You are Visitor No:

Counter by Escati

Detroit News, October 17, 1997, PACINO LOOKED FOR
GQ, September 1992, AL ALONE
Scene Magazine, 1997, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
Toronto International Film Festival, September 9, 1996,




GQ, September 1992


by Maureen Dowd

(back to top)

It's no longer sheer torture being Al Pacino, but it's still far from easy


Al is not easy.

At least, that's what everyone will tell you.

It's not easy to persuade him to do interviews to promote his movies. It's not easy to do love scenes with him. It's not easy to understand what the hell he's talking about, because he can be so inarticulate at times. It's not easy to get him to commit to an acting project, and it's not easy to understand all his choices. he's not easy to work with, because he always wants just one more rehearsal or one more take or one more test screening.

This is not the sort of star who makes voice-over commercials for Japanese cars or glitters at fund-raisers for politically correct candidates or yaks about his love life on Arsenio Hall's couch. We're talking here about a guy who rereads Checkhov and Emily Dickinson for fun. A guy who writes poetry and, mercifully, loses it.

So it is with some trepidation that I walk up to Al Pacino's table in the back of Joe Allen, a pub in New York's theater district, and shake hands. The 52-year-old actor, who in performance is often compared to a hand grenade, seems a gentle soul in person, with a soft, gravelly voice and a courtly manner. Although he sometimes makes odd fashion statements with scarves used as headbands, tonight he looks rather stylish, in a black silk shirt, a black sport coat and a green-and-black Foties-style tie. There is a glint at his next, a long gold chain with a primitive cross.

Although interviews rank somewhere below root canal on Pacino's favorite-things list, he seems to want to make this work. We chat for a bit about his new movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, and where he might go from here. I want to ask him something profound, something that will make him respect me. But before I can stop myself, I blurt out "So, do you regret not taking the Richard Gere role in Pretty Woman?

He turns those mournful basset-hound eyes on me, the ones director Garry Marshall calls, "the best eyes in the world," and gives me a look of amused disdain.

"No, the only movie I wished I could have done was Lenny," he says, referring to the blistering 1974 Bob Fosse film about comedian Lenny Bruce, in which Dustin Hoffman starred.

The finicky Pacino, who has turned down more hits than he has made, then allows that he also might have liked to have played the Paul Newman part in the 1977 Gorge Roy Hill comedy about hockey players, Slap Shot.

"I told Hill that I was interested, if they could fix the problems with the script, and all he wanted to know was 'Mr. Pacino, do you ice-skate?' "

Pacino laughs.

That is not as strange a thing to say as "Garbo talks," by the way. Pacino laughs fairly often.

He says he did not picture himself as Michael Corleone when he got the role, in The Godfather

Though he is a genuine American film icon, Al Pacino cannot "open" a movie in the way that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Eddie Murphy can. He went for a decade without a hit movie, between ..And Justice for All, in 1979, and Sea of Love , in 1989. So he has gingerly agreed to this interview to reap some attention for Glengarry Glen Ross, an independent production, directed by James Foley, that does not offer the usual blandishments of sex and violence. The film version of David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about cutthroat real-estate salesmen is a scalding, syncopated ensemble piece featuring Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris and Kevin Spacey. Pacino gets to curse and charm wear a diamond pinkie ring as Ricky Roma, a wired purveyor of "choice parcels" in a world where only one thing counts: getting them to sign on the line which is dotted.

He will also star this fall in Universal's Scent of a Woman, playing Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, a blind, bitter a army veteran living in New England who decides to go on a weekend jaunt to New York City, with the teenage boy hired to care for him reluctantly in tow.

Pacino has a lot of nervous energy. At the restaurant, he drinks cappuccino and chews gum and constantly runs his fingers through his thick hair. He gave up alcohol fifteen years ago, after friends suggested that he had a problem. Lately, he has gotten a bit pudgy around the middle and is supposed to be on a diet. His assistant has been fixing him bean dishes from the actor's grandmother's Sicilian recipes and quizzing his companions to see if he's cheating.

He's cheating. "Do you want to split a hot-fudge cake?"

It's an offer I can't refuse. After polishing off dessert, we get up to go. "Leave a big tip," he instructs, suggesting I offer 80 percent of the bill. he was once a struggling actor working odd jobs in Manhattan, so he identifies with the kids waiting tables at Broadway restaurants. (Pacino is also generous with his own money. he quietly contributes, though a foundation he has set up, to hungry children, AIDS research and other causes.) He checks out the Knicks game on the bar television, then, outside, climbs into his jeep and heads uptown. When he stops at a red light across from Lincoln Center, a street hustler comes up to talk. Pacino lowers the window and chats with the guy until the light changes, handing him a five-dollar bill from a stack of crisp ones and fives that's spilling out of his glove compartment. he is accustomed to strangers on the streets of New York calling him "Al" and tossing him a favorite line from Scarface - "Can I go now?" or chanting "At-ti-ca! At-ti-ca!" from Dog Day afternoon.

Born in Harlem, Alfredo James Pacino grew up in a small apartment in the South Bronx with his mother, her parents and various cousins. One grandfather was a plasterer, the other a house painter. His father, an insurance agent, left home when Al was 2 an, while Pacino sees him occasionally, he says they "don't have any real relationship."

Although his childhood had its dark moments - "Living in three rooms with a bunch of Sicilians is not easy" - he remembers it as happy. As a child, he was encouraged to act out movie roles (like the drunken Ray Milland looking for a hidden bottle in The Lost Weekend) and was eventually accepted at he High School of Performing Arts. But he had to drop out at 16 in order to help support his mother, who had become ill, and the next year, he moved to Greenwich Village and began auditioning for plays. He worked a series of odd jobs, from building superintendent to movie usher to messenger.

"I know every street in this city," he says, driving past packed restaurants on the Upper West Side. "I never thought about moving to Hollywood. Not for a single moment. I have always been a kind of a homeboy."

And as much as a quirky millionaire movie star who dates beautiful women, hangs out with the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer and Ellen Barkin, lives in a trendy suburb on the Hudson River called Sneden's Landing and ponders buying a farm so that his daughter can have "horsies," as much as this guy can still be a homeboy, Pacino probably is.

"It's hard for people to believe that actors can be shy, but Al is shy," says Sidney Lumet, who directed Pacino in Dog Day afternoon and Serpico. "In his acting, his instrument is himself, his emotional nakedness. So other than acting, he tries his damnedest not to bare himself."

Garry Marshall, who directed Frankie and Johnny, agrees that Pacino will curl into his shell if he has the slightest suspicion that someone is mocking him. "In a way, he's extremely naive," Marshall says. "It's strange to talk about vulnerability and innocence with a guy who's played the foremost killers on the American screen. But he's so pure and honest and artistic, it's a little like Don Quixote walking through Hollywood."

Ellen Barkin,, who slammed Pacino around the bedroom in their steamy scenes in Sea of Love, says with mock bravado that she deserves all the credit she got for those scenes. One of Hollywood's most famous tough guys, it turns out, had a tough time feigning lust.

"It's hard for him to do it unless he means it," Barkin says. "Lovemaking is an intimate gesture, and you don't do it with people you're not intimate with. That's what's sexy about him. It's real. He's not a seducer."

When shooting the bedroom scenes for Frankie and Johnny, Michelle Pfeiffer loosened up her costar by giggling and being, as she puts it, "immature." "I'd conjure up the meanest things to say to him just before we would start a love scene, like 'You really bore me,'" she recalls. "He'd be on the floor, laughing."

Pacino hates to talk about his personal life, even though he has been involved in high-profile relationships with a flock of famous actresses, including Kathleen Quinlan, Tuesday Weld, Jill Clayburgh, Marthe Keller and Diane Keaton. He has said that he has spent a lot of time hiding and withdrawing from stardom and from women.

His friend James Caan says he thinks Pacino's reclusiveness, which extends to wearing disguises, is an affectation. "Al hiding under a hat and a mustache and saying 'I vant to be alone' is full of shit, and you tell him I said so. I told him to his face," Caan says. "You go in the business to get recognition and then you refuse recognition? Who are you bullshitting with that?"

For Pacino, fame is an unfortunate by-product of his brilliance as an actor. From the beginning, his intensity for "the work" has been legend.

"Everything stems from some incredible core inside of him that I wouldn't think of trying to get near, because it would be like getting somewhere near the center of the earth," Lumet says. "What comes out of his core is so uniquely his own. Its the only thing he can trust. It is quite clear that Al is a loner."

Unlike actors who are trained to find the truth of the character in the moment and switch it off when the scene is over, Pacino stuck with the emotion twenty-four hours a day during Dog Day afternoon. "He was never really light in spirit. It's a very tough way to work. The cost has to be enormous, really nightmarish and horrendous."

Even Lee Strasberg, the head of the Actors Studio and Pacino's Method guru, a man not known for his frivolity, warned him to lighten up. "Strasberg said to me, 'Darling, you know, you have to let it go sometimes,' " Pacino recalls.

Pacino remembers that in 1983's Scarface, he was so deeply into the role of Tony Montana, the foul-mouthed, murderous Cuban drug kingpin, that when a neighbor's attack dog lunged at him-an action that he says normally would have scared him to death - he yelled "Back off!" and the dog scurried away in fear.

Pacino has always done exhaustive preparation for the roles. For The Godfather, he met with Mafia chieftains. For Scarface, he met drug dealers. He learned Benihana-style chopping from short-order cooks for Frankie and Johnny and got so involved in it that Michelle Pfeiffer finally had to tell him to chop softer so she could hear herself speak.

But lately, he has developed a sense of humor about his perfectionism. At one point, he told the crew of Frankie and Johnny, "I know you guys have a pool on how many takes I'm going to do here, and I say that the one who bet over twenty has the best shot."

And he tries to be polite about it. "He'd say, 'You're the director and I'm the actor. But I'm imploring you to do one more take, '" say James Foley. "As if I would say no."

At the heart of Pacino's talent is his ability to tear down the wall between reality and illusion. Arvin Brown, who directed the actor on stage in American Buffalo and Chinese Coffee, was literally afraid when he first saw Pacino, in The Indian Wants the Bronx, in the late Sixties. "He had so much violence in him that he shattered the mystical line that allows the audience to feel comfortable," Brown says. "Intellectually, I know he was an actor and he was not going to jump off the stage and attack me. But he scared the shit out of me."

Barkin describes a similar experience while shooting Sea of Love, during a scene in which Pacino gets drunk and yells at her. "We did three or four takes, and there was this weird clacking noise. I was terrified. I felt like he might lose it and strangle me right there. Then Al suddenly turned to me and said, 'Could you be, like less...?' and I realized that my hands were shaking so hard that my rings were clacking away."

But now he seems able to flip off the emotional switch. Pfeiffer noticed a dramatic difference between Pacino's temperament when they worked together on Scarface and then, eight years later, on Frankie and Johnny. "He's a happier person," she says.

Pacino says that getting older has helped. "As you do this more and more, you don't mix up your parts and yourself as much."

And life is not so serious anymore.

Barkin recalls how Pacino broke up a tense Sea of Love production meeting one night by bursting into an imitation of Barbra Streisand singing "And we've got nothing to be guilty of/Our love is one in a million...."

Pacino used to be touchy about being lumped with the group of intense ethnic actors who changes Hollywood's image of leading men in the Sixties and Seventies. Asked in a 1979 "Playboy:" interview about the comment in Pauline Kael's review of Serpico that, with a beard, he was indistinguishable from Dustin Hoffman, Pacino snapped "'Is that after she had the shot glass removed from her throat?'"

Last year, a mellower Pacino told Garry Marshal that his real name is Al De Niro: "Yeah, we're all the same guy."

Some of the worst times of Al Pacino's life were spent working on the Godfather movies.

When Francis Ford Coppola began shooting The Godfather, the studio chiefs weren't buying Pacino, then a 31-year-old New York stage actor. They made Coppola test dozens of others for the role of Michael, including Robert De Niro and James Caan. Pacino seemed so deadpan, so passive. Everyone thought the young actor was being self-destructive.

Pacino says he was unhappy but trying. "here I was, this kid, and all of a sudden I was thrown into an environment that was pressured, to say the least. Francis was worried about his job every day. he was young, too, up there for the first time. And he had been given this mountain to climb. And there I was, I just wanted to quit and go back to something else. I was having to do film acting, which I wasn't used to. And I was playing a leading man and everyone kept telling me I wasn't a leading man.

"Word kept coming down from the he studio: 'Well, when is this kid going to deliver?' And I'd just say 'I need a drink.'" Finally, the studio relaxed, but Pacino didn't. "Movies were difficult things for the first ten years of my career," he observes. "I kept feeling as though this was not the medium for me."

When The Godfather came out, in 1972, celebrity hit Pacino hard. His life was suddenly filled with booze, tranquilizers, women, deals, money and sycophants.

"When you become visible and notorious, you start accepting people into your world that you wouldn't normally be associated with," he says. "That was what got me in some trouble. I started to get involved in situations that came readily to me, where I didn't have to earn it. Especially if your a shy person to start with, what happens is, now you are accepted. You become unduly suspicious."

He also struggled with darker emotions: selfishness, loneliness, isolation, depression. "It was like the scene out of Dr. Strangelove when Slim Pickins rode the bomb down," Pacino says. "It was anarchy. I didn't feel a rush. I just felt chaos when I was younger. I say 'What is gong on? Give me another drink.'"

During this period, he lived with actress Jill Clayburgh, and he remembers soaking in the bathtub for hours, drinking and talking on the phone. Clayburgh even got him a plastic tub tray to hold a drink and a phone. "As long as I was home, it was all right for her, even if I was in the bathroom. She should have turned off the plumbing." He used the tray in a scene in Bobby Deerfield, a movie that marked the nadir of his noncommunicative, melancholy, out-of-it phase.

There was a scary incident before Dog Day afternoon began shooting, in 1974, when Pacino dropped out briefly, sick with exhaustion and drink. Dustin hoffman was waiting in the wings, but Pacino beat back his demons and returned. After the movie came out, he was bigger than ever, but he didn't do much with his life except drink and indulge his melancholia about the meaning of celebrity and existence. When friends insisted, he went to AA meetings and stopped drinking and smoking.

I ask Pacino whether he considered himself an alcoholic.

"I still don't know, frankly how far or how deep my problem goes," he says. "I had some very close friends who were concerned about it. I was not as aware of my drinking as I guess other people were. Because I was always functioning, really. I didn't ever use drugs. I did the tranquilizers, that type of thing. I don't think I was doing a wise thing doing it while I drank."

He looks out the window at darkness for a moment, then continues. "I don't have any desire for the hard stuff. But wine, it's warming, mellow, takes the edge off after having had a tough time; it's kind of a reward for having made it through the day.

"It's a struggle. I wish it wasn't. Sometimes it isn't. My hope is, having stopped, that it made whatever is positive in my life, it gave me more of a chance to have that."

If making The Godfather was hard, shooting The Godfather, Part III, on location for six months in Sicily, was a nightmare.

Caan recalls that Pacino called him from Italy, "screaming and yelling about what Francis was ding. Francis was still mourning the death of his son. It was not the Francis who did the first Godfather. He even thought he could make George Hamilton an actor."

Pacino says that once Robert Duvall dropped out of the cast due to a money dispute, the script had to be substantially rewritten: "When Duvall wouldn't do the movie, I thought we were in trouble."

Then an exhausted Winona Ryder left the film and was replaced by Sofia Coppola, the director's daughter. "I think it's difficult when you cast your own kid," Pacino says. "It was a strain. The film developed a strain. I thing there was a problem in the fabric of the story, but I wish that we'd had the complete cast."

Pacino, who has been nominated six times for an Oscar but has never won, says he was disappointed that he did not get nominated for Godfather III, which received seven nominations. (He was however, nominated for best supporting actor for his hilarious turn as Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy but lost to Joe Pesci.) "As I get older, I think about it more," he says.

Roy Orbison is crooning on the box, and Herb Ritts, photographer to the stars, is chatting with Pacino at a West Side studio. The actor has donned a gray Armani suit, the trousers puddling around his ankles, for a photo shoot.

"So, you're dating Lyndall Hobbs?" Ritts asks, referring to the tall, slim blonde Australian woman who has been Pacino's companion for the past year and a half. Hobbs, a former London television reporter who specialized in fashion, directed Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in Back to the Beach, in 1987. She moved to Manhattan with her young daughter last year to be closer to Pacino. Those who know her say she is as outgoing and interested in parties and celebrities as he is reclusive. Some have noticed a resemblance to Diane Keaton in Hobbs, with her nervous energy and eclectic wardrobe of vintage menswear and high fashion.

Pacino, who looks like he'd rather have a horse's head in his bed than confide anything about his love life, is glancing around the room skittishly.

"Lyndall's great," Ritts says affably. "She has that great smile. And she's really there. So how did you two get together?"

Pacino, his private side and his polite side visibly warring, goes with the polite. "We met a long time ago, but it didn't go anywhere. Then we ran into each other again." Ritts notes that it is unusual to return to a relationship years later.

"No, it's happened to me before," Pacino says with a wry grin. "It happens more as you get older."

A few nights later, as we drive back from the Long Wharf Theater in New haven, Connecticut, where Pacino went to see a friend's production of A Touch of the Poet, it seems like a good time to slip in some questions about romance. I pop the question: Why has he never married?

When he feels comfortable with a subject, Pacino can be an eloquent conversationalist, but when the talk turns to love, he is instantly elliptic.

"I guess there comes a point where one defines marriage for oneself and what does it mean," he answers, finally. "I have just not come to that point yet."

Has he ever come close?

"Not really."

Will he ever?

"I think so. If I could relate to its relevancy."

He observes that "sharing your life with someone is a kind of wedding, in a way."

What attracts him in a woman?

"It takes more than one encounter."

A sense of humor? A literary bent?

"It's no one thing," he says. "But I remember once having fallen in love instantly. I won't say who, but it did happen to me once. Who knows with those things? They must have something to do with some unconscious precepts. Before it happened, I would have said there was no such thing."

He swears he is easy to live with. "I'm not that demanding," he says, adding that he believes in "a certain amount of freedom, come and go" in relationships.

Is he the jealous type?

"I wouldn't say I'm the jealous type, no," he says, smiling.

He feels the most important thing in a relationship is to have an understanding of why you are together and what you are together. "It's always best when you know what the rules are," he says. "Otherwise, it starts to go like a house of cards."

Does he prefer strong, successful women like Diane Keaton, one of huis most prominent romance?

"I was very close to Diane Keaton before she or I made a movie; I know her when she was very young," he replies. But she got involved with Woody Allen and then Warren Beatty, and the, many years later, she and Pacino picked up where they had left off.

Although Keaton told Maribella that working with Pacino in The Godfather movies was exciting "'because you really know him and he can't trick you, and you can't trick him,'" Pacino says of working with a lover: "I prefer not, frankly.

"It's wonderful when it's working," he says. "But you also have to know there are times when little things happen in day-to-day life that will affect you r working life. Being in close quarters so long, the least little thing might upset you. A lot of people think that it allows you to bring personal things to the work, but it isn't true. For the most part, you don't really use it - it's an interference. In order to work, you need objectivity and you have to be able to use your imagination. And you need a little peace." Keaton said that making Godfather III "'was so bittersweet'" because it was "'the end of the trail for us.'"

Andy Garcia, who helped nurse Pacino through the bad professional and personal moments of the film, says of the Keaton-Pacino romance: "I liked them together. I think they're destined for one another."

Although Pacino has lived with women in the past, he lives alone now- with five dogs - in his book-filled house in Sneden's Landing.

"Sometimes, living together puts a strain on it," says Pacino, not sounding too interested in the idea of settling down. "Sometimes you're better off living apart and being together. I've found that to be very effective, especially if you like each other a great deal and enjoy each other's company. Having time alone is important to me, but not too much - that gets tiring. When Bette Davis was asked what makes a marriage successful, she said 'Separate bedrooms.'"

Pacino's approach to fatherhood is similarly unconventional. A brief romantic interlude in 1989 produced a daughter named Julie, now 3, whom he kept a secret for a while before publicly incorporating her into his life.

"When she and her mother went to a video store, in the days when nobody knew that I had a child, Julie would point to videos, going 'Dada, Dada,'" Pacino says, grinning. Now he goes to the movies, Central Park and Playland with her; he keeps her toys, finger paintings and photographs in his midtown office; and he has a room for her at his house. In one picture in the office, Julie, a brunette heartbreaker, sports pink heart-shaped sunglasses and a pink bottle. Pacino observes that when he doesn't see her, he misses her in a way that is entirely new to him.

Pacino has always been more interested in art than in money, which has caused him to make some strange career choices. He recently too k about a $4.9 million pay cut to star in two one-act plays at New York's Circle in the Square, as part of a fundraising drive for the theater. The critics praised Pacino's acting in Ira Lewis's Chinese Coffee, in which he played a scuzzy, washed-up Greenwich Village writer, and in Oscar Wilde's Salome, in which he played a campy Herod, but they argued that he was wasting his time in second-rate vehicles and that the ornate language of Salome, full of "thine"s and "thou"s, was ill suited to him. Nor have they been kind about his forays into Shakespeare, in Richard III and Julius Caesar. Some observers think that Lee Strasberg encouraged Pacino to take on the kind of highbrow roles that are a bad fit for this quintessentially urban, American actor.

"He has all the ability in the world, but sometimes his head gets in the way of his ass - it's like Jon Lovitz's thing about 'ahc-ting,'" says Caan, referring to the Saturday Night Live spoof of the windy Master Thespian. "After Revolution, Al shouldn't do another thing that requires an accent."

Following the disastrous 1965 British-made costume epic about the American Revolution ("Mr. Pacino has never been more intense to such little effect," Vincent Canby wrote. "It's like watching someone walk around in a chicken costume"), Pacino burrowed out of sight for four years. he refreshed his interest in acting by giving readings at colleges, doing workshops and obsessively editing his own fifty-two-minute film, The Local Stigmatic, from the 1965 Heathcote Williams play about two cockney thugs gripped by class envy who brutalize an actor they meet in a pub because "fame is the first disgrace - because God knows who you are." (hear a wav of this line).

The movie is required viewing, preferably twice, for those who would interview Pacino. He said he likes it because it is "bottomless," like the classics.

Maybe the work speaks to Pacino on a subject close to his heart: the dark side of celebrity. Still, it is hard to understand his preoccupation with this play or why he has spent seven years and a small fortune filming it, editing it and screening it at colleges and museums and for small groups. the piece is a stale mix of John Osborne's working-class rage and Herold Pinter's anomie, and the Alfie-goes-to-the-Bronx accent Pacino affects in it is distracting.

Pacino feels strongly that the movie is too raw, too difficult, to ever be released commercially. But even Williams, something of an eccentric himself, begged Pacino to make The Local Stigmatic more accessible; he suggested changing the title to Fans and adding some scenes to clarify the class conflict. But, after years of debating, Pacino refused, thinking that would sully the work's purity. So it remains an expensive hobby. (Not one to walk away from an obsession, Pacino is thinking of editing down about five hours of tape from college lectures on Stigmatic to make a short documentary about the film.)

One night this past May, Pacino and Hobbs attended screening of the movie for a group of Whitney Museum contributors. Explaining why the movie has never been released, Pacino told the audience that "it needs a controlled environment." And the whole group was about as controlled as it gets - a veritable New Yorker cartoon of Dan Quayles' dread cultural elite.

The evening had an emperor's-new-clothes feel: The audience knew its task was to "get it." After the screening, guests murmured knowingly to one another about how powerful the film was. And no one walked out in disgust at the violence, as has happened on occasion.

Certainly, the group was thrilled to see Pacino standing on tiptoe to kiss the cheek of his girlfriend, who was wearing a black miniskirt and granny glasses and briskly drumming her fingers on various surfaces. but when asked, some guests quietly conceded that they didn't really understand the movie at all. Were the men supposed to be gay? Why did they beat up the actor? What was the message?

In a question-and-answer session following the screening, Pacino looked out over the blanched faces in the audience and commented "This reminds me of a man outside a movie theater who saw an audience coming out of Scarface and said 'What did you do to these people?'"

One man asked Pacino why he has bothered with his exercise in terror when he had done something so similar at the start of his career, in The Indian Wants the Bronx. (Pacino won an Obie Award in 1968 for the Off-Broadway play in which two toughs beat up an East Indian on a Bronx street corner.)

"Naturally, it has the violence, but I think it's saying something different," he replied.

Another man in the audience raised his hand: "Wasn't Heathcote Williams married to Twiggy?"

Pacino, very artsy in a blue jacket, with a scarf around his neck, seemed a bit fatigued at the nature of the questions.

"No," Pacino said. "He was involved with Jean Shrimpton."

When you spend some time with him, you understand what a good match Pacino and Keaton must have been. He is much more like Woody Allen that Michael Corleone. Ellen Barkin notes with affection that "Al is not the most optimistic person in the world." And Michelle Pfeiffer does a wonderful imitation of Pacino whining about how burned-out he is: "'Oh, I'm so tired, I can't possibly do another movie. Oh, I'm so old.' He's kvetching all the time, when really he has boundless energy."

Pacino is talking to Tri-Star Pictures about financing a theater space downtown, but the project its all very fuzzy and even his partner, Michael Hadge, laments that "no one understands what we're doing." And there has been some talk of a movie about the life of the artist Modiglaini. But it's no surprise when, one night, Pacino begins moaning gently about how tired he is and maybe he needs a change and maybe he should move to Paris or London for a year and maybe ha should just chuck acting and retire.

"I keep envisioning myself sitting around the duomo, sipping anisette and watching the girls and having a great life not acting," he says with moody grandeur.

No one believes him of course. Because he is a man addicted to the high wire and the process of acting and the sound of words.

"Did you hear what I sad about the duomo?" he asks a little while later.

Sure, Al.


(back to top)




Scene Magazine, 1997


by Raj Bahadur

(back to top)


NEW YORK CITY -- Al Pacino as the Devil. Somehow, it fits. Not that there's anything satanic about the guy. But if anyone can give nuance to so bold a character, it's the great Pacino.

And not just any devil, but one with a law degree. Again, it fits. Blame Taylor Hackford, who directed The Devil's Advocate, and, as Pacino puts it, "felt the script was a good canvas to express some of his feelings about today's society. When a director is that passionate about something, you know the movie has a chance."

Hence, involvement by Pacino, who doesn't jump at just anything. Playing opposite him is Keanu Reeves, a perfect-record defense attorney from down South, recruited by Pacino's N.Y. firm. Once aboard, Reeves and his wife (Charlize Theron) realize the offer is too good to be true. Too late. New York turns out to be a hellhole (I guess they don't get out much down South), Reeves has conscience and career put to the test, and the young couple finds itself seduced by Pacino's demonic minions.

Even with the special effects, The Devil's Advocate is far more morality play than horror show. With fiendish cunning assuming many guises, Pacino prepared accordingly.

"There's no barometer in playing the Devil, so anything goes. We wanted a tempting Devil, a Faustian Devil. You really don't want to give it away and have the audience know you're the Devil right off. To give the role credibility, I looked at other people who've played the part, so I wouldn't feel like I'm the only one who ever did it."

Pacino singled out late actor Walter Huston (THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER), also such texts as PARADISE LOST and Dante's INFERNO for study references. Other than that, he flew by the seat of his pants. Improvisational techniques from his Actors Studio days helped.

"I don't usually do improv," admits Pacino. "But I use it to get through the subtext or find areas in a scene I didn't see before. In movies, they usually don't have time for that. An exception was in Dog Day afternoon. The telephone scene was an improvisation between Chris Sarandon and me. We did about seven or eight improvs, and then [director] Sidney Lumet pieced them together."

No Al Pacino film would be complete without an "Al Pacino moment," those scenes in which everyone steps back while Al chews scenery. The Devil's Advocate is no different. His monologue on the sorry state of the world heading into the new millennium is exemplary, as is a lesser scene in which he breaks into Sinatra ("It Happened in Monterey").

Describing his black humor outburst, Pacino relates, "That's an example of something that came out of an improv. We wanted the encounter between Keanu and me to have its capriciousness, yet remain in context."

Despite being world-class, Pacino, a living repository of training and tricks, confesses to a chronic insecurity when approaching a role.

He states, "I have the same doubts I've always had. Maybe that's what keeps me going. I worked with Lee Strasberg [the late Actors Studio honcho] -- the guru of the theater. But I never really knew him until I worked with him. Working together is like two people on a tightrope. You're balancing and checking and dependent on each other -- a mutual relationship. Acting is 'I throw you the ball, you throw me the ball.'"

Another reason for persevering is the desire to play intriguing roles. "The material has always been my dictate," he says.

"If the material is engrossing, I get excited. There was a period where I went four years between movies. I've had other periods where I didn't do anything. Recently, I've been more active, though having many roles from which to choose is difficult.

"Is it THE BELLBOY where Jerry Lewis' boss tells him to go into a huge ballroom and lay down chairs? But the question is, where's he gonna put that first chair? It's a piece of genius watching him trying to figure it out. That's the way I feel when there's a lot of stuff to pick from. There's much to be said about waiting for something inspirational. As you get older, your time's running out. You're trying to figure what to do next. Bring the body and the mind will follow."

Pacino's allowing for the ravages of age? Sure. He's never been precious about wrinkles. However, that quote about "time's running out" is a bit ominous. He expounds.

"I've been doing this [acting] for 30 years. It's not that my time is running out. But I'm either too old for specific roles or they don't interest me in the same way they did a few years ago. If I want to do a play, that's a year out of my life. As long as I keep the idea that the play comes first, I can handle it."

Before you go, Al, is there anything you want to pass on to the kids, any words of wisdom to impart? Here's his speech to the young actor. "I see so many plays I wished I'd done. They would've been so important for my growth. That's what I recommend all the time -- involve yourself in the classics. You'll learn a lot. It will give you the variety you can never get if you constantly do the same thing.

"It's harder when you're famous. There's such a spotlight on you, you can't afford to fail. Part of why I make my own little films is to take chances and possibly fail in roles I might not ordinarily be cast for."

According to Pacino, you're never too old to develop your craft. "My grandfather was a plasterer," he remembers. "He had such a love for what he did. You felt that he really wanted to get up and do it again the next day. Acting is all about pursuit and staying with something. What is the saying? He who continues in his folly will someday be wise."

Pacino doesn't specify where he is along that folly/wisdom continuum. In his favor, he just gave up smoking. Or as he puts it, "I've given up giving up." Instead, he smokes those herbal cigarettes that smell like marijuana. For a better sense of Pacino, check out his baseball anecdote and judge for yourself.

"I wanted to watch a few innings, catch the afternoon sun and see those great ballplayers. I thought, if I have to leave early, it's like leaving in the middle of a play. So I put a beard on. Of course, they got it all on television. That beard is now in the Museum Of Mistakes."


(back to top)




Toronto International Film Festival, September 9, 1996


By Bruce Kirkland

(back to top)


At The Festival Al Pacino went Looking For Richard and found a lot of himself, inspiring a level of comfort and maturity he has never experienced before. That ebullient version of Pacino was at play yesterday at the Toronto International Film Festival.

"I'm more comfortable and satisfied now, definitely," the mid-fifties actor muses during a private interview. It is moments before he ventures into the turmoil of an overflow press conference in a sweltering room at Festival headquarters. "And making this film (over the last 10 years, during breaks from acting) was part of that process, yeah, sure."

The Richard in Looking For Richard - Pacino's directorial debut and a Special Presentation at the Festival yesterday and Tuesday - is England's King Richard III, the villain of one of Shakespeare's most daunting, difficult plays. Pacino has played Richard twice and now films himself doing it and talking about it in a humorous, skillfully-edited docudrama.

In off-guard moments on screen, Pacino pays homage to Shakespeare's genius, but takes "the piss" out of himself. "I hope that's what I do. If I didn't, I just couldn't think of it being palatable or watchable. You've got to do it - so I did."

Throughout the day, Pacino plays the modest superstar, being charming and often self-deprecating, teasing himself for rambling answers which derail his train of thought. "It takes me half an hour to answer a question. I'm becoming verbose!" His clothes - teal linen jacket, black T-shirt, white vest, backwards baseball cap crowning a mop of unruly black hair - are rumpled. He is relaxed and smiling.

The film itself is a work of personal passion that will get a commercial release in North America before - Pacino hopes - becoming part of permanent school literature programs.

"It's not Richard III," he says of the film. "It's me looking for Richard. It's a meditation on Richard. At the same time, it's an experimental experience in a kind of personal way. I want it to invoke some kind of connection and relevance to Shakespeare. Yet, on a simple level, I hope the audience will just be entertained by it and come away from it having a sense of it."

The humor in Looking For Richard - from the play itself as well as from Pacino's offbeat way of discussing it on screen - is a matter of keeping up with Shakespeare's traditions.

"There is an innate humor and irony in it. You find it in all of Shakespeare's plays, even the tragedies. What makes the tragedy more palatable is if you kind of balance it with humor."

The film is a culmination of a lifetime of fascination with Shakespeare, says the native New Yorker. He was hooked in junior high school. A teacher "involved me in Shakespeare in a way that was personal and made me enjoy it. But I was lucky."

Looking For Richard allows Pacino to share his joy and interest in the material. "The whole spirit of this movie is a kind of experiment. It took on a kind of life and here I am having a press conference. It never dawned on me that it would come to this.

"It was certainly going to go to the archives. But, if it went further, it was going to go to schools. And then we thought possibly it might be a television mini-thing. Then it became a movie, which was something that only happened a year ago."

Now it is a personal release. "It's finished. It's out of my system. Now I can move on to other things."

Pacino, who recently wrapped up a co-starring role with Johnny Depp on the gangster movie Donnie Brasco, flies back to New York today to resume starring in Eugene O'Neill's 55-minute, one-act Hughie, one of Broadway's biggest hits this summer.

It's a good life. He's happy.

(back to top)




Detroit News, October 17, 1997


By By Joshua Mooney/ Entertainment News Wire

(back to top)

NEW YORK - There's a scene in The Devil's Advocate where New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato and boxing promoter Don King, playing themselves, shake hands with Satan. Given the wisecracks in some circles that D'Amato and King are already in league with the Prince of Darkness, one wonders if they were in on the joke.

"I don't lie to people," says director Taylor Hackford. "But you can't underestimate the power of saying to someone, 'You're going to act in a scene with Al Pacino.'"

Such is the unholy allure of the Oscar-winning Pacino, a man who's been pretty much a legend since his star turn 25 years ago as Michael Corleone in The Godfather.

In The Devil's Advocate Pacino pulls out all the stops in his fevered portrayal of New York attorney John Milton, aka Satan. In person he comes across as a fairly down-to-earth guy: shy, polite and good-natured. Not exactly the force of nature he often plays on screen.

Clad in a leather coat, black shirt, black pants and a crimson tie (a bit of a campy Satanic outfit), the notoriously press-shy Pacino takes his seat before the reporters gathered at a Midtown Manhattan hotel and asks, "Dare I smoke? I have these sort of ... health cigarettes."

Lighting up an herbal cigarette, he warns, "They smell a little like grass, but no." Never at ease with the interview process, Pacino allows that he smokes whenever he's "a little nervous."

The most intriguing aspect of his role in the film, Pacino says, was "Where do you start? He's the devil."

However challenging it may be for the devil to contemplate inhabiting the soul of Al Pacino, the actor himself took his preparation for his role seriously - to a point.

He read all the right books: Dante's Inferno, Milton's Paradise Lost. He looked at the history of actors who played the devil, including Walter Huston's memorable performance in the 1941 classic The Devil and Daniel Webster.

"You're looking for a way to give yourself some credibility," Pacino says, "so those things helped."

Ultimately, though, playing the devil was a liberating experience, because there's a lot of room for an actor to maneuver.

"How are you gonna be judged?" Pacino asks. "Are they gonna say, 'The devil didn't really do that'? Anything goes, really."

(back to top)




Filmweb, 1997


By Robin Eggar

(back to top)

After 26 years of roughneck integrity and strictly necessary violence, Al Pacino finally gets a shot at the ultimate bad guy. Keanu Reeves may be The Devil's Advocate, but it's Satan who gets all the best lines...

He's done mad-dog gangster upstart (Scarface), stressed and obsessed detective (Heat), ruthless vengeful sibling (The Godfather), and, in 1993, he finally snagged his Best Actor Oscar (Scent of a Woman). But he's always been Principal Brooder with a Method behind the madness (during a shooting break in cop-with-a-conscience movie Serpico, he tried to arrest a driver for exhaust pollution). He picked up $35,000 for The Godfather. Now, at 57, Pacino commands $7 million per film. Devil's Advocate sees him invoke Old Nick in the body of a high-powered New York lawyer, with Keanu Reeves as the Faust figure...

What kind of Devil do you play?

One who talks too much. Given half a chance he will rant on and on. He is easily enraged, highly theatrical, but he can turn around and feign being extremely cordial and polite. This Devil has a philosophy of pure evil, but I tried to find stuff that's funny, too. I knew we had to go for that to make it palatable. There are scenes not in the picture where he gets a little more literate and speaks about how the Devil used to be something that would appear with a cloven hoof, but today he appears openly and everybody hurries to kiss his ass.

Originally, you turned the role down.

This part was offered to me a couple of years ago when it was more of an SFX monster movie. Then the script became more relevant. What made me do it was that I could hear [director] Taylor Hackford's enthusiasm for taking it into a story that parallels our life today. It stirred my interest. Together we figured a way to give it a Faustian theme. It's about temptation. This was also the opportunity to play a classical role. It is an interesting part; a blank page, an empty canvas.

How do you think movie-making has changed during the past 25 years?

When I started it felt more exotic to me than it does now; it was a little more private. When movies were released into the world they had a real meaning. Now, they've spread out, become more of a common denominator. People seem to know all about how much movies cost to make and they're concerned about it. But in the end it comes down to a darkened theatre and a light on the screen. The overpowering event of experiencing a movie never changes. In the '70s, movies were speaking more to the socio-political atmosphere of our world. Now, the media has taken up a lot of the issues, and film has either become more esoteric or more fantastical. I think personal films are still being made. Oliver Stone does it with a real power; he confronts things, and that still has a powerful impact in the world of movies.

So it's all about money rather than 'art' ?

Let's look at movies over the last 100 years and see what stayed afloat and what didn't. That's the only way I can tell. I love independent film-making, but you need money to make movies. Independent pictures need more money - because they have to be made on a lower budget, sometimes the film-makers are not able to communicate their vision with the alacrity and energy of the big-budget movies. The viewer has now become so sophisticated to the visual effects. Even in a very simple movie about a very simple thing you still need strong visual statements - but then again you always did. Now a man can't just get shot and go down on the ground. That's not acceptable. The audience want to see more blood and action. That's going to cost more.

Do you cost too much?

All actors or me personally? It's a sign of the times. If people are getting what they are getting, there is a reason for it. Like athletes. On one hand, it does seem to be outrageous; on the other, there is a definite practicality to it. If a film isn't assured of a large audience then a well-known actor will take a substantial cut in salary, but if he is taking a certain role in a certain type of film which virtually assures an audience, he will demand more bucks because the film will make everyone more bucks, and, hopefully will entertain a lot of people.

Which movie did you like last summer?

To me, Men In Black was very impressive. While it isn't the kind of thing I do, sitting there watching it, I couldn't help but be impressed. Such ingenuity. The film technique is colossal and that seems to be the direction films are going in.

What about your documentary Looking For Richard?

What I was trying to do was to engage an audience so that by the end they would want to see more Shakespeare, rather than me. It was a lot of fun for me to see if I could get anywhere close to doing it.

Have you ever considered directing a studio film?

I have had offers to direct real films. But I have worked with many great directors and seen that it's a level of film-making I can never get to, so I don't even bother. I just enjoy engaging in film as an amateur. I am directing Chinese Coffee, which is hard, but fun, and, because I don't have the pressure of having to deliver, I am off the hook. I just get on and do it - the way I sing in the shower.

You have been accused of acting over the top.

Who? Me? Yeah, I guess I have gone over the top. It's always hard to censor yourself. In one movie my character takes a couple of hits of cocaine; as those scenes were cut out of the picture, the audience doesn't have the benefit of knowing that he does cocaine periodically, which explains some of his behaviour. If you don't know that, it can look like overacting. Sometimes it's just me. We are at a stage in American cinema where naturalism seems to be the more accepted style - like when I did Donnie Brasco. But as long as you take a thing and it connects with the passion and that is what is communicated, I think the theatricality is perfectly valid.

You are best known as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Trilogy. Was that a tough part to play?

I thought the role was impossible to do. I didn't know how I was going to go from being a total non-entity to this guy who runs the whole show. I remember staying really close to the story in my mind and heart, and feeling that somehow I would chart out this character. I spent a lot of time praying. Literally. I went and sat in churches and prayed.

How did you find working with De Niro in Heat?

I didn't spend much time socialising with Bobby because we were in different parts of the movie. When I did see him I didn't rehearse with him, so I didn't have a day-to-day relationship with him on the film. I didn't get to know him in the same way.

After eight nominations, you finally won an Academy Award for Scent of a Woman.

Winning an Oscar was a great experience. It was wonderful. It wasn't really about deserving it - it was sort of my turn. The feeling afterwards is hard to describe. Because you go around and you live and people are aware you won an Oscar. And they come up to you and congratulate you. Which keeps it all afloat. That went on for a couple of weeks. It was like winning something at the Olympics. I have never won anything at a sporting event. I've honestly never felt anything like it.

You're on a roll now...

There was a period when I was out of it for a few years. Almost four years between movies. During the last few years, I've been much more interested, more active. Sometimes, you're waiting and you're not particularly excited about anything. You have to decide, “Which one do I choose?” There's something to be said for not doing anything, just waiting for some inspiration. But it doesn't seem to happen enough. Right now, I've nothing big planned.


(back to top)








back to