Actor Andy Garcia Fights for Religious Freedom in 'For Greater Glory'

The true story of the Cristero Army's epic battle against the Mexican government's persecution of Catholics is a timely tale.

Andy Garcia stars as Gen. Enrique Gorostieta.
Andy Garcia stars as Gen. Enrique Gorostieta. (photo: ARC Entertainment)

In the film For Greater Glory, which opens April 20 in Mexico and June 1 in the U.S., actor Andy Garcia plays the lead role of atheistic Gen. Enrique Gorostieta, who is hired to lead the Cristero Army — so-called because they were fighting for Cristo Rey (Christ the King) — in its 1926-1929 fight against the Mexican government, which was persecuting Catholics.

He recently spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake about the movie and his role.

What motivated you to take the role of Gen. Enrique Gorostieta in For Greater Glory?

I knew nothing about this story and was intrigued that it actually happened. So, No. 1, I was interested that something like this happened, and I hadn’t been aware of it.

After I read the script, I saw the research. The director brought me the Jean Mayer book on the Cristero War. As I got into the story, I found it was scintillating subject matter, and I was honored to be a part of it.

There also was an inherent adventure in doing a role like this: to be filming on location and on horseback.

It was like the feeling that the character of Enrique gets when he’s asked to get back in the saddle again to organize and start fighting. That filled him with life again.

As a Cuban American, did the film’s theme of religious freedom have special resonance with you?

Sure; of course. When Castro took power in Cuba, the first thing he did was kick the Church and synagogues out of Cuba. In the Marxist-Leninist tradition, religion was seen as the opiate of the people. So there was an innate parallel there. It was easy to fight that fight in the movie because it was connected to my subconscious and my own history.

The film raises interesting questions about when it’s appropriate to raise arms for something you believe in. Did you come away from the film with an answer to that question?

It’s almost like an individual thing. If it comes to a point in your life and you’re cornered and your civil rights or your family is in danger, there are certain decisions that you have to make. You may have to take your family elsewhere. They’re not easy decisions to make. Passive resistance is the best way to go about it, but at times — as we see in the movie — that isn’t successful.

The United States is a country built by exiles and pilgrims from all over the world so that they can have a place where they can be free. The Cristero War led to the first wave of Mexican immigration to the U.S., not unlike the Cuban exiles of the early 1960s.

Do you consider yourself a practicing Catholic?
I am Catholic.

In what way did playing this role strengthen your faith?
I don’t think it necessarily strengthened my faith. I don’t think there was any kind of additional catharsis. I practice my faith in a simple and private way. I believe in the principles that Jesus Christ spoke of, and I try to be a good example to my family and to others: Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you. It’s not that complicated. It’s important to have such teachings to make us a better society.

The film takes some liberty; for example, by having Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio interact with your character. Why do you think your character has such a love for Jose in the film?

That’s articulated in the film when Enrique says, “I never had a son, but if I did, I would want him to be like you.” The filmmakers have license to weave characters together.

There’s a scene in the film where actor Ruben Blades, who plays President Elias Calles, and I are together. That scene was not in the original screenplay. Ruben and I are friends, but we had never worked together. Historically, you could imagine that such a meeting could have taken place. Dramatically, for the film, it fit very classically for this genre of film: to have a kind of summit on the hill. The scene was written in, they liked it, and we shot it. It was very effective to have that intellectual argument about what was going on.

With the character of Jose, it was an opportunity metaphorically to help the General find faith. Through the boy and the people around him, he was able to open his heart to it. My understanding is that there was some historical truth to that element in the arc of his character.

Given the current debate over religious freedom in this country, the timing of this film is particularly relevant, isn’t it?
Yes. There’s a price for freedom. The battle for religious freedom is going on around the world in many countries, on many different levels. You can’t take freedom for granted.

Were you pleased with how the film turned out?
Yes, very much so. It was a challenge because the story was so expansive. It was a challenge for all of us to try to focus this very large story. You had to respect all of the elements: the pacifist league, the Cristeros [the rebels], the government, and all of the fighting. It was challenging to present a movie that we knew would be an epic film that had to have a certain length, yet keep it under a time limit so that it could find distribution. All movies have their challenges.

I’m proud of the way it turned out. It was beautifully executed by an international cast and a production team who were all Mexicans. They had a real passion for this story. I think it will last the test of time. It’s an important story to tell.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
With any movie I make, I just want it to have resonance, and I want people to be moved by it and to tell their friends. I don’t ever want people to feel that a film has any kind of propaganda.

This is an exploration of something that happened historically. I hope that it rings truthful and that it moves people to discuss it and recommend it to others.