It's taken 16 years for Andy Garcia to realize his dream of making an epic film about his homeland, Cuba.
That's 16 years from the time the Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante finished the script until the movie "The Lost City" was shot and appeared on the big screen. That's 16 years of composing the music, assembling a star-studded cast -- including Bill Murray, Dustin Hoffman, Nestor Carbonell, Enrique Murciano and the supermodel Ines Sastre -- and getting the backing to bring his labor of love to life.
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Garcia has been passionate about telling the story of family, love and loss set against the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution. During an interview on the veranda of his home in Miami, Garcia says the film is autobiographical in at least one way.
"Emotionally -- completely autobiographical. When I say autobiographical, I mean not necessarily my autobiography, but the journey of many people I have grown up with," he says. "This is our story as an exile community, specifically. But at the same time, it's a universal story of all immigrants in exile, I believe. I think that the idea of impossible love, of having to leave the thing that you most cherish is a universal story."
The Garcias left Cuba when Andy was 5 years old. It was 1961, after the revolution that put Fidel Castro in power. Midway through 1961, Garcia says, "There was a law passed where you lost control over the rights to your children." That's when his parents decided they'd had enough.
"I think my mother tells the story where they saw me marching. My house was directly in front of an old police headquarters that had been taken over by the new rebel army and I was marching and humming the Internationale. And my mother says to my father, 'Look at your son. We have got to get out of here,'" Garcia says.
The family left for Miami with $300 and a box of cigars.
Now, 45 years later, Andy Garcia has more than 40 films under his belt, including "The Godfather III" and "Oceans 11" and "12." He begins work on "Oceans 13" this summer.
But for now, his focus is on promoting "The Lost City," making sure it's seen and heard.
In it he plays Fico, the suave owner of Havana's most elegant cabaret. Fico's father is a distinguished professor who dismisses talk of revolution, but Fico's two brothers are drawn to the possibilities of change. One brother takes part in an ill-fated raid on the presidential palace in an attempt to topple the Batista regime, and the other brother goes off to the jungle to fight alongside Fidel Castro.
Fico wants to hold his family and his country together.
Garcia says he does not consider himself political like the brothers in the movie.
"People want to talk politics with me," he says, "and I do not instigate political thought. If someone wants to talk about Cuba and I have to -- my parents brought me here so I could speak the truth and not be worried about what I say -- so if someone asks me a question, I just answer it and I give my opinion. And it's an opinion that I know because I have researched it, and I have lived with it. But I do not consider myself someone who really goes out and tries to make a political statement, no. My movie is no more political than the movie 'Traffic' or 'Dr. Zhivago.' It is a tragic poem to a lost culture set in a political time, but that is not the motivation for the move."
Part of the motivation for the movie must surely be the music. Who knew that Andy Garcia is an accomplished musician? He produced and composed the music for the film.
And for our "Nightline" story, we met him at Victor's Cuban Café on West 52nd Street in New York, where he played piano and sang (un poquito) for us. He says he didn't start to learn piano until 16 years ago, when he first got the script for the movie. "I've had a lot of time to practice," he quips.
But he did learn to play percussion early in his teens, and like other celebrities who have side jobs in bands, you can catch Garcia onstage with one of his musical icons, Cachao. He recently played a concert with him in Miami and appeared with him at BB King's in New York.
He's got a performance at BB King's the same night as the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival. I ask Garcia if, since their set starts at 8 p.m., he'll go out later to any of the festivities surrounding the film festival, maybe make a late entrance at the opening night dinner, say around 10 p.m.
"I can't," he laughs. "We'll just be getting warmed up onstage at 10 o'clock."