Over the course of his long career, Andy Garcia has played mobsters, police officers and a casino owner. But he has never played anyone like his character in Hallmark Hall of Fame’s “Christmas in Conway” (airing Sunday, December 1 at 9/8c on ABC).
Duncan Mayor is a simple, quiet man who is determined to make his dying wife Suzy’s (Mary-Louise Parker) final days happy by building her a Ferris wheel. The heartwarming and surprisingly funny film also stars Mandy Moore as Suzy’s nurse, who unexpectedly finds romance, and Cheri Oteri as Duncan’s Christmas-obsessed neighbor.
Garcia shared with xfinityTV why he was attracted to the role, what he learned about Ferris wheels and why he hopes the story will stand the test of time.
This is a departure from some of your previous roles. What attracted you to the character of Duncan?
Garcia: I just found the story to be so beautiful, the conceit of the story I found to be extraordinary. That was it. Mary-Louise Parker was attached to it and that was a big plus for me because we’ve tried to work together in the past. I’m a big fan. So I was excited about that possibility.
Duncan is sort of the straight man in this story. He’s very quiet. He hides his feelings and his thoughts. What was it like playing someone so taciturn?
Garcia: I found him to be a beautiful character. He’s a simple man. He’s quiet. He spent his life sort of as a loner, dedicated to his wife and that relationship and to his work. I love the character. I really found it to be a great opportunity. Also, he was a man from a much different culture than I’m from and that was great to explore that and the dialect. But all in all, it’s really the story. Whenever you read something, there’s something you might not notice at first, but it affects your subconscious, it touches you somewhere very deeply. And then as you start getting into it, as you do more and more work on it, you start realizing why those things appealed to you and why you wanted to do something. It had sort of an elevated notion of commitment and romance and love within a bittersweet, tragic ending in a way, because ultimately you assume that Mary’s character, [who plays] my wife Suzy, shortly after the movie dies. So she’s at her last moments and the fact that there’s a story structured to say that he grants her this last wish, that was important. That to me was very beautiful.
This is a movie about a sad subject, but there are a lot of very funny moments. How did you balance the light and dark sides of the movie?
Garcia: It was important to do that because if not you could exhaust the audience. Also, when you want funny, you keep it at a level where you didn’t drop off the edge in terms of tone. But that was something John Kent Harrison, the director, and all of the actors, were aware of that and played along with that possibility. As long as you play scenes for an absolute truth, the predicament itself could be funny. The nature of a scene could be funny, but you have to play it completely straight and real and let the humor come out of the situation.
During the course of making the film, did you actually learn about Ferris wheel construction? Have you considered building one in your backyard?
Garcia: I would never build one of my own in my backyard. I did learn a little bit because I had the manual and I had to do a couple things here and there, and I saw the guys building it. It’s hard work. I pray to God I’m never put in the position that my character was in because that would be very tragic.
What was it like to work with Mandy Moore?
Garcia: She was terrific. She was so grounded in her work and so easy going and so very much like the character she played. Mandy was that character all the time. She’s a beautiful actress. She has a luminous quality to her. It was very easy and sweet to work with her. We didn’t have any rehearsal for this film. I met Mary, we got together on a Sunday. We went through the script with the director, just sitting down, talking about it. We started shooting the next morning. With Mandy, we started right on the set. We hadn’t got together. So it was one of those things, we all jumped into the story as written. There’s always some improvisations here and there, and things come to life when the actors get to live them. But it was a beautiful story. We committed to that.
You have one of the longest, happiest marriages in the entertainment industry. Was that something you brought to your portrayal of a man who is so in love with his wife?
Garcia: Someone like Hamlet, many actors can play him. But everyone sees Hamlet through their own emotional make up that they bring to it. So my take on this character is very personal to me.
Were there any funny behind the scene moments while you were filming, especially with Cheri Oteri?
Garcia: Even with Mary, we laughed a lot. It wasn’t like, “Everyone’s dying.” There’s always a camaraderie. You work long hours. Sometimes you’re sharing close quarters with people for a really long period of time. Some of the stuff ends up in the movie and some of it is just things that happened even when you’re filming but there was a lot of humor in the piece and out of the piece and kidding around. When we had to bear down, we beared down.
What message do you hope viewers will take away from this movie?
Garcia: Maybe an appreciation of the things around you, the people around you have, don’t take for granted. But what’s important for me in the movie is that it have resonance, that people get affected by it one way or another. That’s what I hope in everything I do, that it has resonance and that it holds up for years to come.
“Christmas in Conway” airs Sunday, December 1 at 9/8c on ABC.