Coming home to Tarpon Springs is nothing new for Bertie Higgins, the trop-rock musician who put Key Largo on the radio map in the 1980s.
Returning as an independent filmmaker, though, is something entirely different for Higgins, now living in Los Angeles and fresh off a concert tour in China.
"Between here, L.A. and Beijing I can't figure out where I live anymore," Higgins said in a telephone interview. "We spend a lot of time in the Pacific Rim. For some reason I can't figure out we've got a double platinum album over there."
Higgins is back in Tarpon Springs, showing off the third movie made under his Cayo Largo Productions banner. It's a drug smuggling drama titled Through the Eye directed by Higgins' son Julian. The elder Higgins co-wrote the script and co-stars as a Greek boat captain from — where else? — Tarpon Springs, running afoul of a crooked cop, played by Hollywood bad boy Tom Sizemore.
Explain the title Through the Eye.
If you look at a map there's the Caribbean and the Gulf (of Mexico) and there's a 90-mile Yucatan Channel that runs between Mexico and Cuba. That pass was renamed "the eye" by smugglers. That's where the Coast Guard cuts you off. It's a ferocious thing with two huge bodies of water colliding in a narrow area. It's dangerous even without smuggling.
Speaking of dangerous, what's it like working with Sizemore?
He's a handful but we got along fine. In fact, we have the same manager now. Sizemore's a good guy; he's a sweetheart, really smart and a great improviser. I'd turn to Julian on the set and say: "We didn't write that line." But it was so good we'd keep it. Sizemore's a monster actor, really good.
When did Julian decide to become a director?
You know, I've got a picture on my wall that he drew in third grade (with the assignment): "What do you want to be when you grow up?" He drew himself sitting there wearing a beret, holding a megaphone and wearing jodhpurs, directing a movie.
(Years later) I said "Look, dude. Daddy loves you. You want to direct movies?" He said: "Dad, I really do." I told him you can't do it from Florida. Let's go to L.A. for a while. I'll put you through film school. He did some short films with friends then wanted to make a feature. I went out with my silver tongue and raised the money.
What other projects does Cayo Largo have in the hopper?
We've got several scripts on the table right now. We've become a serious little film production company, a little boutique company headquartered in Burbank. I produce, my son Julian is a director, and (another son) Aaron handles unit production management.
Right now we're working on The Marco Polo Bridge — that's the working title — about the Japanese invasion of mainland China in 1937. Lots of action but also a love story. We want to shoot in Beijing (but) the script has to be approved by the Chinese government. We've also got a G-rated Christmas film that we're thinking about.
How does it feel, returning home as a filmmaker?
It kind of reminds me of when Key Largo hit, coming back to Bayfront Center, opening for the Beach Boys and we just jam-packed it. That's what it feels like coming back with our movie.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.