MAKING CITY ISLAND: MEET ANDY GARCIA
One afternoon in winter of 2007 (between Thanksgiving and Christmas is my memory is accurate) I drove out to the San Fernando Valley, to a modest house where I was scheduled to meet Andy Garcia. The house, which had been an early home of his and his families but was now used as an office, was filled with memorabilia--pictures, letters, awards etc.--attesting to the incredibly rich and varied career Andy has had over twenty plus years in the business. In time I would come to think of the house as the Museum Di Andy-Garcia--but on that first day I paid only cursory attention to the stuff surrounding me. Instead I was face to face with an actor I'd long admired and a man who, clearly, was the Vince Rizzo I'd been looking for for five plus years.
We sat in the garden and talked of many things--life, music, movies, family. Personally, I think this first conversation between an actor and filmmaker is the most important one. Nothing creative need come out of this first meeting--for nothing is more important than both actor and director getting a mutual sense of comfort and understanding about some basic philosophical things. If the air is muddy early--if a basic air of unease permeates things from the beginning, it will never get better. (Or so I've learned through unfortunate experience). You either have the same vision of life and work or you don't. If you do, you're making a film with a partner, not an adversary. Let David O. Russell make films with adversaries. I'd much rather make a film with a partner.
When our talk finally turned to the script, Andy did something I'll never forget. Rather than getting into a long talk about the character of Vince, he stood up and said he'd thought of something that Vince might do at the end of the movie, when the whole family is exploding in confessions about their secret lives. I watched and waited...and then Andy twirled around in pain, agony and exhaustion and sat down on the ground holding his head, defeated and incongruously (and literally) floored. The gesture was perfect--both humorous and genuinely pained. In a sense we never needed to discuss much about Vince again--this is the kind of the thing that lets you know an actor truly "gets it". The gesture survives--it's in the movie and it works wonderfully well.
Before the day was over, we'd made another kind of connection. Both of us are, essentially, entrepreneurial in spirit; I have never thought of myself as working "for" anyone (to my own detriment at times, but still that's who I am...) and have always looked at every movie as a sort of start-up business, one which with a few good breaks will turn into the long-awaited cash cow that all entrepreneurs dream of.
And Andy is not just an actor. He's a producer, a filmmaker, a musician and a supporter of anything in those fields he believes in. (His remarkable support of Cuban music legend Cachao led to the aging--and in many quarters forgotten--composer/player's resurgence in his old age.)
My feeling was that, between us, we were sitting with most of the firepower we needed, if it was harnassed correctly. So without much thought about it beforehand, I simply proposed that he and I become partners--co-producers--on the movie. Together we would find a way to mount it--cast it, finance it, the whole thing. Remember we had nothing but a script, a director and an actor. But the actor was so right for the script...and the director came cheap...
We shook hands on it that day. I remember the smell of his delicious Cuban cigar blowing in the winter air. (I don't smoke but the smell of cigars remind me of my childhood--my father smoked them all the time...) We would set out on the journey of a million miles together. First stop would be letting some of the better companies know that Andy was attached to a new project--a script that we both thought would be regarded not as an "art film" but as a highly accessible family comedy. Our lives would be considerably easier if Sony, say, or Fox Searchlight jumped on board and helped pull the movie together. Even if they didn't we'd made the connection--actor and material--that mattered the most.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 9:51 AM