Luis Alberto García
Cuban Actor

Luis Alberto García is one of Cuba's two most famous actors (the other being his friend Jorge "Pichi" Perugorría), but he doesn't regard celebrity as much of an accomplishment. "Sure, people in Cuba know who I am," he shrugs, "but I don't feel superior to them because I'm a performer. We're all just Cubans."

He was speaking to Havana Cultura in a quiet corner of the Gran Parque Metropolitano, one of the world's greatest urban green spaces. It was an interesting choice for our interview, given that this 700-hectare strip along the Almendares River seems to embrace all the contradictions familiar to a native habanero like Luis Alberto García. Decades of industrial pollution have left their mark on the Parque Metropolitano and the various projects to clean and revitalise it have a long way to go. Yet this remains a favourite place for picnics, children's birthday parties and outdoor concerts, and Luis Alberto is among those who can enjoy what the Parque Metropolitano has to offer even while knowing full well what it lacks. He sees both the magnificence of an urban forest and the sadness of environmental degradation and says, "This is still a very lovely place."

Luis Alberto was born in Havana in 1961 and says he never thought seriously about being anything other than an actor. He grew up around movie sets and theatres, getting a taste for show business from his father (also an actor called Luis Alberto García). After graduating from Havana's Instituto Superior de Arte Superior (ISA) in 1984, Luis Alberto began working on Algo Mas Que Soñar, a television series about four young men sent to fight in Angola. With its cinematic production values and refusal to romanticise war, the series proved to be a turning point for Cuban television as well as for Luis Alberto's career.

In 1986 he made the transition to the big screen with Dolly Back, a short feature by Juan Carlos Tabío. The following year he starred in En 3 y 2, his first full-length film. Today he has more than 60 leading roles to his credit, among them Cuban classics such as Clandestinos (1987), Plaff (1989), Adorables Mentiras (1990), Guantanamera (1995), La Vida es Silbar (1998), Un Paraíso Bajo las Estrellas (1999), Perfecto Amor Equivocado (2003), Madrigal (2006) and El Premio Flaco (2008). He has received several armloads of acting prizes and has represented Cuban cinema at festivals around the world. He has found time for plenty of television and theatre but says, "I prefer cinema to anything else. Theatre is exhausting and in Cuba like everywhere else you can't make a living from only theatre. And TV, most of the time, goes too fast at the expense of the final product."

Although he has appeared in films made or financed outside of Cuba – the most recent being the French-Spanish co-production Siete Días en La Habana (Seven Days in Havana) – he believes the Cuban film industry measures up well against what other countries have to offer. "I was happy to discover that Cuban technicians, those making movies in Cuba, could easily work anywhere in the world. And Cuban cinema is a great school for actors."

As an effective if unlikely example of that schooling, he cites his experience working on Clandestinos with the great Cuban director Fernando Pérez. "[Pérez] had made documentaries but Clandestinos was his first time doing fiction. He spoke to me and Isabel Santos [the film's male and female leads] and said, 'Listen, I don't know how to direct actors. I'm as nervous and as afraid as you are, but I figure that together we can achieve more than we can individually.'" Pérez figured right, of course. Luis Alberto's performance won him a national award for Best Actor in 1988, and Clandestinos has gone on to become one of Cuba's most beloved films.