One of the delights of the shoot of “City Island” was observing the genuinely warm and admiring friendship between Andy Garcia and the great Alan Arkin. Alan plays the role of the “great and failed acting teacher Michael Malakov” (as Emily’s character Molly characterizes him) and though he’s only in a few scenes, he’s pivotal as the presence who allows, in a sense, Andy’s character to take his acting ambitions seriously.
Alan played Malakov not in an ironic or comic way, but as a very real somewhat burned-out veteran of the “arts wars”. Alan and I had a discussion about Malakov in which I suggested that far from being a quack or a phony, he was an actor who–some years back–might have achieved a certain level of prominence, at least among other actors; perhaps he won or was nominated for an Obie. And then, like so many fine actors who don’t really take off, he turned to teaching to support himself while waiting for the breaks that never arrive.
Alan suggested to me that the way to demonstrate his tiredness and burnt-out nature might be through a rant delivered to the students about how bored he is by the interminable pauses that litter most amateur actors performances. I told him to write whatever he liked and show it to me. The result is quite memorable: a speech that is both truthful, unhostile and comes from an artist who just has no time left for bullshit. What was especially odd, though, was that Alan’s speech is written entirely in his voice: when I read it aloud to myself, I sounded like Alan Arkin. Indeed, so distinctive are Alan’s vocal rhythms that the first time we spoke, on phone, I felt like I was talking to an Alan Arkin impersonator.
Andy and Alan worked together previously in a movie I’ve never seen called “Steal Big, Steal Little” (see above photo) and Andy’s respect for him is enormous, coming from a deep appreciation of Alan’s gift to be human, real and comic all at the same time. This is something that not many people recognize about Andy–they will, I hope, after they see his performance in “City Island”; he is equal parts both dark and light–and the light is comic and sad. Among the performers he most admires are the ones–like Alan–who can make you laugh without straining and who, underneath the laughter, conveys the melancholy vaudeville that defines our life on earth.
Below are two clips–one of Alan re-setting himself after a false start on a take in which he addresses his “class” (I like it because you see the simplicity with which Alan approaches the task of acting); and the second of Andy in class trying to ask a question but fumbling helplessly; his inarticularity cracks Alan up and you get to experience one of the greatest sounds you’ll ever hear; the marvelous, uninhibited laughter of Alan Arkin.