Cuba, Cognac, and Cachao with Andy Garcia

Published October 16, 2013

ABOVE: DIEGO LUNA, ROSARIO DAWSON, AND ANDY GARCIA AT THE PARAMOUR MANSION IN LOS ANGELES. PHOTO COURTESY OF PATRICK MCMULLAN.

Andy Garcia has an outstanding work ethic. Since his breakout role in Brian De Palma’s 1987 gangster classic The Untouchables (1987), the actor has appeared in dozens of films, produced and directed a handful of others, and even composed several soundtracks. Garcia’s integrity, however, expands beyond his impressive film career. Born in Cuba, Garcia is proud of his heritage, despite the fact that he and his family involuntarily fled Cuba when Fidel Castro came into power. Now Garcia is a family man with four children. He is humble and private, but kind to the press. He avoids nude scenes. And, like any distinguished man, Andy Garcia appreciates a good cognac.

It is for these reasons that Martell Cognac approached Garcia to create a film in celebration of their new Martell Caractère. The subject for the project was obvious to Garcia: legendary Cuban musician Israel “Cachao” López. The actor recently hosted a lavish dinner thrown by Martell at The Paramour Mansion in Los Angeles to celebrate the collaboration.

Before the three-course meal was served, we sat down with Garcia on a brown leather couch in one of the mansion’s ornately decorated rooms to chat about Martell and the actor’s love of Cachao. Garcia looked characteristically dapper in a brown pinstripe suit and Burberry scarf, hair slicked back, and cognac in hand.

ALLYSON SHIFFMAN: What do your hosting duties entail tonight?

ANDY GARCIA: Drink cognac and speak with you.

SHIFFMAN: Have you been a longtime cognac drinker?

GARCIA: I’m not hooked on cognac, but I’ve enjoyed it over the years.

SHIFFMAN: How did you come to be involved with Martell Cognac?

GARCIA: They approached me to make a film for them that represented the spirit of John Martell and what he stood for as a person and as a visionary—the qualities that they felt were linked to the brand because of John Martell himself. I said that I knew a gentleman that I had worked with over the years, who is no longer with us, and was a great influence in my life named Cachao—a Cuban musician, composer, arranger, and creator of the Mambo. The creation of the cognac had an impact on the world and he had an impact on the world musically with his innovations. That’s what [Martell Cognac] would like to promote: people that can inspire other kids and generations. They have a saying: “It’s not what you achieve, it’s how you achieve it.” The integrity of the journey is what’s important—how you conduct yourself in the process. That’s what Cachao was always about. He had great integrity, great dignity, was very humble, and dedicated to his art. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pull from a lot of archival footage I have that’s based on our relationship and all our collaborations together, which I always documented. That will be the film. It will be a simple thing but it will show Cachao in action and a little insight into our relationship.

SHIFFMAN: How did you first meet Cachao?

GARCIA: I was a fan of his music and I was a great collector of his music. When I finally got to meet him, I put together a concert to honor him. Then I started archiving him and his creative process and making documentaries about him. This is my fifth movie about Cachao.

SHIFFMAN: So you’re just an expert.

GARCIA: On him, I am.

SHIFFMAN: Cachao was obviously someone you have learned from. I’ve also heard you talk about your father as a significant role model. What are some key things you try to instill in your children?

GARCIA: A lot of it comes off of what I’ve learned from my parents. First of all, you have to lead by example. You can’t say one thing and behave another way. Kids learn more from watching you in life than what you say to them. So I try to be the best example I can be to them. I think it’s most important for children to understand the concept of respect and manners and also work ethic. I have a responsibility to those who came before me.

SHIFFMAN: How much does your history—specifically coming from Cuba—play into this project?

GARCIA: Cachao is obviously Cuban. He’s known for traditional Cuban music and that’s the music that I’m most passionate about. I listen to and I play all kinds of music and I’m interested in jazz and in bluegrass—I like it all—but Cuban music speaks to me in a certain way. Cachao is one of the greatest innovators and visionaries. At the base of the tree, the roots, there is Cachao. So I was blessed to have had that time to learn from him and to give him an opportunity and a space where he can create. Everybody always wants to play with Cachao, because he’s the guy.

SHIFFMAN: There are a range of cocktails being served tonight that are centered around this cognac. Are you drinking it straight or is that a cocktail?

GARCIA: This is a cocktail they concocted. It’s called the Martarita. It’s very good. A tequila sunrise kind of thing. It’s sweet, if you like sweet.

SHIFFMAN: You have your hand in a number of things right now. I’m quite excited about this Hemingway movie, Hemingway & Fuentes, you’re directing.

GARCIA: Me too.

SHIFFMAN: What made you want to pursue this story?

GARCIA: I’m a fan of his work and specifically The Old Man and the Sea. I researched the relationship he had with the captain of his boat for 20 years, Gregorio Fuentes, and that inspired me to write a screenplay about it.

SHIFFMAN: You’re also acting in several films coming out next year. Which is the first?

GARCIA: I think the first one that will come out is a thing I produced and costar with Vera Farmiga called At Middleton. That’s coming out January 31.

SHIFFMAN: I find it very charming that amongst all of your significant roles and projects you find the time to lend your voice to an animal in Rio 2.

GARCIA: That’s coming out! That’s right. It’s fantastic, I love it. I play the King of the Bluebirds. Now I’ve played a parrot and a German Shepherd—I’ve got that under my wing. I love doing voiceovers; I wish I could do more of them. It’s a lot of fun to see how they take the voice and animate it and try to capture your own expressions and features. It’s fascinating.

SHIFFMAN: Well you have a very distinctive voice, it works for that.

GARCIA: To play the king of the parrots? Thank you. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not.