Viva Christo Rey! That is the rallying cry for the armies of freedom in the historical drama "For Greater Glory," which opens Friday and stars Andy Garcia. He plays Mexican Gen. Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, who is enlisted to help Catholics fight oppression in the Cristero Rebellion, a little-known but very violent struggle in Mexico in the late 1920s. The 56-year-old Cuban-born actor has starred in "The Godfather Part III," "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "Ocean's Eleven." He has been married since 1982 and has four children.
In the film, your character is not a man of faith, at least not in the beginning. What about you? Are you a man of faith?
Yes, I grew up Catholic, and I have faith, yes, of course. I think it's important to note that you don't have to be Catholic to like or appreciate this film. It's not a propaganda recruiting film by any stretch of the imagination. Nor do you have to be Catholic to be in the movie [chuckling].
The major concept here is the concept of freedom and how far would you go if someone denies you your freedom. It's religious freedom, but really the greater umbrella is absolute freedom. That's an easy thing for all of us to champion. For me on a personal level, I come from a country that has deprived and denied those rights to its citizens under the Castro regime in Cuba for going on 52 years. So I have a subconscious, emotional and conscious relationship to the fight for freedom. It just happens to be something I can mine for this character. But if I didn't have that, I could still mine the concept of getting behind a character who is fighting for something very just.
When you play historical characters like in "For Greater Glory" and "Modigliani," do you do your own research?
You try to gather as much as you have on the character, but sometimes there's not as much as you think there is. Amedeo Modigliani is obviously known as this extraordinary, prolific and important painter, but when you really start researching him you get [only] the basic facts. You get a couple paragraphs here and there that say, "Well, I met Amedeo and he was like this." There's not a lot on him. You have to get impressions from all those things on the board. You look at the way he painted ... and you kind of get your interpretation of the man, you know? In the case of Gorostieta, it was fairly similar. There was a book called "La Cristiada" that had a very in-depth look at the war and a small chapter on Gorostieta. There were some letters from the family and not many images, oddly enough.
How close did the movie come to telling the real, historically accurate story?
From what I read in the historical account of it in "La Cristiada" by Jean Meyer, very close. Now, we were weaving historical characters and placing them in scenes where they are together and have a relationship where in fact they might have never actually met. But that's just poetic license to tell a story. It all hangs on the historical reality of what happened, and it's a much larger story than we are able to tell. It should probably be an eight-hour miniseries.
When you do a movie like this does it have an impact on you personally?
Always, always. I mean, the experience of making a movie, the creative process, relationships you find, it's like going to war. Who is your trench-mate, you know? Those relationships and the memory of doing it is really what fulfills you the most. There are times where you'll do a movie and the end result is it had too many cooks in the kitchen. You go, "They missed the boat on that. They changed the ending, and I'm not happy with that." But what they can't manipulate or take away from you is the creative process and the friendships. The fact that the film exists is success enough already.
Was there acting in your family before you got into it?
No, my mother said she did plays when she was a young girl, but I didn't know that, so that had no influence on me whatsoever. I had no history of it or help or anything in the process.
I know you were young, but do you have any memories of Cuba?
Oh yes, yes, most definitely. I try to think about why they are so vivid and so specific, and I think it has to do with when you are very young and at some point you realize, "I don't think I'm ever going to go back there again." I think there's like a switch that goes off in your subconscious, in your memory bank, that you protect those images, those memories. You hoard them and protect them.
Are you bilingual?
Spanish is my first language. We spoke Spanish at home, so I learned English on the street. My mother actually was an English teacher in Cuba, so she was very helpful to my father, who did not know English. I came over when I was 51/2, so I went right into kindergarten.
Are you comfortable with the amount of attention showered on celebrities today?
Well, I don't buy into that whole scenario, you know? When you try to make a living as a young actor, your biggest concern is trying to make a living as an actor and doing the kind of work you dream of doing and are idealistic about. If you happen to be fortunate and get work -- in my case a film or a series of films that become internationally known -- and the wave of celebrity or fame or whatever you want to call it comes your way, it's a very curious thing to deal with.
It was my nature to shy away from it. I always felt I was going to lose something that I would never be able to regain. So it was important to retain a certain distance. I believe that an actor should have enough enigma to him so that people can buy him in different roles. If you are overexposed I think people get tired of you. There's no longer any kind of curiosity about or suspension of belief when they see you in a character. It was my nature to go the other way from it. Whether that was strategically good or not -- that's my nature, that's the way I did it. I have no complaints.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613. First Published May 28, 2012 4:00 AM