'Ballers': Andy Garcia on Being Spencer's New Rival
You can’t put just any big bad up against Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. This is a job for Andy Garcia! The revered film star is making a rare visit to TV in the HBO sports comedy Ballers, where he plays alpha-dog money manager Andre Allen, the kind of guy who looks out for No. 1 even at the expense of his own clients. Now, in a season-long arc, this suave shark is dead set on stealing business from Johnson’s character, Spencer Strasmore.
“Call Andre an a--hole and he considers it a compliment,” Garcia says. “He’s all about the art of the deal and always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. But it’s not just bravado. He really is the smartest guy.”
And that’s driving Spencer freakin’ nuts, now that he’s also in the financial-management biz and specializing in sports figures, just like Andre. Here’s their dirty history: Back when Spencer was a superstar linebacker with the Miami Dolphins, he was represented by Andre and claims the financial whiz horribly mismanaged his money. It led to what Spencer calls “a bad breakup,” and if that sounds like a bromance gone sour, well, it is. “The two guys were extremely tight for a long, long time,” Garcia says, adding with a laugh, “They shared more than a few Jacuzzis.”
Timing for this clash of the titans couldn’t be worse, now that Spencer is addicted to Vicodin, due to a hip injury, and will soon start scoring his meds on the down-low. “I don’t think my character would hesitate to use that information or anything else to threaten Spencer,” Garcia says, noting that Spencer’s mammoth physique is nothing to worry about. “Andre will simply take him out at the knees. Of course, I mean that metaphorically. Or not.”
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Garcia was a Ballers fan well before he joined the show, due to his friendship with John David Washington, who plays wide receiver Ricky Jerret. “J.D. and my eldest daughter went to school together, so I’ve watched him grow up,” Garcia says. “I checked out Ballers because of my love for him and was crazy about the show. The cast is dynamic.”
Even better, Ballers shoots in Miami, which was once Garcia’s home. (His family fled there from Cuba when he was 5, right after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.) “I do not wake up every morning as an actor,” says Garcia, who has four children with Marivi Lorido Garcia, his wife of 34 years. “I wake up first and foremost as a father and husband. That was instilled in me.” His own father, Rene, was a lawyer in Cuba but was never able to practice in the U.S. “He took the first job that was available—selling sneakers out of the back of a truck,” Garcia recalls. “The message was clear: Put your nose to the grindstone. Provide. Family is everything.”
Such memories keep Garcia grounded. Though he won an Oscar nomination for The Godfather: Part III and has many top flicks to his credit—from The Untouchables and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy to the new Ghostbusters reboot—he seems to value his trek to success even more than success itself. One moment, he’s remembering how he and another struggling actor named Bryan Cranston used to load big rigs on the graveyard shift at Roadway trucking in Los Angeles (“Bryan and I now talk in Roadway code,” Garcia cracks). The next moment, he’s flashing back to his days as a waiter at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and how, soon after he got famous, he was given an award in the hotel ballroom. “All of the waiters were at the back of the room, twirling their white napkins in the air for me,” he says. “It was one of the great moments of my life.”
He still connects deeply with the service industry, and to all people with dreams. “When you’ve had your basic human rights taken away, which is what happened to my family, it changes you forever,” he says. And you end up with the patience of a saint. It took Garcia 16 years to make The Lost City, his 2006 feature-film-directing debut. And he’s already spent a decade developing a film about the legendary author Ernest Hemingway. But so far, no financing.
“I will not stop until I make it a reality,” he insists, sounding not unlike Andre Allen. “My father would always say, ‘Never take a step backward, not even to gain momentum. You have to keep falling forward.’”
Ballers, Sundays, 10/9c, HBO.