Al Pacino Interview
all 5ft 7in of him .... he is charismatic – in life, as on screen, you can’t take your eyes off his face. Yet he is low-key, easygoing and incongruously humble. Pacino still appears genuinely bemused by the commotion he has caused since he became the poster boy, along with Robert De Niro, of the golden age of US cinema in the 1970s. ..... In the space of five years, he conquered a series of self-eviscerating outsider roles that are still considered some of the greatest in film history: the inscrutable, passive-aggressive Michael Corleone in The Godfather I and II ..... Out of step with the power franchises of the next decade, he fell out of favour in the 1980s – though the operatic paroxysms of Scarface struck a popular chord. His box-office weight was reinvigorated in the more nuanced films of the 1990s, with Carlito’s Way, Heat and Donnie Brasco ..... Great parts, he says, like great loves, are very rare. 'Most of the time you’re just trying to survive. All the work isn’t the same. Sometimes there’s only so much you can do in it. You reconcile yourself to that. Only occasionally you find a role that really asks you to go there.’ ...... He has performed in about 100 films and plays, has been nominated for eight Oscars – he won for The Scent of a Woman in 1993 – and has been awarded numerous Emmys and Golden Globes. He also has two Tonys and was nominated in 2010 for his Shylock in The Merchant of Venice on Broadway. He is not the kind of guy to 'sit back and smell the golf balls’. ...... Pacino gives no sense that he has in some way 'arrived’ anywhere or, indeed, that he is a master of anything – he is still 'striving’ for all of that, he says. He is insatiably questioning, grappling for the right words to accurately express what he feels more as instincts; conveying his meaning instead with a glance or a pause. As the director Mike Nichols has said, 'Al is consulting somewhere else. ...... ’ He prefers the certainty of a text on which to project his emotions; it 'frees him up’, he says. 'It’s all about the play for me,’ he declares with the zeal of a wide-eyed undergraduate. It is remarkable that he is so unjaded. It was his 75th birthday only a few days ago. His girlfriend, the actress Lucila Solá, 36, and his children, 14-year-old twins Olivia and Anton, threw him a party. ....... after a few films in the past four years taken on for financial reasons. (He lost millions in 2010 when his business manager was found to be embezzling his money.) His recent work heralds a potential fifth-act renaissance where he is once again emotionally in tune with his material. ....... late last year he delivered a self-reflective performance in the darkly comic The Humbling, about the sixtysomething actor Simon Axler, who, having lived vicariously through his roles, finds that, when forced to abandon the theatre, he has no real life left to speak of. ..... by his own acknowledgement acting is the very life-giving force of his existence. 'It’s sort of like breathing to me. It gave me life. It educated me, as little as I am educated. It saved me.’ ......... Like the young Dylan, Pacino was a 'purist,’ a South Bronx street kid turned ardent theatre actor who was entirely unprepared for the distorting lens of fame that The Godfather brought him in 1972. 'I had a strange reaction to it. The reaction wasn’t positive. I was catapulted out of a cannon.
People are more accepting of fame today because of all the media outlets. Young people even aspire to it,’ he says with incredulity......... Pacino 'felt bombarded by life’ and by people who approached him on the streets. 'I became more aware of myself, constantly reminded that I had this name because [strangers] kept calling me by it.’ Pacino says he has always been 'a loner’, 'very sensitive’ – he still is. 'Being an outsider is part of being an artist. You try to conform. But some of us just can’t. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I still don’t.’ ...... he was drinking, seeking 'an anodyne’ to fame and a respite from the exhaustion of assuming his characters’ identities. 'That’s how I played things then. I had to absorb the character. I never protected myself. Michael [Corleone] affected me for quite a few years afterwards. I sort of kept that internal thing.’ ......... 'I like it here, where my senses are. I don’t need to be “put out” any more.’ The steadiness of therapy, which he still does several times a week, also helped to support him. 'I’d be on seven times a week if I could,’ he says, chuckling. ......... 'Sonny’ (Pacino’s nickname; he was christened Alfredo) was instead close to his grandfather, a plasterer, and – above all – his mother. Her various jobs included cinema usher; sometimes she took him to work with her. An only child, he retreated into his imagination, re-enacting scenes from the cinema to 'fill up the loneliness’. At five, he was doing some of Ray Milland’s most dissolute alcoholic scenes from Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. ...... 'She was very well read, sensitive and intuitive, but troubled.’ He sighs. 'She suffered from depression on and off.’ ...... By the age of nine he was smoking and, at 13, was supplied with booze by the local cop. His baseball team doubled as a quasi-street gang. 'They were the best friends I ever made. A lot of them died very young with the needle, heroin.’ (In his first film, The Panic in Needle Park, in 1971, Pacino played a junkie, a role that he based on his lost friends.) ......... He left school at 16 and moved to the West Village, working odd jobs to save for drama school, and joining the 'fervent’ cafe theatre scene. It was here, at 17, that he met Laughton, who would become a crucial professional and emotional fulcrum for Pacino, helping to shoulder the catastrophic blows of the deaths of his mother, when he was 21, and of his grandfather the following year. ....... He channelled his disorientation and grief into his performances at the Actors Studio, which he joined at 23, under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg, who encouraged him to mine the emotion of real-life experiences. The class was predominantly 'educated’ students. Pacino hints at lingering feelings of inadequacy at that time. 'I knew I was this vagabond kid,’ he says. ........ he had to fight. He auditioned three times for the role of Michael Corleone – Francis Ford Coppola alone wanted him. Paramount wanted Robert Redford or Warren Beatty – until Marcia Lucas, the wife of George, who edited the multiple screen tests, told them, 'Cast Pacino. He undresses you with his eyes.’ ...... Through them alone, Pacino would drip-feed us glimpses of what lurked beneath Michael’s froideur. None of this Pacino can explain. Acting, for him, is 'freeing the unconsciousness, allowing it to take over. Mostly consciousness gets in the way.’ ........... 'I was blinded by the spotlight on my face. ....... In 1989 Diane Keaton, his then girlfriend ...... Their 20-year on-off affair, like most of his relationships, was 'complicated’. In her 2014 memoir Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, she wrote, '… those eyes! I kept trying to figure out what I could do to make them mine… For the next 20 years, I kept losing a man I never had.’ ...... A lone wolf, Pacino has never married any of his girlfriends, a long list of strong, smart, generally unstarry women including Jan Tarrant, the acting coach with whom he has a 26-year-old daughter, Julie, and the actress Beverly D’Angelo, the mother of Olivia and Anton. He has been with Solá for the past seven years. ........ New York, where Pacino is still stalwartly based ...... 'My kids are part of why I’m still here. When you have children you attack roles differently. They become the priority.’ He tells me his 'bunker’ at his home in Beverly Hills, a Pacino-esque version of a garden shed where he goes to focus, has been taken over by them. 'So now I’m pottering around the house trying to find new corners to work in. They just bought me a rocking chair for the porch.’ He beams. ......... he is in talks over a script about Napoleon’s final days ...... 'I’m a New Yorker. I drive like a cabbie’ ...... He is fired up after seeing a production of Hamlet last night. 'It’s so wild that play. I’ve read it since I was a boy, but I still can’t get over it. I could see it a 1,000 times a year. The joy! And I’m not even in it.’ ....... 'The theatre is the flashlight for me. It’s done everything for me since I was three years old. I’m not in the playpen now. But I’m still playing.’