When Andy Garcia first got the script for The Untouchables, Brian de Palma’s 1987 thriller about Eliot Ness’ takedown of mob boss Al Capone, he was approached to play Capone hitman Frank Nitti. But he lobbied instead for the role of George Stone, the rookie Chicago cop who joins Ness’ elite squad of prohibition enforcers right out of the police academy. The part appealed to Garcia for several reasons, not the least of which was the opportunity to work closely opposite his idol, Sean Connery, who played hard-nosed veteran cop Jimmy Malone. Garcia, who was just 30 at the time to Connery’s 57, calls the experience “a gift from God.” After news of Connery’s death broke on Saturday, Garcia spoke with Rolling Stone about their time together on set and Connery’s legacy.
I first “met” Sean Connery in the 1960s, as a young man who was enamored by the cinema. When Dr. No came out, I remember it was the summer in Miami Beach. On Lincoln Road, they had these matinees. I would go to the theater, and I would sit through several showings of Dr. No, and then, later, Goldfinger. And Sean became a great inspiration for me. There were certain iconic figures — himself, Steve McQueen, James Coburn… He was the hero of our times.
Many years later, I had this incredible honor to work opposite him. He was a boyhood hero, and he never disappointed. He was a consummate actor — masterful, really. People think he was James Bond, this and that, but he could do Shakespeare, he could do King Lear. It was not just like, Hey I’m a movie star. He was very dedicated to his craft, very prepared. Plus, there was obviously an innate interpretive style that he had. There was a charm, a sense of self, a tongue-in-cheek quality — especially with the Bond characters. That’s in the material, but it also has to be delivered by someone who doesn’t look like he’s acting the part. He is the part. Sean was always “the part.” He could’ve been playing a Russian sub commander with a Scottish accent, and two seconds into it, you still say, “He’s a Russian sub commander, yeah, of course. I’m in with him, tell me the story.”
That was his philosophy: We don’t need to be doing Russian accents, we need to be paying attention to what’s going on emotionally in this story, with these characters. And he expected everybody to play the game at the highest level. Because he led by example. It was like, you better show up with your A game, because he was there with his A game.
He also had an incredible sense of humor. Very dry, very biting. Once we were doing this scene, it was a telephone call. I had to walk down the hall to pick up the phone, and the camera was at the other end of the hall. Sean was off-camera to deliver the other side of the call. He was already dressed in golf clothes, because he wanted to go play golf. But he was there to support me as an actor, because we were doing the scene together, even though [his character is] in another location. So, he was eager to get this done — y’know, “I got a tee time at 3 o’clock.”
We did the first take, and Brian was not happy, because I went to the phone and I didn’t turn my face to the camera. I said, “Y’know, Brian, I’m just going to the end of the hall to answer the phone. My character doesn’t know there’s a camera looking at him. He’s just answering the phone. I don’t need to turn. It just seems very unnatural. It’s gonna be obvious that I’m turning my face to the camera, and I feel that’s contrary to normal human behavior.” So me and Brian went back and forth a little bit about seeing my face. And Sean indulged me in this conversation with Brian. When I came back to do the second take, I went to the side of the camera so I could walk into the shot again, and Sean was sitting next to me on an apple box. He turned to me and he said [Connery voice], “Come on, kid, it’s not Hamlet.”
So we did another take, and I turned a little bit, like trying to give Brian a little bit of face, but still saving my integrity [laughs]. And then Brian yells, “Cut! … Andy, we only saw one eye!” And Sean blurts out [Connery voice], “You saw two eyes, they were just very close together.” [Laughs.] That was his sense of humor.
There were a lot of moments like that, not only with me, but with everybody. He always had a smile on his face and sort of a mischievous, well-kept secret. He would say a joke, sarcastic, but he also meant, y’know, get your act together. Like, you’d do a take three, and he’d say [Connery voice], “What’s the matter, there’s no film in the camera?” He’d say it with a smile, but also say it like, “Come on, guys, we’re making a movie here. Let’s get everybody on point.” And he was right!
He was there to work. He’d have a good time and all that, but it was like, When I hand the ball off, you better run with it and not fumble.