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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Andy Garcia has made a film that's been simmering in his mind since he was five and a half years old. The Lost City opens in Havana, 1958. The film also opens this weekend nationwide. The movie shows Havana as an elegant, vibrant, worldly city which is presided over by a vicious dictator. The Fellove family is at odds. They want change. Not all of them want a revolution. They detest Fulgencio Batista, but many also distrust the revolutionary Fidel Castro as just a younger dictator.

At their regular Sunday night dinner, 6 o'clock on the dot, the father raises a toast.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE LOST CITY)

TOMAS MILIAN: (As Fico Fellove) I want to make a wish. If change is going to come to our country, I wish that our home remains an island, and that despite all of our differences, we always put family first.

SIMON: Tomas Milian is the patriarch of the Fellove family.

Andy Garcia has not only produced and directed this film, he stars as Fico Fellove, who owns the El Tropico, Havana's classiest musical nightspot. He's also put together the film's music, including an original score. The Lost City also stars Bill Murray, Dustin Hoffman, Steven Bauer and Ines Sastre, and the screenplay is by the late Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

Andy Garcia joins us now from our studios in New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

ANDY GARCIA: Thank you so much. That was a beautiful introduction. I appreciate it.

SIMON: Well, the irresistible question is how much of this film reflects your own life?

GARCIA: Emotionally, completely, I'm a product of that story. My family brought me over at the age of five and a half, as Cuban exiles because of the drastic, dramatic transition that our country went through, into a Marxist, you know, Leninist ideology, and forced us to leave the thing we most cherished, which was our country. You know?

SIMON: Obviously you were too young to own a nightclub. But I'm wondering...

GARCIA: No. Exactly.

SIMON: I'm wondering, the parents...

GARCIA: But never too old.

SIMON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: You knew families who had bits and pieces of this kind of experience, or have known them after you arrived in Miami?

GARCIA: Sure. I mean there're so many exile experiences. And you know, the movies are fictional characters that are set against a historical backdrop. My parents, like I said, you know, left in 1961 and a half. That's two and a half years after Fidel entered Havana.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

GARCIA: So, but I was already being influenced as a young boy, where my mother saw me, I was marching in the yard and humming the Internacional, you know, which is the Communist national anthem, or the socialist national anthem, whatever, however you'd like to describe it. But anyway, I was marching and humming, and she turned to my father and said, We need to get out of here. You know, look what's happening to your son.

SIMON: Hmm. Music, I don't mean the international hymn.

GARCIA: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: Why did you choose to use the metier of music so much in The Lost City?

GARCIA: Cuba is music. I mean, that's the soul of our people is in this music. And it's the thing that I've been stimulated by all my life. And it stimulated many images for me. And maybe in another movie I might not use any music at all in the movie. But when you're talking about Cuba, you got to talk about music.

SIMON: You're reportedly a terrific bongo player.

GARCIA: Hmm. Thank you.

SIMON: But you learned the piano fairly late.

GARCIA: I learned the piano. It's an interesting thing. I've always been attracted to it. My aunt played classical piano, and I would always loved to watch her play. But I never owned a piano growing up or anything. But when Mr. Infante sent — gave me that first draft, I read it. He had made my character someone who plays the piano privately in his, you know, in his own study, in his own office. And I said, Well, I was going off to do the Godfather. And I said I'm going to rent a piano and take this opportunity that I'm here in Rome, and, you know, the house that I rented and start, you know, preparing myself for, to be able to fake this instrument, you know, on camera.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA: But the movie took so long...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: ...to get made that eventually, I actually learned how to play the piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: And I composed — I wrote all the music for the film, you know.

SIMON: You might have learned the violin if they invested a little longer.

GARCIA: The oboe.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: We want to play another clip, if we can. This is Fidel Castro has come to town. The revolution has triumphed. Fico stays on to run his nightclub. And one day, some members of the new government, in their battle fatigues, come into his club during rehearsal.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE LOST CITY)

GARCIA: (as Fico Fellove) One, two, three.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): Stop the music! Stop that music!

GARCIA: (as Fico Fellove) Who are you?

ELIZABETH PENA: (As Miliciana Muñoz) I am Miliciana Muñoz, a delegate for the Musicians Union.

GARCIA: (as Fico Fellove) But what authority do you have to come here and stop my rehearsal?

PENA: (As Miliciana Muñoz) The government gave me the authority. See, you own this beautiful cabaret, but we own the orchestra.

GARCIA: (as Fico Fellove) Really?

PENA: (As Miliciana Muñoz) Really. If I tell the orchestra not to play, they can't play.

GARCIA: (as Fico Fellove) Is that so?

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): Fico, we're in the union. They control the union.

GARCIA: (as Fico Fellove) I see. And then on what grounds do you have to come in here and stop my show?

PENA: (As Miliciana Muñoz) You just can't use the saxophone in the orchestra anymore.

GARCIA: (as Fico Fellove) Come again?

PENA: (As Miliciana Muñoz) The saxophone is an instrument of the imperialist.

GARCIA: (as Fico Fellove) The saxophone was invented by a man name Sax in Belgium!

PENA: (As Miliciana Muñoz) Do you know what the Belgian imperialists are doing in the Congo? They are a bunch of murderers.

GARCIA: (as Fico Fellove) You don't say?

PENA: (As Miliciana Muñoz) I do say! And I am saying that if you want the orchestra to play, then you have to go without the saxophone! Otherwise, I will stop the show.

GARCIA: That's Elizabeth Pena, a great actress.

SIMON: Yeah. Is that a story you wouldn't...

GARCIA: That's Infante, if you know Infante's style of writing.

SIMON: Yeah.

GARCIA: And how he parodies, you know, the absurdity of things in specifically — in this world. You know, and it reflect things that are actually, as bizarre as they might seem, these are things that were actually happening. It was illegal to listen American jazz in Cuba, you know.

SIMON: Yeah.

GARCIA: They had to listen to it clandestinely in people's homes. And, you know, they would listen to it on short wave radio, to the Voice of America, to try to hear a little bit of Dizzy Gillespie.

SIMON: Have you been back to Cuba?

GARCIA: I went to the Naval base, Guantanamo Naval Base, in '95 to do a concert, along with Gloria Estefan and Cachao.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

GARCIA: Maestro Cachao, who I work with.

SIMON: But you haven't been back to Cuba outside of Guantanamo.

GARCIA: No, I have not. Only in, you know, my mind.

SIMON: Would I be right in thinking that that's a clear decision on your part?

GARCIA: Yes.

SIMON: You're going to wait until there's a change here.

GARCIA: Yes. Yes. You know, obviously I don't support that regime. So therefore, I don't — emotionally, I don't want to be there while that regime is in power.

GARCIA: Yet you filmed the film in the Dominican Republic, right?

GARCIA: In the Dominican Republic, right. But it's Havana. Even if you went to Havana, it's a Havana in the 1950s, which is a technically, you know, it's not the same city that it is today.

SIMON: Yeah.

GARCIA: So you have to, you know, use your imagination to try to give an impression of what that world was like. You know, the Paris of the Caribbean. You know, and it's a city that people gravitate to from all over the world, you know, for its luster, its style, its fashion, its atmosphere, its nightlife, its music, you know, and its women.

SIMON: There's the line in the film. What is it? It's Havana is like rose.

GARCIA: Yes. It has petals and it has thorns. And it depends on how you grab it. But in the end, it grabs you.

SIMON: Mr. Garcia, thanks so much for speaking with us.

GARCIA: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Andy Garcia, he has produced, directed, done the music, and stars in his first feature film, The Lost City, playing now.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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