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Andy Garcia on City Island

The dapper star fills us in on the secret charms of City Island— both the crowdpleasing new film (and TFF 2009 Heineken Audience Award Winner) opening at the Angelika on Friday and the NYC neighborhood.


With the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival right around the corner, we are delighted to celebrate this week's theatrical debut of last year's Heineken Audience Award Winner: City Island, opening this week at the Angelika Film Center in New York.


The family dramedy from director Raymond De Felitta stars Andy Garcia as Vince Rizzo, a working-class father with a secret ambition—he wants to be an actor. Commuting into the city from the sleepy harborside enclave in the Bronx (the real-life City Island is a secret even to most New Yorkers) for auditions, Frank is escaping a family that is falling apart: his wife (Julianna Margulies) thinks he's having an affair, his co-ed daughter (played by Garcia's daughter Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is moonlighting as a stripper, his one son (Ezra Miller) is a peeping Tom with unique tastes, and another son (Steven Strait)—heretofore unknown to Frank—has shown up out of the blue. Frank's got a lot on his plate, and the movie builds to a cathartic and poignantly funny climax.


You may have read the piece we posted recently by director De Felitta, an invitation to learn more about the making of City Island, and today we are checking in with Garcia, who clearly has a strong and affectionate connection to this crowdpleasing film. What attracted you to this project?

Andy Garcia:
Well, what first attracted me was the natural charm and humanity of the material. City Island is very funny, but it’s a comedy that is beautifully constructed and full of surprises. When I saw the script, it was easy to love. Can you describe City Island (the place) to our audience? It’s not a neighborhood a lot of people know about, even those who live in the city.

City Island is an island just off of Orchard Beach in the Bronx that’s only about a couple of miles long and ¾ mile wide. It’s known as a fishing village and for its rich history as a shipbuilding community. Believe it or not, some of our greatest ships and yachts—including WWII battleships and America’s Cup ships—have come from City Island. Can you talk a little about filming in the real-life community of City Island? It sounds like the community was really stoked about the movie and involved in the process.

They were very supportive of us being there, and we—the cast and the crew—felt very integrated into the community. In one particular sequence, which is actually the last scene in the movie, there was a climax on the street outside of the family’s house. We shot most of the night, almost until the sun came up. Well, all the neighbors came outside, and it was kind of like an outdoor theatrical event for them—they were applauding and very excited about the whole thing. For us, it was almost like doing theatre in the park. It was nice. Did you identify with your character Vince? He wants something more out of life, and goes after it. Is there a lesson there?

I think our job as actors is to try to get inside our characters and find parallels with our own lives. We try to find an organic emotional heartbeat. I completely identify with a man who has a dream—we all have dreams, so that basic essence of a dream is in every person’s life. In this case, I could especially identify with the dream of an aspiring actor. Did you always want to be an actor?

I think probably the answer is yes, but I didn’t make a conscious effort until my senior year of high school. But it was always there—I think I just didn’t realize it. I always had a strong interest in film, and I was enamored of film as a young man—I spent hours and hours in the movie theaters of Miami Beach. You and Julianna Margulies had a very nice chemistry—in fact, the whole family really felt like a real family, with ups and downs and secrets, but with real love at its core. Can you talk about working with the cast?

Julianna already played my wife once before [in The Man From Elysian Fields], so we've known each other for a while, and I think she's an extraordinary actress. The whole family—some of the first scenes we shot were all of us sitting down around the dinner table, and it immediately felt like we had been doing a Broadway show for 10 years—quite amazing for people who [mostly] didn’t know each other!
I got to know Emily Mortimer very well on another film we did together—The Pink Panther 2—and I knew we had great chemistry. So when I read the script, I thought of her as a possibility, but she was not available. But then, as these things go, it took us a little while to get going on the film, and then it worked out with Emily, which was great.
Ezra Miller auditioned for the movie, and Ray [De Felitta, the director] said, “I found this kid.” I saw him and I immediately said, “Hire him.” I could tell right away he was a very talented young man—he has a very loose style, and he’s a kid who’s very easy to love. Steven Strait was the only actor we met for the part [of Garcia’s other son]; we cast him right out of the first meeting. You’ve worked with your daughter before. Was this her most prominent role in a film with you?

Yes, this was definitely her most prominent role. She played my sister-in-law in Lost City, but we didn’t have many scenes together. And she played my daughter when she was 11 or 12 [in Steal Big, Steal Little], but this time we had lots of interaction, and it was definitely her most engaging part. At last year’s Festival, it looked like you and Raymond De Felitta had a nice relationship, even dueting on a piano piece at one party. How did you like working with him?

Ray was great! We became partners in the movie, and went on this journey together. We have similar sensibilities—in movies, in music, in sense of humor. I am a big fan, and we work well together. Hopefully we will work together again. He’s very talented, and a terrific writer, which is often the hardest thing to come by. The Tribeca Film Festival is coming up again soon. Did you enjoy the Festival experience?

It was fantastic! I love the Festival—I have been there several times, and I couldn’t think of a better place to debut City Island. We were honored to be included.


City Island What did it mean for City Island to win the 2009 Heineken Audience Award?

When you are working on a movie that’s done independently, you are always trying to get people to pay attention to the film. I think we showed the film 7 times at Tribeca, and the audience responded so enthusiastically, and so viscerally. That kind of response opens the eyes of distributors, showcasing a film’s potential. We gained momentum with each screening, and winning the award and getting the support from Tribeca gave us the exposure we needed, and look at us now! We open in a week’s time. Why do you think audiences reacted so strongly to the film?

Really, just the nature of the comedy and the humanity—the film has very emotional surprises. It’s not a movie that is telling jokes—instead, it puts characters in relatable but unpredictable scenarios. There is a truthfulness in the predicaments, and the audience goes on an cathartic (and sometimes uncomfortable) ride in the picture. Audience are literally clapping at the screen after some sequences. We’re very proud. What’s next for you? I understand you are soon to be a head of state?

Yes, in a movie about the Georgia/Russia conflict, directed by Renny Harlin, I play Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, and this summer, I am filming a movie in Mexico about the Mexican revolution. Then I am hoping to direct a movie I cowrote with Hilary Hemingway, about Ernest Hemingway writing Old Man and the Sea. I am directing it and playing Fuentes, the captain of the boat. We are in talks with Anthony Hopkins to play Hemingway, and we are in the process of getting it financed. Good luck! Any last words about City Island?


The restaurants and the people are fantastic—there are joints up and down Main Street. It’s such a nice summer getaway—either for the weekend or even just for the day. Check out the Nautical Museum for that shipbuilding history of the island that you don’t expect.


And try the lobster bisque!


City Island opens on Friday at the Angelika Film Center in New York.
Find tickets!


Raymond De Felitta's blog, Movies 'Til Dark, has more information.
Check out City Island's Facebook page for the most up-to-date news.


What will win this year's Heineken Audience Award? Check out the 2010 Film Guide and start making your predictions.


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