Andy Garcia Puts Family First

Marriage and family may be his top priority, but the actor and director still manages to find time to grow as an artist and practice the hot Hollywood fitness trend Pilates.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 08, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Listening to Andy Garcia talk about his son's latest hobby, you get the sense that a toy caboose is just as important to the actor, director, and musician as the release of his latest feature film, Ocean's Thirteen, which opened last month to fanfare, here and abroad.

"He plays a lot of trains," Garcia says of the 5-year-old aficionado, and then adds with gravitas: "He's an avid collector."

Unlike some of his overtly ambitious, publicity-seeking peers, Garcia, 51, is a private man who treasures his family and seems to genuinely enjoy the company of his children. He carries a strong work ethic -- passed along by his parents, who moved their family from Cuba to Miami when Garcia was 5 -- and he is constantly driving forward to fulfill his next dream as an artist.

But he is also happy being one of the guys, which he did again in Ocean's Thirteen, the third in a trilogy of films that began with Ocean's Eleven, a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack heist flick. In the movie, Garcia plays Terry Benedict and reunites with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Bernie Mac, a crew of actors that Garcia calls "generous and easy-going. There's a friendship that develops," he says, noting that the actors would sometimes stop by the Ocean's lounge set during filming on the Warner Bros. studio lot. "It's always a pleasure to hang."

Garcia's first major break was in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, in 1987, and he received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his supporting role in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part III (1990). He went on to make strong impressions in Dead Again with Kenneth Branagh (1991), When a Man Loves a Woman with Meg Ryan (1994), and Twisted with Samuel L. Jackson (2004). While continuing to act, he also made his feature directorial debut in 2006 with The Lost City, which he starred in, alongside Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray. And as a percussionist (bongos and congas) and pianist, Garcia has won two Grammy Awards for CDs he performed on and produced in 1994 and 2005.

Still, Garcia would much rather talk trains and family life than stardom and awards. "The most important happiness is your family's happiness," he says. "Everything else is secondary."

He says every industry -- Hollywood especially -- goes through cycles and fads, and you can't control the outcome. He never pays attention to reviews -- good or bad. "Just do your own thing," he advises. "The only review that's important is the one at home. If you have to look outside for your self-worth and acceptance, you're in trouble, because none of that can ever be real consistent. The only thing that is consistent is what's inside your home and your relationships."

Quiet and reserved, with a soothing voice and a soft accent that reflects his Cuban roots, Garcia tells a lot about himself by what he doesn't say. He doesn't drop Hollywood names or talk about parties, and he doesn't seem to be the least bit conflicted about balancing work and family. You won't hear him say he missed his children's formative years, or that he feels disconnected from his wife, Marivi Lorido Garcia.

"We have a commitment to each other and our family and that's something we honor," he says. "You have to be religious about these things." He says that once a couple decides to have children, "every decision is made around them." And in a profession that often requires travel, Garcia has set some ground rules. Most important: Minimize time away from family, or everyone goes with him. "The key thing for me is not to be away for any long period of time," he says. "Over the years we've tried to limit it to a week. Especially when a child is young, you can't be an absentee father or mother."

Pilates for a Healthy Back

Garcia not only commits to his family, he also commits to his physical health. He used to practice yoga but found it put too much strain on his back. "I had some disc issues, and I would get hurt often doing power yoga," he says. "Pilates seems to be a lot better for it."

In fact, Pilates -- which focuses on core muscles that keep the body balanced and support the spine -- is an excellent antidote for back pain and is a good way to prevent it, says William C. Lauerman, MD, a professor of orthopedic surgery and chief of the spine surgery division at Georgetown University Medical Center. He recommends Pilates for his patients who have scoliosis and disc problems, whether or not they have had surgery.

"It is a core and trunk muscle strengthening regimen," Lauerman says. "You basically build up all of those muscles in the core of your trunk, and it unloads the strain on the discs in the spine."

And for Garcia, Pilates also has the benefit of keeping his back in prime shape for hitting the fairway. "Pilates seems to be essential to keeping a healthy back," he says, "especially if you want to play golf once a week."

An Active Father

He and Marivi are both excellent cooks; they prefer making simple Italian and Cuban dishes, such as spaghetti carbonara and black beans. The two have been married for nearly 25 years, and he likes to tell the story of meeting her at a club and proposing that very night. "She claims I proposed to everybody that night, but it's not true," he says, deadpan. "And even if it was, that doesn't matter, because she was the one I married."

In a home where there is no such thing as down time, the actor plays a role in the lives of each family member. The Garcias live in Los Angeles and have three daughters -- Dominik, 23; Daniella, 19; and Alessandra, 16, who all currently live at home. As for the 5-year-old train buff, Andres, he accompanies Dad to L.A. Lakers games, on fishing trips, and to the golf course. Garcia also coaches his son's T-ball team.

Garcia has always been active. Back when he was a boy in Miami he played a lot of basketball (as point guard) and baseball, and he had hopes of taking his athleticism beyond high school. But now he dismisses such ideas as pie-in-the-sky fantasies of a teenager. "Every young athlete has illusions of being a professional athlete," he says, laughing softly. "Certainly, we all grow up with those."

From Athlete to Actor

Garcia tells WebMD that a nasty case of mononucleosis he picked up as a junior set him back. While most teens who get mono recover within a month or so, Garcia says, "I got derailed. I couldn't exercise for close to six months."

According to Jeffrey Cohen, MD, head of the Medical Virology section of the Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases at the NIH, Garcia's having to take a break from regular activities is a common occurrence among teenagers and young adults who have mono in high school or college, although extreme and prolonged fatigue is rare. Kids infected during childhood often have no symptoms, but adolescents and young adults more commonly do. These include fatigue, fever, headaches, rashes, and an overall sense of not feeling well. By the time students get to college, about 50% to 75% of them have been infected with Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes about 95% of all mono cases, Cohen says.

Symptoms of mono, which is spread by infected saliva, can last two to four weeks, Cohen says, and fatigue is often the last symptom to go away. Uncommonly, fatigue can last several months. He adds that high school athletes who contract mono, like Garcia did, do have to take a break from competition. Some kids are "sleeping 12 to 14 hours a day, and it can last a month."

For Garcia, his bout with mono set him on a new course: He started taking acting classes.

Future Direction

Even with the box-office blockbuster Ocean's Thirteen playing in theaters nationwide this summer, Garcia is thinking as much about producing as acting. Next on his docket is a film based on an original screenplay, written and directed by Raymond De Felitta. CityIsland (named for a small island in the Bronx) is about a dysfunctional family. Garcia says his production company, CineSon Productions, is working on financing the project -- a process that he knows firsthand can be grueling and long.

"For The Lost City [about a Havana family during the Cuban Revolution], development to production took 16 years," he says. "I could have done it sooner, but I couldn't get anyone to support it. But when we did, we were ready. We prepped it in four weeks and shot in 35 days. Sometimes it takes a long time to get a break, but when the door opens, you need to go in."

He says acting and directing are complementary, and he doesn't feel that moving toward the director's chair is a significant change. "It's all an extension of my own interests." But he says acting is more stressful because of the emotional demands. "In acting, you want to get to a place where you're completely relaxed. In directing, you have responsibility for a lot of things, but the stimulus is coming from different directions. If you have a particular story you want to tell, and you're stimulated by that story, it can be very rewarding."

Garcia still has plenty of dreams to pursue. He says he has pushed forward his whole life with a work ethic and a drive that have made him who he is today. "The question is: What are you prepared to do if there's no one to support your dreams? Do you give up?"

Years ago his father, who worked as an attorney when the family lived in Cuba, told him: "Never take a step backward, even to gain momentum."

"That's something I've always carried with me," Garcia says. "That's a key to success. Slow and steady steps."

Good for Men: Love and Marriage

Marriage is good for the body and soul, particularly for men, recent research suggests. That means Andy Garcia's marital bliss could translate into a longer life and less stress.

Researcher Linda Waite, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, has dedicated her career to researching the positive effects of marriage, co-writing a number of books and articles on the topic. Her findings show men in happy marriages live longer, with an average lifespan of 10 years beyond that of single men. Waite hypothesizes that wedded men tend to take fewer risks and lead healthier lives than bachelors.

Her research also shows that even married men in poor health or with unhealthy habits have advantages. For instance, elderly married men with heart disease live almost four years longer than unmarried men with no heart problems. And married, pack-a-day smokers live just as long as single or divorced nonsmokers.

Other experts agree. "Marriage is a stabilizing factor in life," says Jay Lebow, PhD, clinical professor of psychology at the Family Institute at Northwestern University. "Men are less subject to alcoholism and substance abuse, and they tend to become less depressed if they're married."

Their physical health improves exponentially, too. Though actual study results are lacking, Lebow says clinical experience and conjecture among experts in the field point to a number of factors, some of them surprising, that back up the idea of healthier men in marriages. For instance, married men may be less likely to die in car accidents because they are less prone to driving dangerously. They also may be more likely, at their wives' urging, to frequent the doctor, meaning potentially terminal illnesses such as cancer are diagnosed earlier. -- Jennifer Dixon

Show Sources

SOURCES: Andy Garcia, actor and director, interviewed May 2007. Pilates Method Alliance web site. William C. Lauerman, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery, chief of the division of spine surgery, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C. Jeffrey Cohen, MD, head of the Medical Virology section, Laboratory of Clinical and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health. Linda Waite, PhD, professor of sociology, University of Chicago. Jay Lebow, PhD, clinical professor of psychology, The Family Institute, Northwestern University, Chicago. Live Science web site: "Extending Human Life: Progress and Promises." New Scientist web site: "How to Live to 100...And Enjoy It."

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