He played a sharpshooting police recruit in “The Untouchables,” rose to the top of the Corleone crime family in “The Godfather III” and faced off against George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in “Ocean’s Eleven.”
Now, Oscar-nominated actor Andy García is stepping into the shoes of a new character — a Cuban exile named Billy — in the remake of “Father of the Bride,” which premieres Thursday on HBO Max.
He considers it a privilege to be part of the iconic film's remake — with a distinctive Latino flavor — because it reminds him of the families he grew up with in Miami Beach.
“That sense of needing to accomplish, to honor the sacrifices that your parents have made, and having pride in that accomplishment is who this man is,” García told NBC News in an interview, describing his character Billy. “Like he says in the movie time and time again: ‘I came here. I slept on my Tío Walter’s floor. I parked cars. I put myself through school. I became an architect. I built my own house.”
The original and highly popular “Father of the Bride” was released in 1950 with two-time Oscar-winning actor Spencer Tracy. Decades later, comedic actor Steve Martin — winner of five Grammys and one Prime-time Emmy— reprised the role of the dad in 1991. Both versions of the film focus on the relationship between the father and his daughter.
But now, 72 years after the first "Father of the Bride" film, the franchise retells the story through the eyes of García as a Cuban American father whose daughter Sofía (Adria Arjona) will marry her Mexican fiancé Adán (Diego Boneta).
This remake, however, also focuses on the relationship between García and the mother of the bride, Ingrid (Gloria Estefan) as they try to rekindle their marriage — while planning Sofía’s wedding.
Celebrating love — and familia
Screenwriter Matt López, who adapted the Latino remake of “Father of the Bride,” says that he wanted to tell a story about love through multiple generations.
“The [wedding] band calls everybody up and you sort of see love in all its stages from couples that have been together 30 years to folks who hooked up at the rehearsal dinner the night before. And so I had this idea about love across the years,” he said in an interview.
The movie incorporates elements of Latino life through its food and music, from the Cuban meal at the beginning of the movie — with arroz y frijoles (rice and beans) and papas rellenas (potatoes filled with Caribbean-seasoned beef) to the traditional bolero or danzón, a Latino slow dance during the wedding's father/daughter dance.
López says that he came up with the idea of opening the movie with the marriage of the bride’s parents already on the rocks. In fact, García's and Estefan’s characters are about to announce their divorce when their daughter beats them to the punch and reveals that she’s getting married.
The screenwriter wanted to pose the question: Could the bride’s parents rediscover that spark as they go through the motions of putting their daughter’s wedding together?
Like the other "Father of the Bride" versions, the movie also uses humor to show the generational differences between parents and children. García tussles with the young couple on everything from who will pay for the wedding to whether the couple will have a Catholic ceremony.
It also goes deeper into the generational differences with the way the two men — Billy and his future son-in-law — see their careers compared to those of the women in their lives.
"There's a wonderful moment in the film where Andy (García) is speaking to the young man who's going to marry his daughter played very memorably by Diego Boneta, and Diego's character is giving up his career or putting it on hold at least to allow Sofia, his bride-to-be and Andy's daughter, a chance to pursue her passion. And it's kind of this eye-opening moment for Andy," said López, who identifies culturally as Cuban American.
This also counters the dad's hardened, self-made philosophy of working nonstop. Sometimes family is better served by putting them over work.
López previously created the television show “Promised Land,” about a successful California Latino winemaking family, which he said dramatized the tensions that many immigrant families face as they struggle to preserve their original culture and assimilate into mainstream America.
And he describes the extended Latino family in “Father of the Bride” as an interesting crossroads that will compel many viewers.
“It’s rooted in their immigrant histories, whether it’s one generation ago or three generations ago. You come and you are different. You are blending in. And I think frequently the closeness of those families, in part, comes from that it’s your anchor, it’s your space,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a safe harbor, if you will, as you go through this process of assimilating to a broader culture.”
García says that his character Billy is very traditional, cut from a different cloth than his daughter’s generation, and he represents the values and perspectives of 1960s exiles who came from Cuba, which included his parents in real life.
“There’s this sense about exile, at least the Cuban exile experience that I feel, that no matter how well you’re doing in America, you feel like you’ve got to keep working hard and saving it, and keep working hard, 'cause one day they’re going to take everything away from us,” he said. “That’s part of the psychological war wound, you know? And Billy is of that generation.”
In the movie, García says, Billy is a political exile who came to the United States alone, like thousands of unaccompanied young Cubans who arrived through Operation Pedro Pan. Run by Catholic Charities with aid from the U.S. government between 1960 and 1962, it is said to have been the largest exodus of unaccompanied children from any nation to the U.S. at that time, an estimated 14,000.
Off-screen, García says that he immigrated to Florida from Cuba when he was only 5 years old. And the assimilation process was a bit traumatic, as he had to learn English. But, the actor loved growing up in America and wanted to show that pride in his character.
“If it wasn’t for that courage and that exile that my parents went into, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” he said. “And this movie would not exist, certainly it would not exist with me. And that’s the reality. So I don’t take that lightly.”