on the area, but I think that’s probably what happened. The specialty houses around the United States are doing tremendous business with the movie, and the Carolina, being a specialty house is saying, no, no, this movie is going to work here.
Xpress: Asheville’s always had a good track record with independent films, which is one of the reasons I like it here. It’s very supportive of stuff that’s not mainstream.
Garcia: I hear it’s a beautiful city. I’ve never been there, but I have a good friend who’s from there, Andi MacDowell, who I think still lives there if I’m not mistaken. I hear it’s a beautiful city and I’m certainly curious to visit it one day. I was actually trying to get there for some screenings at a festival that my friend Bill Banowsky was having at his theater there.
Xpress: I guess it was ActionFest?
Garcia: I’ve been on the road so much for City Island that it’s hard to coordinate.
Xpress: Well, you should drop by sometime.
Garcia: Yeah, I definitely will.