AL PACIN’S HARD LIFE
Pacino grew up poor in the Bronx, a wild kid with no dad and a fragile working mother, who raised him with the help of his grandparents. School — even the Fame school — couldn’t hold his attention. In the ’60s, his worl his world snapped into focus after he met Laughton and gurus like the Living Theatre’s Julian Beck and Judith Malina (who’d play his mother in Dog Day Afternoon), and, of course, Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. “I was doing Creditors at the Actors’ Gallery and sleeping on the stage I performed on, and so I’d meet Charlie at Washington Square Park and we’d have hot chocolate and coffee in the freezing cold. It was great. It was next to NYU … I so flash on the Village there. I’ve lived all over the city, but the Village at that period of my life is the memory that seems to keep — it repeats itself. It makes me feel good to think about that time.”
Johnny Depp HE THINKS HE’S CRAZY
Some, including Johnny Depp, of all people, think he’s mad. Most see the larger wisdom in his design for living and working — and also think he’s mad. The exception is Pacino, who struggles not to think of himself at all so as to concentrate on the next task, the next land mine. For him, there is no other way. If further validation were needed, he could point to a 31-film retrospective in the place he came of age. It’s called “Pacino’s Way.”
The first was in 1971, Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic in Needle Park, in which Pacino chews a lot of gum — an electric performance but not a particularly revealing one. He hadn’t learned to settle down and open himself up to the camera.
FILMS THAT CELEBRATED HIM
The story of his casting in his second film, The Godfather, is well known. Francis Ford Coppola fought to cast him against executives (including producer Robert Evans, who called Pacino the “midget”) who wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal. Among the people who didn’t think Pacino was right for Michael was … Pacino. He wanted to play the hotheaded Sonny. He auditioned and auditioned. And auditioned. At last year’s Tribeca Film Festival Godfather screening–reunion, Coppola remembered calling Pacino in New York and Pacino’s girlfriend — it was Jill Clayburgh, whom he dated for five years — screaming, “You’re torturing him!”
In-between the Godfather films and Serpico was a lesser-known movie (also in the Quad retrospective) that some critics think is a masterpiece and Pacino remembers with misery: Scarecrow, directed by Jerry Schatzberg, in which he and Gene Hackman play hoboes roaming the Midwest. The presence of the fractious Hackman ensured there were fights on the set, but Pacino says, “I love Gene as an actor and as a person.” It was the assistant director he talks about. “What can you say,” he asks, “about a movie that comes in 17 days ahead of schedule?” Rehearsal, improvs, time to waste productively — that’s Pacino’s way, the Village-theater way. He speaks with envy about the Berliner Ensemble spending a year on a single production and says that’s why he keeps going back to Salomé and David Mamet’s American Buffalo (on which he worked, on and off, for four years) and Richard III — which he would do a fourth time, although I whine in his ear that King Lear beckons. He says it’s the time and repetition that allow him to be break free — and soa
HE DIDN’T LIKE SOMETHING SPECIALLY THE PUBLIC
Pacino has never been much for exhibiting himself in real life. (He once wore a ridiculous disguise to a Yankees game — he said he had to leave early and worried that people would take his departure the wrong way but instead became a laughingstock on TV news.) Celebrity confuses him. He has an elaborate theory about what happened to Marlon Brando that he promises to share with me some day. He alludes to his periods of deep depression and the time in the ’70s when his drinking became debilitating. In 1977, once he was sober, he made Bobby Deerfield with one of the loves of his life, Marthe Keller, in which he plays an excruciatingly alienated race-car driver. Putting it in the retrospective was quite a move. “It was a huge disaster, but when I saw it again, I saw someone struggling with something, and it was part of my life, and I thought, Well, why not put in the ones where I sort of slipped and fell, even if it’s tough to look at? It kinds of works when you put it in context, doesn’t it? It’s a retrospective.
Either way, AL PACINO REMAINS ONE OF THE BEST ACTORS OF ALL TIME !