Giovanni Ribisi jumped at the chance to co-star in Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, the first Hollywood movie to shoot on the island nation since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.
Like most Americans, the actor (Saving Private Ryan) had never traveled there.
“When they told me we were going to do the movie in Cuba, it was really enticing,” Ribisi said by phone. “It had been a dream of mine to go to this kind of forbidden country. It was quite the experience.”
Ribisi plays Ed Myers, a character based on late Miami Herald journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who wrote the autobiographical screenplay for Papa and was a huge fan of the iconic author.
The movie, mounted with the help of the Cuban Film Institute, follows Peticlerc’s 1957 trip to meet Hemingway, who invited him to his home, Finca Vigia, outside Havana.
“It was fascinating to be in that house, now a museum,” said Ribisi, 41. “They’ve preserved it so it has this mystical quality. There was a sense of going into a time machine, if you will. It kind of put me in the right mindset.”
To prepare to play an actual person, the L.A. native did as much research beforehand as he could.
“I read anything I could get my hands on to explore this man’s world,” said the Friends alum. “But nowadays with the Internet — I sound like I’m 80 years old — it made my job a lot easier. It used to be actors had to look at old photographs and go to the library or bookstore to find out about a person.”
The takeway: Being a newspaper reporter can be a pretty tough gig.
“It’s a profession that requires a lot of ethics and integrity,” Ribisi said. “You know, whether they should or shouldn’t get close to their subjects and be emotional. That’s where the lines can get blurred and that was one of the things Ed was grappling with in this.”