Hugo Diego Garcia is a 26-year-old French and Spaniard actor and director currently living in Los Angeles. After studying theater and movies he started acted on TV and in films. He directed two multiple award-winning music videos. Garcia's debut film, Tony, tells the story of a young third-generation Spaniard immigrant, in 80's France, who fights for a life that he desires despite an abusive and violent father controlling his every move while bonding with a group of reckless immigrants outcasts from the street in whom he sees a family. However, the path he takes only leads to a dark and uncertain future.
"Tony" won multiple awards at the 5th annual Top Shorts 2019, including Best Narrative Film, Best Crime Film, Best First Time Director and Best Actor (for Garcia himself, who plays the lead role of Tony). We invited Hugo Diego Garcia to join us for an interview. Here's his story.
Where are you currently based, and where are you originally from, and how did you get into acting and directing?
I’m currently based in Los Angeles but I’m originally from France where I often go back.
I got into acting while studying law. I was unfulfilled and pretty miserable.
I grew up watching movies, from classics to obscure B movies I would rent but I never thought of being in them.
At some point, I got sick and was stuck in bed for weeks.
I binge-watched a lot of shows and movies.
One day, I saw this film with Saoirse Ronan starring. I realized we were almost the same age and I clearly remember making my decision at this time. I decided I could do it too.
I started studying, reading and training, while simultaneously boxing and being a Law student. It was too much.
After a very busy year, I graduated and was discussing a pro boxing career with my coach at the time. But my biggest love was the cinema.
I made a choice and followed this path.
Tell us about your journey, what were some of the first roles you portrayed as an actor?
I feel like I’m just at the very beginning of my journey.
I’ve wanted to be in movies for a while but I wasn’t ready. I spent my first years getting as much knowledge as I could about everything from the actor’s craft to the workings of the industry.
Are there any films or filmmakers that influenced your style?
I don’t consider myself a filmmaker, really, but my first movie was clearly influenced by De Palma’s Scarface. Then I stole a lot of things from various and very different directors and movies, from Dead Poet Society to The Blaze, Dog Pound, and Saturday Night Fever.
As far as current Directors, I admire so many of them, but my favorite are Denis Villeneuve, Nicolas Winding Refn, Steve McQueen, Christopher Nolan and as an outsider, I’d say, Scott Cooper. I think he’s amazing at directing actors.
I’m a huge fan of Audiard, Noé, Gavras (son), Iñárritu, Scorsese, De Palma, Coppola and so many more.
Why did you decide to tell the story of Tony, and why was it meaningful to you?
I decided to tell this story because I thought it’d be relevant and interesting to have a very aware character going through two different worlds.
Stories are often told about either outsiders or someone who was born in it, for whom this world is normal and makes sense. It’s his reality. The outsider one the other hand has a hard time understanding or adapting.
I wanted to have a character aware of what’s happening. Who could see both sides with two different perspectives. Conscious about his actions and the morality of it and yet doing it, at a cost.
Tony comes from a world in which violence isn’t morally acceptable, in which transgressions are condemned. Yet, he embraces this new world, fully knowing what it implies. And he does it because although different from these guys, he understands them at his core and is cut from the same cloth.
If you are born in a war zone, war is the normality. You might not even realize the atrocity of it. You’re conditioned. It’s your reality.
It’s the same in Tony regarding crime and violence.
What message were you hoping to convey with the film?
That violence, including violence inflicted on children, leads to more violence. Abuse is a downward spiral that is hard to escape. But I wanted to show there is still hope and powerful forces than can save those victims.
In Tony, education is helping and it’s a way out of misery.
But most of all, love is the answer.
Whether familial love from his grandparents or his friends.
Although a crime drama movie, the core subject is the long-time effects of violence and abuse on a child and the wounds it causes and how it influences your whole life growing up.
Dostoyevsky said it brilliantly in “The Brothers Karamazov”: “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home.
People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one's heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.”
On top of directing this fantastic film, you also won Best Actor of the Year for your exquisite performance in Tony. How did you prepare for this role, and what were the challenges of directing and acting at the same time?
It was a story that was on my mind for a while and everything was based on real people so it was already there. Since I wrote it I was pretty connected with it.
You then use the characteristics you share with the character.
The movie being a period piece, the wardrobe and location reinforced the performances.
The challenges were numerous. Acting is tough, directing is tough. Doing it at the same time is very hard and risky.
You have to be everywhere and it’s hard to focus. You can’t rely on someone else’s perspective and vision. You have to trust you more, make quick decisions and the amount of work is huge since as the director, everybody constantly needs your directions and approval.
At the same time, you don’t have to please anybody but yourself and you feel right away when you deliver what you want.
One thing I noticed is that it’s hard to be as present as if you’re only acting. I remember at some moment while acting thinking of a noise that would ruin the take or I caught myself being worried the other actor was gonna deliver the line properly or the dolly zoom was gonna be done properly.
Instead of purely focusing on your character and the scene, you have this outside, more technical look and it can be detrimental. That’s why it’s so hard and why for bigger projects it takes special people. You need to be really well surrounded, have experience and trust and rely on others.
If you could chat with a younger version of yourself, what advice would you give them?
Invest in yourself more. Think long term. Be more positive and boy, it’s gonna take a little longer than expected. Also, drop the J.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects, and when can our readers follow more of your work.
I have a few things coming, including my second movie called Cagnolino, from my team ILLIS.
I act in it, and I directed it, but Cagnolino is also more of an ensemble film and follows multiple characters.
Tony should be available soon on VOD platforms and Cagnolino will make the festival circuit.
Tony - Trailer