U.S. actor Andy Garcia takes on Saakashvili role

TBILISI (Reuters Life!) - The office of the Georgian president had a new occupant on Monday as U.S. actor Andy Garcia took on the role of Mikheil Saakashvili in a film based on last year’s war with Russia.

U.S. actor Andy Garcia in the role of Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili sits in the presidential office in Tbilisi October 19, 2009. Renny Harlin’s movie is based on Russia-Georgia August 2008 war conflict. REUTERS/Pool/Irakli Gedenidze

Filming began this month on an untitled drama by “Die Hard 2” director Renny Harlin based on the five-day August war, when Saakashvili’s assault on separatists in rebel South Ossetia drew a devastating Russian counter-strike.

Hollywood star Garcia, whose credits include “The Godfather Part III” and “Ocean’s Eleven,” arrived in the former Soviet republic late on Sunday as shooting moved from the former Russian-held town of Gori to the capital, Tbilisi.

Television pictures showed Garcia holding court in a suit, red tie and a lapel pin bearing the red-and-white Georgian flag in Saakashvili’s office in the presidential palace.

The plot revolves around an American reporter who gets caught in the crossfire as war engulfs the country, testing his impartiality as a journalist. Papuna Davitaia, a parliament deputy from Saakashvili’s ruling United National Movement, is one of the producers on the project.

“Our main concern was to show war as a bad thing,” executive producer Michael Flannigan told Georgian television. “We had an opportunity to make a really anti-war film.”

He said the budget was “pretty restrictive,” in a departure from Finnish-born Harlin’s big-budget action thrillers “Die Hard 2,” starring Bruce Willis, and “Cliffhanger” with Sylvester Stallone.

Georgia’s pro-Western president is widely accused of triggering the war by launching an assault on pro-Russian South Ossetia after days of fatal clashes and years of rising tension with Moscow.

The war substantially damaged relations between Russia and the West. Some 390 civilians on both sides died, and more than 100,000 were displaced, as the Russian military carried out air strikes and sent tanks deep into Georgia.

Serb filmmaker Emir Kusturica turned down a Russian offer to direct another film about the war.

“I didn’t accept it because I have a binding contract for the next four years,” he told Reuters on Monday.

Reporting by Matt Robinson in Tbilisi and Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade; Writing by Matt Robinson