FOR GOD, COUNTRY: Andy Garcia plays a general fighting for religious freedom in “For Greater Glory.”
Updated: July 3, 2012 12:51PM
Andy Garcia doesn’t want to talk about it. At least not at first.
“I was 5 when we left Cuba,” says the Havana-born actor. “I have very specific memories from that time. Parts of those memories are protected inside me. Those days are locked away. It’s what I call a subconscious protection.”
He will open those doors with caution.
“Then it’s like a switch goes off. It unlocks your memories and they’re right there in front of your face,” he says.
“I think it’s important to remember history — both good and bad moments. It’s the only way that we can avoid making the same mistakes again.”
Garcia’s family fled the Castro regime and settled in Miami Beach. It took several years for his father to join the rest of the clan. “I’ve been invited back to Cuba, but I’ve made a choice not to go back. I don’t know if they would accept me back.”
To unravel other moments of historical strife, Garcia has only to go back in time through films. Case in point: “For Greater Glory,” opening Friday.
The movie is set during Mexico’s Cristero War (1926-29), when the government decided to secularize the country and deny people their religious freedom.
“You can research it on the Internet. It’s there, but it’s a part of history people just don’t know about,” Garcia says.
This moment in history struck a chord with the 56-year-old actor.
“This hit home for me because it made me think about what happened in Cuba,” he says. “When Castro took over, he kicked the church out and said no more religion. It was part of the doctrine of that regime.”
Garcia plays a celebrated Army general named Enrique Gorostieta Velarde who leaves his wife (Eva Longoria) and kids to lead the fight for religious freedom in Mexico. “It was a role I was honored to play,” Garcia says.
He laughs and adds, “The only tough thing was getting back in the saddle again because I’m on horseback during so many of the fights. I hadn’t ridden in awhile. I had to just get back on the proverbial horse, but it was fantastic.
“I’m happy to say that it wasn’t even difficult on my body, although there were a few bumps and bruises.”
Beyond the epic battles, he says the film has an important message. “It’s about how individuals can rise up for change,” he says. “The people who wanted their religious freedom wanted to protest peacefully. The government wasn’t going to allow a peaceful protest.
“That’s where my character, who is a retired general, comes in to help the people form an army. My guy is smart about fighting. He’s strategic.”
Garcia says the fight for freedom is a current battle.
“Freedom is always an ongoing struggle,” he says. “The Pilgrims came [to the United States] for religious freedom, and this is an ongoing struggle to this day with exiles coming to America.
“I identified because I was part of the exiles. In Cuba, we were denied our civil liberties. Many people died fighting that cause, but people will always fight for freedom — no matter the sacrifice.”
Next up for Garcia is directing the film “Hemingway & Fuentes,” about another legend.
“I wrote a movie about [Ernest] Hemingway and the last 10 years of his life. I actually wrote the screenplay with his daughter, and Anthony Hopkins is attached to play Hemingway.
“Directing is my next step. I love having a greater responsibility. I’ve never shied away from a problem-solving situation, which is directing.”
What will it take for George Clooney and Brad Pitt to call him for another installment of the “Ocean’s 11” series?
Garcia laughs merrily. “I don’t think they’re doing one of those again — as far as I can tell,” he says. “It’s another case of ‘Man, I have my memories.’ ”
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