Andy Garcia didn't set out to build a career out of playing historical figures. But these days, it's starting to look that way.
He's played the musician Arturo Sandoval, painter Amedeo Modigliani, and the president of the Republic of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili.
He may be boxer Roberto Duran's manager in the biopic "Hands of Stone." And he is Mexican revolutionary general Enrique Gorostieta Velarde in his latest, "For Greater Glory," now showing in area theaters.
"You want to be as historically accurate as you can," he says. "If there's a lot out there -- film, photos, writings -- you owe it to them to dig into that. Sometimes, there isn't a lot out there. The sitting president of Georgia, Saakashvili, I got to meet. Modigliani? There's a handful of photos, a few people who knew him who talked about him. So you have to take impressions of him from his paintings and, as with any character, find some part of you that might be like him."
In "For Greater Glory," he took on an iconic figure from 20th century Mexican history. Enrique Gorostieta Velarde was a general during the revolution who took up arms, a decade later, to back a revolt by Catholic peasants against government "reforms" aimed at stripping the conservative Catholic Church of some of its power over the country. Velarde is almost a figure of myth -- an agnostic who led the Cristeros, as the revolutionaries were called, a man who has "very little documentation" about his life," Garcia says. "The family sent me some information, and there's a book about that era in history that had a small chapter on him.
"So you formulate impressions, figure out what his values were and what made him decide to get involved in this cause."
Like many, Garcia never had heard of the Cristero's War, the 1920s and '30s rebellion by peasants against a government that was determined, to the point of violence, to wrest control of education and other parts of Mexican life from the Catholic Church. Priests actually took up arms in the revolt.
"What could keep such an extraordinary piece of Mexican history in the dark, not that well known?" Garcia wonders.
"Take away the religion, and it's that age-old struggle for political power. One side says the church has too much power. So they take drastic measures to curtail that. And the people say 'No no. We can't let you get away with that. We have a right and you're taking it away from us.'
"The reasons you make movies about history, unpleasant history, is so that you don't repeat it. It's a cliche, but it's true. Versions of this are playing out all over the world, even today."
At 55, Garcia is further into what film scholar David Thomson predicted would be his career-long move into "increasingly Hispanic material." And as an actor who is doing more producing and directing in this stage of his career, he appreciated what the producers of "For Greater Glory" went through to get the $9 million movie made. The Catholic organization the Knights of Columbus was a backer.
Garcia has his own projects to get financed. And he hasn't given up on his dream movie, a biopic that will have him playing another historical figure. Garcia wants to tell the story of writer Ernest Hemingway's Cuban years, and his friendship with Cuban fisherman Gregorio Fuentes. Garcia has a third of the financing for that film lined up. All he wants is just enough to start production.
"I just want to be in a position to actually have problems to solve," Garcia says with a laugh. "You can always OVER 6 LNsmake adjustments, find creative solutions to expensive problems. But if you're stuck at home, talking about the problems, you're not actually making the movie, are you?"