Actor Andy Garcia tells Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview that he sees parallels between his new critically acclaimed movie chronicling the fight for religious freedom in 1920s Mexico and the current struggle of America’s Catholics against the Obama administration’s attack on their religious beliefs.
“Where is that line drawn . . . the concept of religious freedom — or even a greater concept which is absolute freedom,” declared Garcia, in an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV. “How deeply does the government get involved in your personal decisions as an individual? In this case — dealing with a movie — it’s about your right to practice your faith. And so this is been something unfortunately that’s been going on that repeats itself in history.”
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As Cuban-born Garcia’s new movie, “For Greater Glory,” is set to open in nearly 800 theaters on June 1, the Academy-Award nominated Garcia also sees similarities to his family’s own struggle for freedom from the Communist government they fled when he was only five years old.
“In the case of Cuba, it wasn’t only religious freedom, obviously there was all aspects of human rights were curtailed — and still are for that matter,” acknowledged Garcia, who has had memorable roles in such Hollywood blockbusters as “The Godfather: Part III,” “The Untouchables,” “Internal Affairs” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
More recently, he starred in “Ocean's Eleven” and its sequels, “Ocean's Twelve” and “Ocean's Thirteen,” and “The Lost City.” García was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Vincent Mancini in the iconic mob classic, “The Godfather Part III.”
Acknowledging the shift toward greater freedoms for the Catholic Church in present-day Cuba, Garcia remains somewhat skeptical. “The church is finally come in a little bit, but it’s only a little bit of steam valve I think you know,” he said.
In his latest work, Garcia plays General Gorostieta, a retired military man who at first thinks he has nothing personal at stake as he and his wife (Golden Globe nominee Eva Longoria) watch Mexico fall into a violent civil war that centered on the vicious persecution of Roman Catholics and strict enforcement of anti-religious provisions of the Mexican Constitution.
The Cristero War, also known as the Cristiada, took place between 1926 and 1929, pitting Mexican forces with support from the Mexican government against the Catholic Church. The country’s government at the time sought to eradicate “superstition” and “fanaticism” in Mexico by desecrating religious objects, persecuting clergy, and writing anti-clerical laws.
“Certainly what’s being protested today by the Catholic Church is not to the degree of what went down in Mexico in the ‘20s. But the essence of it — there is an argument there,” observes Garcia, whose character commands the freedom-fighters in the face of an oppressive Mexican president while at the same time struggling with his own faith. “Does anyone feel that any government could cross the boundary of what your personal right is as a human being?”
The movie picked up an unexpected endorsement from Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who chairs the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
Lori described it as an “excellent film” that tells an all but forgotten story.
“The sacrifices and hardships endured by those who would not renounce Christ helped preserve the religious liberty of millions, and this film honors their memory in a remarkable way,” the clergyman wrote. “For Greater Glory also reminds us of how much has been done to pass this liberty on to our generation by those who came before us, and it makes clear the truth that Christ taught us — that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend.”
Garcia said that Castro essentially abolished religious freedom when he took power two years before the star’s family escaped the island nation.
“You know all the church was kicked out of Cuba — shut down metaphorically — and so were the synagogues and everything,” the actor stated. “I mean as a sort of a Marxist, Leninist centralized government, they don’t want that as part of their daily way of life. You know so we were obviously a product of that. I mean my family and myself were a product of that kind of — you know — lack of freedoms.”
In addition to Garcia and Longoria, the cast is also headlined by acting legend Peter O’Toole, who plays Father Christopher. “The priest that Peter O’Toole plays actually inspires a young boy who in turn inspires me,” explained Garcia. “The boy then in turn joins the Cristeros, who were the people who were fighting against the government. And the boy — I sort of take him in under my own wing kind of thing — and he inspires me in a way spiritually to have some sort of catharsis — spiritual catharsis — within the context of this story.”
Garcia recalled approaching his co-star at an Oscar party in Hollywood some time prior to the project along with his eldest daughter, Dominik Cristina García-Lorido, who is an actress.
“I went up to him and I said, ‘Mr. O’Toole, my name’s Andy Garcia and I want to shake your hand to see if something will rub off,’” recalled Garcia. “He looked at me with a big smile and he said, ‘It will.’”
In the case of Longoria, Garcia said the two will also appear together in a second film, “The Truth,” which is expected to hit the box office by the end of this year.
“She’s fantastic. She’s extremely bright — a great actress, generous — you know a real, just the kind of person you want to be in the trenches with.”
When Garcia first read the script of “For Greater Glory,” he conceded that he did not know much, if anything, about the Mexican struggle over faith. So he appealed to his Mexican-born friends.
“I could tell you the majority of them did not know anything about it,” he explained, adding that he found it curious that such a struggle would be a “taboo subject” nearly a century after the fact.
“That wasn’t the reason why to do the movie. But it certainly stimulated the curiosity,” Garcia recalled of the independent film, which was directed by Dean Wright and distributed by ARC Entertainment. “I knew there was going to be a beautiful film and quite an extraordinary adventure, and honor to play this character.”
Garcia challenges the notion that Hollywood is ambivalent about making Christian-friendly films.
“The American film industry is a business. They produce movies that they feel — that they deem to be commercial. That’s the way it works,” he asserted. “If a story is potentially a story that can be commercially sound in the marketplace they’re interested in it.”
Consequently, a movie that may have emerged from the studio system of the 1970s may be more likely to come out of Hollywood as an independent project today.
“Eventually they’ll find the distribution because distribution always has an appetite for product,” said Garcia. “And you kind of sneak back in, but you have to come back in a side door or a back door once you’ve made the film.”
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