“Some umbilical cords are very tough to cut,” says writer-director Rodrigo Garcia, whose new film Raymond & Ray stars Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor as two half-brothers tasked with burying their estranged father. Both are flawed by their unstable upbringing: Raymond (McGregor) lives an organized but passive-aggressive life, while Ray (Hawke) is an out-of-work trumpeter and recovering addict who uses his humor and good looks to conceal his insecurities.
Hawke says the film, which Garcia evolved from his own short, “felt like a Chekhov short story.” He added: “It’s very rare to read something so funny and profound.”
Garcia’s work — including 2000’s Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, 2005’s Nine Lives, and the 2020 addiction drama Four Good Days — often involve complicatedly intertwined familial relationships. He is fascinated by the universality “of the ghosts in your life — people who have passed or people who are alive.”
It’s tempting to assume his interest in family is because of his famous parents: His father is the brilliant novelist Gabriel García Márquez, and his mother, Mercedes Barcha, was the protector of his legacy. But Garcia, born in Bogota, Columbia, doesn’t want to oversimplify his father’s influence, noting, “my links both good and complicated to my mother are just as strong. Of course, no one ever asks me about that.”
We talked with him about Ray and Raymond’s evolution, the role of jazz in his film, and what his stars brought to their roles. — M.M.
Destiny Jackson: What inspired you to write this? And how long was the process?
Rodrigo Garcia: The initial idea was just one man in the cemetery burying a father who hated himself. It wasn’t so much about him being a bad father, but sort of a man who just loathes himself. It was a half-hour short and some of the elements were there.
That was six or seven years ago. I pecked at it for a while, but it was stuck. I think the idea shares a similar commonality with all of my movies, this preoccupation with the people you can’t break away from, whether you want to or not. … So the way we are joined at the hip to siblings, to parents, to spouses, lovers, ex-spouses, ex-lovers, your children, your parents, I pecked at that for a while. And then one day it just occurred to me that there were two brothers… and that immediately gave me a whole new perspective.
Destiny Jackson: How did your parentage help shape you as a storyteller? It seems your work is always angled towards this child-parent dynamic.
Rodrigo Garcia: Well, let me ask you this, and I say this with all due respect and affection, but over the years, I’ve done more of a good job of answering this question when it’s asked, and it’s not asked all the time, but I’m often curious to say, “Well, how much did your parents influence you?” Do you know what I mean? I mean, I have of course the added thing that my father was a big figure and a famous writer. So I think when, at least for me, although I kind of assume it might be the case for other children of very famous people, there’s always that problem of integration. There’s my famous dad, my famous dad at home, my dad at home who’s not famous. My dad when I was little. My dad now that I’m a grown-up. Now, my father who died. Now, my father who is a historic writer.
Destiny Jackson: Jazz music is such an important thread throughout the film here for both the score and Ray’s character arc. What does music mean to you personally, and in the film?
Rodrigo Garcia: I love jazz, but I’m no expert. I’m a fan of Miles Davis, but I always thought of the movie as a very American story, so I thought jazz and Americana music would be fitting. I also think it was a nice contrast to Ray’s father being racist. It’s the fact that Ray was not only a very talented young musician, but that he also excelled at jazz, which of course has its roots in African-American history. I thought it was kind of the bullseye theme of wanting to be an artist and being scared to be an artist, and told you were not good enough for the art form that their racist dad probably hated. Or perhaps he was jealous because Ray was talented and he was not.
Raymond and Ray both seem like such lived-in, relatable characters. It helps that they’re played by Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor. How did you manage to define these two, and how did they evolve with the casting?
Rodrigo Garcia:: In the short, I had the makings of Ray being a trumpet player, and his father didn’t respect his art or his artistry. So, the DNA of Ray was already set. Raymond, by comparison, presented himself to me, just instinctively, as a more cautious person. Ray had not triumphed in the jazz world, although he had a lot of talent. Because his father squashed him down, he never went after this dream. So I thought then that Raymond might be someone who was more conservative, who was not going to take big risks with life. And I think having the two brothers invited those two dynamics, where one brother is the one that pushes back, and the other one is the one that is always forgiving and trying to understand that his dad was just a person. But a more direct answer to your question is that Ray was there and Raymond came out of the other rib.
As for Ethan and Ewan, they bring a lot to the characters just because of who they are and what they are. I tried to not talk too much or rehearse too much. If the actor sees the script and the character roughly like I do, then I want to give that space where actors can work like artists work — they work from their imagination and from their experience. Ethan brought some of that more artsy swagger to Ray than I had envisioned. I knew what Ray’s problems were, but I didn’t know how he walked or talked or what his style was. So he had that sort of browbeaten swagger, plus the sadness of losing his wife, and a little bit of that low energy that sometimes recovering addicts have, which is the mentality of “OK, I have to stay at this mellow pace.”
Recovering addicts sometimes complain, even if they’re happy, of course, to be recovered, that it’s a little more boring than it was when they were out there. So I think he brought that specific swagger. And then Ewan pushed a lot more of the — for lack of a better word — nerdiness, or more like the conservativeness, which I thought was fun to watch because he’s also a hip guy and cool.
Raymond & Ray is now streaming on Apple TV+.
Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke in Raymond & Ray.