Al Pacino's acclaimed performances in the 1972 movie "Godfather" and the 1983 movie "Scarface" sparked the beginning of his Hollywood legacy. Pacino made his film debut in the 1969 flop Me, Natalie. After making his theatrical directorial debut with 1970's Rats, he returned to the screen a year later in Panic in Needle Park, again appearing as a junkie. (To prepare for the role, he and co-star Kitty Winn conducted extensive research in known drug-dealer haunts as well as methadone clinics.) While the picture was not a success, Pacino again earned critical raves. Next came Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 Mafia epic The Godfather. As Michael Corleone, the son of an infamous crime lord reluctantly thrust into the family business, Pacino shot to stardom, earning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his soulful performance. While the follow-up, 1973's Scarecrow, was received far less warmly, the police drama Serpico was a smash, as was 1974's The Godfather Part II for which he earned his third Academy Award nomination. The 1975 fact-based Dog Day Afternoon, in which Pacino starred as a robber attempting to stick up a bank in order to finance his gay lover's sex-change operation, was yet another staggering success.
The 1977 auto-racing drama Bobby Deerfield, on the other hand, was a disaster. Pacino then retreated to Broadway, winning a second Tony for his performance in the title role in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel. Upon returning to Hollywood, he starred in ...And Justice for All, which did not appease reviewers but restored him to moviegoers' good graces. Pacino next starred in William Friedkin's controversial Cruising, portraying a New York City cop on the trail of a serial killer targeting homosexuals; it was not a hit, nor was the 1982 comedy Author! Author! Brian DePalma's violent 1983 remake of Scarface followed; while moderately successful during its initial release, the movie later became a major cult favorite. Still, its lukewarm initial reception further tarnished Pacino's star. However, no one was fully prepared for the fate which befell 1985's historical epic Revolution; made for over 28 million dollars, the film grossed not even one million dollarsa at the box office. Pacino subsequently vanished from the public eye, directing his own film, The Local Stigmatic, which outside of a handful of 1990 showings at the Museum of Modern Art was never screened publicly. While his name was attached to a number of projects during this time period, none came to fruition, and he disappeared from cinema for over four years.
Finally, in 1989, Pacino returned with the stylish thriller Sea of Love; the picture was a hit, and suddenly he was a star all over again. A virtually unrecognizable turn as a garish gangster in 1990's Dick Tracy earned him a sixth Oscar nomination, but The Godfather Part III was not the financial blockbuster many anticipated it to be. The 1991 romantic comedy Frankie and Johnny was a success, however, and a year later Pacino starred in the highly regarded Glengarry Glen Ross as well as Scent of a Woman, at last earning an Oscar for his performance in the latter film. He reunited with DePalma for 1993's stylish crime drama Carlito's Way, to which he'd first been slated to star in several years prior. Remaining in the underworld, he starred as a cop opposite master thief Robert De Niro in 1995's superb Heat, written and directed by Michael Mann. Pacino next starred in the 1996 political drama City Hall, but earned more notice that year for writing, directing, producing, and starring in Looking for Richard, a documentary exploration of Shakespeare's Richard III shot with an all-star cast. In 1997, he appeared with two of Hollywood's most notable young stars, first shooting Donnie Brasco opposite Johnny Depp, and then acting alongside Keanu Reeves in The Devil's Advocate. Following roles in The Insider and Any Given Sunday two-years later, Pacino would appear in the film version of the stage play Chinese Coffee (2000) before a two-year perios in which the actor was curiously absent from the screen. Any speculation as to the workhorse actor's slowing down was put to rest when in 2002 Pacino returned with the quadruple-threat of Insomnia, Simone, People I Know and The Farm. With roles ranging from that of a troubled detective investigating a murder in a land of eternal sunlight to a film producer who sucessfully establishes the worlds first virtual actress, Pacino proved to filmgoers that he was as versitile, energetic and adventurous an actor as ever. Al Pacino was born on April 25, 1940, in The Bronx, New York, USA.
Al Pacino's way
He's the archetypal screen tough guy, womaniser, psycho - but Al Pacino hates guns, drinks only coffee, yearns for a girlfriend and known to his mates as Al Cappuccino.
I have been watching Al Pacino movies for days now. Pacino movie after Pacino movie. I'm getting to a stage where I can't tell one from the other. They all involve good guys turned bad or bad guys turned good, or guys constantly wavering on the moral compass so you just can't tell - cops who kill, killers with fierce codes of conduct. In five movies on the trot he is shot - Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface, Serpico, Carlito's Way, Insomnia. In two of them, he manages to die at the beginning and end. I wake up in the middle of the night and watch another movie, Heat. He doesn't get killed, but he sees off De Niro. I wake up early and watch another movie, The Insider. As in Heat, he wins, but it's a pyrrhic victory. He's destroyed. The final shot shows him walking away - walking away from life.
I'm beginning to feel like the cop he plays in Insomnia who loses his mind through lack of sleep and too much conscience. My pupils are getting bigger and bigger, and less and less discriminating. All I'm seeing is the guns, all I'm hearing is his screaming. His voice seems to get louder and louder in his later films. As Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II, the movie that really made him, you could barely hear his voice. Pacino, so young and grave, did the "Method" - he didn't act so much as inhabit his characters. He expressed himself in the tiniest gestures. He showed ambiguity with consummate economy, saying one thing with his voice and something completely different with his eyes.
In The Merchant of Venice he plays Shylock, yet another man emptied of hope and defeated by life. His Shylock could be another Carlito or Corleone: a monster, but possibly the most moral man in Shakespeare's Venice; a man who keeps his word, or, as his Tony Montana says in Scarface "All I have in this world is my balls, and my word, and I don't break 'em for no one, 'jou understand?"
After quitting the movies in despair for four years in the late 1980s (after the epic flop, Revolution), Pacino has had an incredibly successful 90s and noughties. People often complain that he is hammy, a parody of his former self, but he is huge box office. In the 1990s he won his first Oscar (after six nominations) for the soppy Scent of a Woman, and scored huge critical successes with Michael Mann's Heat, The Insider and Donnie Brascoe. A Channel 4 poll last year named him the number one movie star of all time.
I'm not looking forward to meeting Pacino. I suppose he scares me. The press officer tells me I should have seen the men lining up for The Merchant of Venice premiere - hardnuts with Scarface posters who worship Pacino. He says he'd never seen such a crowd. Another press officer brings in a cappuccino for Pacino before he arrives, then replaces it a couple of minute later because it might have got cold. I am told to prioritise my questions - Mr Pacino does not answer in soundbites. Too right. He is famous for mumbling his way through interviews - talking with tremendous gravitas about the visiting muse and those who need to act as opposed to those who like to act.
He schlumps into the room, almost as broad as he is wide, belly sagging, face weathered but perfectly intact. He is dressed totally in black - jacket, sweatshirt, trousers, socks, shoes, ring, squiggly pendant round his neck. Al Pacino looks like a gorgeous dosser. He flew into London from LA yesterday, and hasn't caught up with his sleep. (Actually, he says he hasn't slept decently since making Insomnia.)
The Merchant means a lot to him. Pacino loves his Shakespeare. Having directed the documentary Looking for Richard (a lovely, funny film that tries to make sense of Shakespeare and his stage version of Richard III), this is his first straight Shakespeare movie.
I ask him if he thinks of Shylock as a hero or a villain. He umms and ahs, and tells me, well, this guy has suffered such loss and taken so much shit from so many people - and then he apologises for being inarticulate. "I get all sluggish when I talk about it." Straight answer, I say - you've got two seconds, hero or villain.
"Because I see good and bad in all of us, I can't answer that question. I have to say a good-bad man." He'll probably read this quote one day and change his mind, and decide Shylock is a bad-good man. He says he often reads things he has said, and thinks he didn't quite mean that - it's not that the words have been distorted, it's simply that he didn't quite articulate what he meant.
As he struggles to make up his mind, I ask him about another character - useless bank robber Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon: hero or villain? He laughs. "You know I'm not going to answer in two seconds. I love the way you say that. What's going to happen to me? Am I going to fall into a pot of water?" Sonny is another villain who stands by his word - until the police kill him. "He seems like a hero to me."
OK then, what about Scarface's Tony Montana, recently voted Biggest Movie Badass of all time in Maxim magazine? ("He murders, survives a chainsaw attack, whacks his boss, snorts coke like he's breathing air and kills his best friend," the magazine eulogised). Pacino thinks. "Well, it depends on what side of the street you are walking on," he says. Two seconds, I say. He grins. "You know I'm going to say hero. Anybody who says 'go shove it' when somebody's got a chainsaw that is about to take your head off - I think pretty much that is a hero in anybody's language."
The new cappuccino arrives. He doesn't drink these days, or take drugs, or smoke. But he does coffee big time. Friends call him Al Cappuccino.
"For you?" the waiter says.
"I believe it is for me," Pacino says.
"Nice to see you," the waiter says.
"Nice to see you ," Pacino says. He's incredibly polite. I've stopped feeling scared.
I tell him how depressing I found it watching his movies en masse. He says I'm not the first person to have said that. "Does the pessimism of the films reflect his world view?" " Wellllll ," he says, Pacino-style. "In the end you're just playing a role." He says he is just like a cellist or painter, but he is painting pictures or making music with his body.
The stories are legion of how he got lost in his roles - how when he was playing a lawyer and a friend told him he was having conveyancing problems, he asked to see his contract; how he fell with his eyes open, just as a blind man would, when playing Lt Col Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman; how he did shifts in a cafe, tossing pancakes, to prepare himself for Frankie and Johnny.
But what about when you were playing those psychos, I ask. Surely if you were method-acting a monster, you became a monster. No, you've got it wrong, he says quietly; they are not monsters. "One doesn't see it as a monster. You don't look at it like that. It's passion and emotions, and it's in all of us." You have to look for the human in all the characters you play, he says.
Did you become a nightmare to be around? "Well, I was ... I was affected by it." He stammers. "You know we're, we're ... you have to ask somebody else." He pauses. Actually, he says, he thinks what saved him when making Scarface was his girlfriend.
"I'll tell you something," he says. He puts down his coffee if he's about to tell me his greatest secret. "And this is a fact. When I was doing Scarface, I remember being in love at that time. One of the few times in my life. And I was so glad it was at that time. I would come home and she would tell me about her life that day and all her problems and I remember saying to her, look, you really got me through this picture because I would shed everything when I came home."
Does he like guns? "I'm not crazy about the guns. I got to tell ya, that's not my thing." Has he ever owned one?
"Never! I've never cared for guns. In fact, when I did Scent of a Woman I had to learn how to assemble one."
Is he as hard in real life as he is in movies? He looks at me as if I'm bonkers. "I couldn't possibly be. I couldn't possibly be."
You know, he says, he never planned any of this. Having told me what isn't him (guns and violence), he tells me what is him: theatre, Shakespeare and comedy. "Did you know I started out as a stand-up comic?" He looks embarrassed. "People don't believe me when I tell them." He performed in revues in New York's Greenwich Village, doing physical comedy, and that's what he really loved. "That's how I saw myself, in comedy, and I didn't know I would do this with my life. I didn't know what the hell I was going to do." If you look back to say, Dog Day Afternoon, he says, you can see the physical comedian in him. "That's where humour lives for me. In the body. The Steve Martin kind of stuff or Jim Carrey, that's what I like. I've always felt that's what I would like to do."
In some more recent roles, such as Scent of a Woman and The Devil's Advocate, he has hammed it up to great effect. His critics suggest that he's also hammed it up in his serious roles. He looks a little hurt when I mention it. "You can't call Shylock hammy," he protests. No, I say, but there are certain films ... "Yes, certain roles you go too far," he concedes. "Some-times-you-go-too-far," he says, syllable by syllable. "But part of what you hope to do is not censor yourself, and then find a way to pull back, and sometimes you don't censor yourself and you get caught off guard."
He says it's the director's job to rein him in, and they don't always bother. "Sometimes it seems that directors just say, 'Give me more Pacino, more Pacino,'" I say. " Yeaaaaaah ," he roars. "That has happened, yes." At his best, directors such as Sidney Lumet seem to ask him for less rather than more. "Well Sidney is a great director, one of the greatest I have known. And one thing Sidney does do is rehearse you. You have three weeks' rehearsal, like you're doing a play. And in the rehearsal these things are sorted out. And the more rehearsal I have, the more likely I am to find the right levels. I think Michael Radford did that to me in The Merchant. If I was concerned about anything it was that it was so low-key."
Back in the 1970s, when method acting took him over, he took to drink. He found film-making and life exhausting. After The Godfather, he had become so famous so quickly, and he couldn't cope. When did he realise he had a problem? "When it replaced work. Drinking became more attractive than working." He snorts back his snot, unselfconsciously, and continues. "I like what Norman Mailer said about alcohol: 'Drink has killed a lot of my brain cells and I think I would have been a better writer without it, but it would be one less way to relax.'"
"Sfffhhhhhchhhhh." He snorts again. Drink allowed him to be quiet, at ease with himself, I say. "That's right! That's right! We know the best feeling in the world is the one between the second and third martini. That was my deal. I just enjoyed who I became when I was drinking, so that was something hard to break. I became much quieter, and funny. I must say, that kind of thing came out." In the past, he has called himself a depressive with a sense of humour.
And when he was sober? "Well, I was looking for a drink." Perhaps the problem with fame was that the roles were so iconic and his fans thought they knew he was and that person was so alien to him. "Yeah! Yep! Yeah!! " At times he talk-shouts with such animation, his hands gesturing all over the show.
"I really like it better in the world when I can see things clearly and I can remember things, and I feel like I'm a part of things and I'm more tuned into what's going on, and not backing away from stuff." He hasn't drunk alcohol for 20-plus years. "I can't say I've been sober though. I don't like that word. What does it mean? 'Sober! He's very sober'," he says to himself with contempt.
He's right, sober is an inappropriate word for him. At 64, he's still known as a man who operates better at night than in the day. He has had numerous famous girlfriends (Debra Winger, Diane Keaton), numerous unfamous girlfriends and he has never married. He has a daughter of 15, and four-year-old twins with a different mother, Beverly D'Angelo, from whom he is separated.
I ask him if he is seeing anybody at the moment. "I'm single and I don't particularly like it. I'm certainly the kind of person who prefers ... it ... it ... " He struggles for his words. "It's good to have someone in your life that you're going through this thing with. It's good. That's a thing in life that I aspire to." He asks me if I'm still with the mother of my children. Yes, I say. "Well that's good, good for everybody. Particularly good for the children if you are in synch." He comes to a stop. "You understand after a while why people stay together because of children. I never knew that." He sounds so innocent, so regretful.
Well, perhaps we could put in a little personal ad at the bottom of the piece, I say, trying to cheer him up. He bursts out laughing and says only if I really despise him would I do that.
Pacino says he finds everything so much easier these days - life, movies, being himself. In the early days, he almost lost his soul to his work. Yes, he says, he is still attracted to those complex baddie-goodies and goody-baddies, but he hasn't got a clue why. "When I try to explain anything I always end up trying to be right usually, but not truthful necessarily. Trying to give the right answer or what I think is the right answer. It's a human instinct. You try to be as clever as you can be. You're trying to come off like you really know what the hell's going on, when you don't!"
You're pretty gentle at heart - aren't you, I say, a bit of a pussy? He equivocates. "There are times when I have a temperament. Yes, my temperament is there ... but I hope I'm gentle. Yes, I think I am."
I ask him if his hair is really that colour. I had always assumed it was dyed. "Yeah, here take a look at it. I had to dye it for Insomnia." I ruffle my hands through it and find the odd silver streak, but the rest is pure brown. "I got this from my father." His chest hair is grey. What is the pendant on your chest? "A friend gave me this. It's copper. It helps your immune system. It seems to have helped me. Maybe it's psychological."
Winter's setting in, the afternoon's getting dark and eerie. I ask him what he dreamed about last night (I don't tell him why, but a colleague dreamed that she had slept with him). He looks surprised. "How did you know I had this strange dream? ... Well, that is for me to know, and you to find out. I'll give you the number of my therapist."
Have you really got one?
"I knew you'd say that. Yes, it's good to have someone to talk to, it's helped me a great deal in my life." I ask him if he manages to talk to his therapist in full sentences. He laughs. "No, I don't, but he likes it that way. The problem with me is, I guess, the way I express myself, you have to be with me 50 years before you can get a sense of what I'm talking about."
Has it taken him that long to understand himself? "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, it has."
Al Pacino on "The Merchant of Venice"
Al Pacino is the sort of artist more apt to perform “Salome” off-Broadway than sign up for the latest blockbuster. So it didn’t surprise me that he advocated for a project most stars wouldn’t touch- the screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s decidedly difficult “The Merchant of Venice,” set in the 16th Century (not in 20th Century California or 21st Century New York City) with a faithful script and negative experimental fanfare.
In his second outing with the Bard (his first, 1996’s brilliant exploration, “Looking for Richard” made some of Shakespeare’s most elusive scenes accessible), Pacino plays Shylock, a bitter moneylender whose inner demons are exposed when he demands a pound of flesh from the anti-Semetic Antonio (Jeremy Irons).
During an intimate press conference, Pacino’s passion for acting was increasingly evident, and he was more than willing to discuss Shakespeare, co-star Jeremy Irons, director Michael Radford, and filming in Venice- even after the interviews had ended. Not only is he one of the greatest movie actors of his generation, he’s hilarious, personable, and just…fantastic. One of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.
Q: How did this project come to you?
AL: I never had a desire to do “Merchant of Venice,” for a lot of reasons. Certainly I couldn’t quite see the character. I myself had no relationship to it. Then I read the script, Michael Radford’s text, and I thought I understood somehow where Shylock was coming from. I thought he laid it out visually with his little additions and adaptations. I thought he made a case for Shylock. And in doing that I was able to see the elements of the character, the human elements, and I started understanding the motivation and I thought, “I could play this.” But before that I didn’t know how to approach this.
Q: Do you see Shylock as a character more sinned against than sinning?
AL: I see it that way, yeah. When I look at the history of this character and go into his life and conditions.
Q: It’s really his play right? It’s not the Merchant’s play.
AL: The Merchant of Venice is Antonio.
Q: So is his tragedy that he lives in the 16th Century?
AL: Yeah, I think so. But his tragedy is also how he dealt with his conditions. As Michael Radford says, it’s really a road rage. Because of what he’s come to in his life. The losing of his wife, the feeling of his own work and the dignity that he feels- his life is being violated by the conditions of his life. So his daughter leaving- all these things contribute and add up. I remember talking about that scene with a pound of flesh and knowing that what Shylock is really doing there is taking a risk. So it’s kind of a gesture and a way of standing up to the oppressor, really. I think that it’s the conditions of that world. His reaction to it, I don’t know if it would have been quite as overwhelming had they not taken his daughter away. This is my one personal idea. That’s all we have as actors. As actors we interpret, and that’s how we find a way to motivate ourselves and express ourselves, it’s through the interpretation that we come up with. Someone else in this situation might not have reacted that way. But Shylock, the kind of person he was, the kind of character he was, the kind of human being…
Q: The “hath not a Jew” monologue is pretty crucial in that it proves Shakespeare wasn’t anti-Semitic- how did you approach the scene?
AL: There is a real case prejudice. It’s one of the great speeches. What I felt that Michael Radford did, the way he set it up, and what I finally related to, was the fact that it was something that was happening on the street. It wasn’t a speech anymore, it was an incident that was talking place. Of course it’s wonderful, you get a speech like that and you really want to give it the old gun, you want to be Mister Righteous, and Michael kept moving me away from that and kept saying, “this is something inside him” and “it’s this outcry.” It’s an incident that happens on a street and you got the whores looking at him and you got the two guys he’s talking to and it just happened. It might not have happened. But he turned around, and I’m sure it’s happened to everybody in this room when you get an opportunity when you just want to say “You know, fuck off.” Enough has happened to him is his life, he’s earned the right in a way, to speak out like that. And he does- he does it in an instant and it’s over. And you can see the way they go back and say, “What the hell was that?” Because he’s actually spewing out something quite elegant, I only wish that I could talk about things that bother me like that. But he does say it, and it kind of comes out, and it’s over. And he’s gone and the guys are left with it. I like the way Michael Radford allowed that to happen. I think I did about seven takes on that.
Q: Just seven?
AL: For me, time marches on. (Laughs).
Q: Why aren’t more actors doing Shakespeare?
AL: There’s a lot of things, I think. First of all, one has to have an appetite for it. It’s not the criteria like you’re going to be a big time actor if you do Shakespeare. Some of the greatest actors of all time never did Shakespeare. They couldn’t get around it. It’s not a criteria. It’s something that either appeals to you, or it doesn’t. There are a lot of great actors out there not doing Shakespeare. It’s what rings your bell. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not like I’m going around doing a lot of Shakespeare. Talk to other people who really have done Shakespeare and know how to do it. I think there’s a myth here with me and Shakespeare. Like I’m piped into Shakespeare. I’m not. Believe me. I like him the way other people do. I love him, really. I love his work. But I’m not here to be a representative and present Shakespeare to the world. He doesn’t need me, frankly. And he doesn’t need anyone. He’s been around a long time and he’s going to do fine. I’m not worried about Shakespeare. I did that movie because it was a way I had to deal with what is going on with it, in our country and the way actors are. I had a revelation this summer when I saw Jimmy Smitts doing “Much Ado About Nothing.” It was great. Where did that come from? Great appetite. He had a real appetite to play that part, and it was a wonderful thing to see, and it was as clear as a bell. I understood every word he said, and what he was feeling, and what he was going through, and it was great. What I’m getting at is that some actors have appetites for it. Some don’t even know they have an appetite for it until they try it. And they say “Hey, where have you been all my life, Shakespeare?” It’s great. And some don’t, some can’t get around it. A lot of the actors today don’t because we’re so geared toward behavioral acting coming from film. It’s acting for the frame so it’s much more in the naturalistic style. But the great Peter Brook told me in my documentary (“Looking for Richard”) that he loves Shakespeare on film because you can just drop the words, and you’re not having to project to the third balcony. Most of our experiences with Shakespeare come from the theater, so you have to enlarge everything and over-reach. So there are so many variables. Some people want to be doing it. Some people like to go to jazz clubs at night. Some people like all kinds of different music. I believe if you play a certain instrument sometimes you want to play Mozart because it gives you a lot and it makes you feel good and you feel you can serve it. And some people say, what the hell does it got to do with me? But for me, when you’re offered a role like the way they laid this part out…it’s not like I’m doing a lot of Shakespeare here.
Q: Can you remember your first Shakespearian role and your attitude towards it?
AL: I was very inspired when I was a kid and saw (Marlon) Brando do Julius Caesar. It was just wonderful what he did. That was part of it that got me going. Then I found that I wanted to do “Romeo and Juliet” and I did scenes from that in school. It was just something we did. It was something about the language and the fact that it sort of transcended my world and transcended naturalism and gave me a chance to go a little further emotionally with things at the time. I think that’s where it first started for me – in school. Learning about it in school was a bit of a bore. Nobody wants to go near it. But I do seminars occasionally; I’ve talked about this. I go off and do seminars; I’ve done it for years. I do excerpts from “Looking for Richard” and I have someone ask me questions and have the audience talk to me about what they have seen and talk to me about me and what I’ve done in my life, and it’s sort of the way in. I’ve always found that there’s a way Shakespeare can be presented that makes it more entertaining. We’re lucky as actors – I just have to say that because as actors when we get to do a Shakespeare play – because we have to learn it and do it we become involved with it and we learn it over weeks and months so we start to understand it on that level. You can’t possibly relate to it, sit down and say you’ve seen “Hamlet” and seen it once. You can have some sense of Hamlet if you’ve played Hamlet. I think how they institute that into the schools I don’t know. As an actor I had an advantage because I knew I was an actor and that’s part of the curriculum. You do O’Neill, you do Shakespeare, you do Tennessee Williams, and you do all these people because that’s how you’re going to learn. I wasn’t doing Shakespeare professionally until later on.
Q: What is your relationship with Italy? Was it an attraction to do this film?
AL: It’s not the reason I did the picture (Laughs).
Q: You could go anyway.
AL: I could probably afford it. Venice in November is not…well, I do have a feeling about going to Europe. I was born in Manhattan so I feel New Yorkean, which is a combination of New Yorker and European. There’s a sort of feeling I get. I’m very comfortable in Italy, and I’m very comfortable in Europe. I pretty much travel everywhere. I was visiting East Berlin when the wall was up and the guy said, “Hey, Hi Al.” So I thought, if this guy knows me… so I feel because I’m known there’s an immediate identification and it’s easy and I feel – there’s something about being a foreigner and the detachment in kind of nice. You’re welcome but you don’t pay taxes there.
Q: Are you planning on filming any other Shakespeare adaptations?
AL: Well, again, there’s a couple of movies I was offered, “King Lear” for one and “Macbeth.” These are two possibilities for me down the line. I really admire Michael Radford’s way of breaking down the script and turning it into a movie, because Michael Radford is a film director. He doesn’t do stage. He didn’t know what the hell we were doing when we met for rehearsal. We were all sort of trying to figure out who the hell we were and what was going on. He said, “Is this the way you’re going to do it!?” And we said, “No we’re just working on it now, don’t worry about it.” But it turned out he still allowed us to do it, but he didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We found a way to get about four weeks rehearsal in there. You can’t really talk to someone else in that language if you haven’t found a way and routes in and out of it. Otherwise you’re dead in the water.
Q: What did you do to prepare for the role of Shylock?
AL: To prepare for that role is like to prepare for any role. Especially because there’s a little more preparation because you’re dealing with the 17th century, you’re dealing with a whole world that you know nothing about. So I tried to get as much information about that as I could. Fortunately I had enough leave time before I did it. But I thought the most important thing was that Michael Radford charted the evolution of this character and how he goes through the piece. You do all kinds of things, like reading as much about it as you could. There’s a lot of versions and interpretations of this. And just by immersing yourself in that world and finding what it was like to be there and what was going on you’re still getting a very limited view of it, because how much can you really take in? But you talk to people and you find there are certain things that are consistently credible and those are the things you hang with. But most of the time you’re just doing what we always do, which I guess is called research. It can’t hurt you. But as much as you research, you can’t act research. You have to act something else. But the research gives you something. Some confidence, something like that.
Q: Did you wear a robe for weeks before shooting?
(AL looks baffled)
AL: That’s a very good idea. I missed that one. I mean I should have worn a bathrobe. I think things would have come easier.
Q: Period costumes, rather.
AL: (Laughs) Actually that’s a good question because they did send me some costumes. But once you’ve been around as long as I have. I mean I’ve been doing this stuff for 40 years now. I’ve had bathrobes. (Laughs) But you do so many things and it will come to you fairly… I mean, you don’t want to put it on for the first day. You need a couple weeks of testing the waters in it to see if you can walk in it.
Q: You’ve played Jewish, Puerto Rican and Italian. You’ve also done comedy like in “Dick Tracy.” What would you like to do more of?
AL: To tell you the truth I don’t think of things as comedy or drama anymore. I never did really. I started as a comic. Unfortunately I try to be funny now from time to time and I fall on my face – like right now I’m trying to be funny. I started as a comic; I thought that is what I was going to do for a while. There was a certain physical thing I did with a partner and in those days you have reviews and the Second City stuff was going on so it was accessible and I thought I was going to do it. But I didn’t want to be funny all the time – only when I felt like it. And that’s not a good idea. To feel funny you have to make yourself funny. It’s very hard to do comedy. It wasn’t until I got engaged in plays that I found an attachment to something. I found something very meaningful to me. Once I started to do that at a very young age, I left comedy and didn’t think about it anymore. I did a lot of children’s theater, and children’s theater in those days you wanted the adults to laugh. I appreciate it when I take my kids to children’s shows. I laugh. I like that undercurrent thing. I did that a lot growing up in the Village to make some weekend gigs to eat. But that was it. And the rest was my relationship to all those writers back then that I was reading. I think that’s where it changed. As I said there are certain resonances in this piece that will be there because we’re living in another world now. If this were done five years ago I don’t think these things would have been spotted. And I know when I saw the film there was certain resonance’s I heard and things I wouldn’t have related to five years ago that I certainly do today when I watch the piece.
Q: If you could have one message taken from this film, what would it be?
AL: I guess it would be tolerance. Something happens in this pay. There are all these little stories going in and out – it weaves and finally turns out to be what it is. It’s a hard one to call in Merchant of Venice because it’s a difficult play to relate to. There are aspects I relate to. Certainly Shylock’s condition and dilemma. His plight. I relate to that. I can only speak from that character. I can’t say much about my feelings about the whole play. There are some aspects I don’t really understand to be honest with you.
Q: What do you think of “The Sopranos”?
AL: First of all, “The Sopranos” I have seen and I thought it was great. I think the actors in it, some of whom I know, couple very well, and when I saw the show I thought it was really done like the best kind of thing. I didn’t see many of the shows. I must have seen three or four. I don’t even see movies.
Q: Did you vote?
AL: Oh, Oscar ballots? There’s no excuse for not. If you’re a member of the academy. They just send you all of these pictures and my children know how to put the little CD in the machine, so that’s good, so now I have no excuse. So you see the picture. But that is something that bothers me and I have to say the other day I saw “Closer” on the big screen and I was so grateful because I haven’t seen a movie in a year or so. But I was looking at “Closer” and I was so grateful that I could see it on the big screen. I don’t know how you guys view your movies but I’m sure it’s big screens. I was lucky to get a screening of it. And it was so good to see a movie that is by a great director that is directing for (the big screen). To see a movie on these little screens you really are short changing them. So I’m reluctant to do that and I’m always holding back with the CDs. I saw “Sideways” because I think that is a movie you can see on a small screen. Don’t ask me why. But most films that I see I would like to see on a big screen. As far as the ballots go, if I’ve seen all the movies that year…if I haven’t I won’t vote. But if I’ve seen all the movies I certainly vote for what I think I know about.
Q: The New York Times said that there were great actors in the 70’s like you and now they’re more bland pretty boys. What happened to the powerhouse in the 70’s? Do you think there are as many good actors now?
AL: Yeah, I do. There are many good actors now, even more so than the 70’s. They’ve gotten better because there’s more time to work in film. They always said that though. But the truth is there are pretty boys today who can also act. Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Leonardo. This kid I love, Russo? James Franco. I see this group of actors that just keep coming. The acting has really improved.
Q: Is there anything you haven’t done that you would like to do?
AL: I always fall back on that mantra of mine: I’m an actor. So I just go to where the parts are going to be and just follow my own. If I can get excited over a role, I’m grateful and I feel fortunate if I can still get excited over something. I haven’t been as excited as I was when I made “Looking for Richard” because that was like something I couldn’t believe. I had this desire to go out there and go make $1.99. I was just going out there to do it. That I haven’t felt in a while. But as far as the other things go, I do like the idea of a challenge in a role. Some roles are not as exciting. You go to the well and open Pandora’s Box when you start to dig into these things. They don’t go very far. But sometimes they do go into places where they have that opportunity to open up. And that’s another thing about Shakespeare-you can go far enough. So that in itself is appealing to me. So I like the challenge of that. It’s fun to have something you’re working on, like a painting. You never know what it’s going to turn out to be.
Q: Did you love working with Jeremy Irons?
AL: Well to start off, I’ll just say, I love him. I love the fact that he’s so many things. He’s so funny and great. I just love working with him. You rarely want to work with someone again. But I really would be happy to work with him again. He is truly an artist and he is really witty. He’s a little nuts too.
Q: Are you a little nuts?
AL: Well come on. Do people have to ask?
Al Pacino: The Merchant Of Venice
“ It would be hard to play a character you don't like ”
Al Pacino began life as a theatre actor and in his acclaimed documentary, Looking for Richard, revealed his love for Shakespeare. He now tackles one of the Bard's most controversial characters, Shylock, in Michael Radford's star-studded version of The Merchant Of Venice.
What attracted you to the problematic role of Shylock?
I felt Michael Radford had created a role that captured a certain human condition and that could reflect a human experience. That to me was important, because there's been controversy over this type of material throughout the years. Michael Radford's script addressed that, and as soon as I read it I thought, 'Now I can do The Merchant Of Venice'.
Do you like Shylock?
It would be hard to play a character you don't like - for me anyway - or can't find something in them to like. I got a lot of help from Michael Radford. Together we tried to figure out the back-life of Shylock and what led him to his state when the movie opens and how he got to where he is now. Of course, when you do that you're likely to come across stuff that is relatable to our life. With Shylock he was alone, his wife died recently, he was a victim of an abusive life, of a restricted life, and he had a daughter that he loved. Generally, the tone of his psyche was, I think, sad and despairing. It was in his nature but also it was activated by the world around him. Of course it was really agitated by the flight of his daughter, I think. So it was trying to find things that justified his behaviour, really. That's what I spent a good deal of my time trying to connect to.
What's the difference between doing Shakespeare on stage and on film?
Because it was written for the stage, there's a tendency to project and try to reach the second balcony. But in film one needs to condense that, break it down, to make it work for the frame. Michael Radford is really an expert in that area and was absolutely responsible, I believe, for our performances - at least mine. He helped me through the times when you would want to project, especially in the part of Shylock, and he turned it into a movie performance. I do believe, and I will always believe, that Shakespeare on film is really something that should be tried more often because it is an opportunity to take the humanity that Shakespeare writes into characters and express it.
You're being tipped for an Oscar race with this performance. How do you feel about that? Also, what other Shakespearean roles would you like to do on film?
There are a lot of roles in Shakespeare, basically. If I feel that the script is a movie, I would be interested in doing any role of Shakespeare's. I have not thought about the Oscars until now, and it's a good thought, actually.
The Merchant Of Venice is released in UK cinemas on Friday 3rd December 2004.
Al Pacino: The Recruit
One of the greatest actors of all time, Al Pacino first hit the big screen in 1969 with "Me, Natalie". His much sought-after role in "The Godfather" in 1972 was a career-making move for the Italian star. Pacino's impressive film credits throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s include "Scarface", "Scent of a Woman", "Carlito's Way", "Donnie Brasco", "The Devil's Advocate", and "Insomnia". His latest role in "The Recruit" sees him star opposite upcoming Irish actor Colin Farrell.
Was there any mentoring going on between you and Colin Farrell?
No, there wasn't. Not that I was aware of. I was just hanging out and getting to know him. He's just great fun to be with, so I never felt there was a mentoring relationship. I just felt like I was working with a fellow actor. It was great.
How do you approach a co-star whom you haven't worked with before?
I approach it usually in the same way. Most actors like to work in that way. You get familiar with each other, you try to learn about each other, you go out together, and you create a relationship and a trust. You really get close on a picture, especially with someone like Colin. You just get to know him and he's fun to be with and then you're sorry when it’s over. You really want to see him.
What attracted you to this story?
I thought it was an interesting script. It kept unfolding and it was always a surprise whenever something happened. You couldn't call what was going to happen next. It was interesting and I hope that comes across in the movie. It keeps you guessing.
Why was this a part you wanted to do?
If you're lucky enough to get the opportunities, you want to mix it up. And, of course, you want to get into a picture that a lot of people will want to see.
Al Pacino Talks About "Simone"
In "Simone," Al Pacino plays a down on his luck Academy Award®-nominated director who lost his last shot at a comeback when a temperamental actress (played by Winona Ryder) walked off his movie "Sunrise, Sunset." Fired by his ex-wife and studio head Elaine Christian (Catherine Keener), Taransky runs into computer genius Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas), a man with a vision and a terminal illness (seems sitting too close to computer screens really is bad for your health). Aleno gives Taransky his life's work - software that will allow Taransky to realistically create a pure CGI actress, Simulation One aka Simone.
In order to completely sell the concept of a CGI actress that's as believable as a real human being, writer/director Andrew Niccol needed an actor of extraordinary skills. Niccol believes that Al Pacino was the only actor who could completely sell the idea. "Al brings something subversive to the role of a man who is the advocate of artificial humans,” says Niccol, adding, “When such a respected actor says, `Who needs actors?' you take notice. If a more comedic actor made that statement, it wouldn't have the same gravity.”
AL PACINO (Viktor Taransky)
Are we coming to an age where filmmakers are saying we don't need actors?
I hope not. No, I don't think so. In this particular story, Andrew Niccol uses [that idea] as a kind of catalyst to express how he sees this town, how he sees an aspect of our business.
Can our celebrity-obsessed culture tell the difference between what is real and what is not?
That's part of what he does. Andrew Niccol wrote it - and he wrote "The Truman Show" - and he directed it. He has a specific vision that I feel is translating on the screen. I think it is coming true, what he is saying. He's doing it with a certain touch - a light touch - and he's using it as part of what he's saying. If you are going to say something, it's a good idea to do it with a certain style or humor. It's always easier to convey something with a smile. He is talking about something.
How do you keep up your enthusiasm for acting?
I keep the faith and keep doing what I do. As long as I can still do what I do, I'll still do it. I'm grateful to be able to serve whatever material I'm doing. Serve it, and try to present it well.
Do you bring your life experience to each role?
It's there in everything I do. You're an actor, it's you, it's your life. Whatever you can call on, you call on. You do it mainly unconsciously, really. You don't really know you are doing it but if you approach a role, you have to use it. If you are a painter, you are painting the things that you either see or that come in to your head. It's all used.