Interview: Al Pacino!
It was a cold, cloudy Sunday. The wind whipped at the curtains with the ferocity. Speaking of hangovers, my head ached with the dull throb of the morning after; my mouth pasty; my body stiff. All this AND it was Mother's Day. The devil on my right shoulder began whispering - Just go back to bed. It's rainy and cold out. Just pull those warm covers up over your head and get back to sleep. Sleeeep. Sleeeep - and he went on and on like that. The angel on my other shoulder didn't say much, but what he did say, spoke volumes. Pacino. I was up and showered in no time. I gave my half-asleep wife a kiss on the cheek and a quick Sorry I'm missing Mother's Day! and I was out the door. Pacino…
Al Pacino, an intensely private man, doesn't do press very often. Needless to say, the junket was packed to the gills. I've done my share of junketeering but I've never seen one this crowded before. Since Patch (Al said I could call him that…) makes so few appearances, his time at the junket was brief. A few select one-on-one TV interviews were scheduled and then a large press conference. I grabbed myself a good seat, set up my recorder and relaxed. I had a lot of time to relax as (long story short) the press conference was delayed about 45 minutes. Somewhere along the twenty-fifth minute I got up to use the men's room. Having no idea where I was going (and knowing I was in no real rush, not really caring) I wandered around the floor of the hotel. As I continued my search down a deserted corridor, I walked past a man with short, blond hair and a leather jacket. I looked, paused, and looked again. PATCH! I turned and like Keyser Soze, he was gone.
Shortly thereafter, Al came strolling into the large room and apologized profusely for his tardiness. Then the fun began...
Have you experienced sleep deprivation like your character?
Yeah, sure I have. Sometimes it's purposeful. You're out for a few nights and I didn't want to go to sleep. But I think I can relate to the sleep deprivation. There were periods in my life where I found it difficult to either go to sleep or get up early after walking around in the middle of the night.
Recently Winona Ryder said in a story that you have 2 o'clock in the morning
I wish! (Crowd laughs.) I wish…
Has that happened to you?
When I'm very tired at 2 in the morning I guess I could call a costar, but I don't. I don't know why. There's something about the nighttime and getting back to sleep and trying to do things that are not stimulation to get you to…they say you should get up and walk around or start to read or something cause reading is usually relaxing especially if it's something that's sort of innocuous. You read it and start to fade out. So a phone call might be too stimulating. Hey, listen - I'm recommending things to do for non-sleepers.
I'm curious to, if any, how much you referenced the character of Vincent Hanna
from HEAT because I see a relationship between the two.
You do? (Reporter nods head.) Really? It wasn't in my mind. Maybe it was something else. LA cop maybe? The only thing I can say perhaps is that I think both of these characters are very good at what they did. I mean Vincent Hanna was a…the real character was a top-of-the-line detective. Really. He had his own world. He did things by his rules. And I felt that this was part of Dormer, Will Dormer, was. And I thought he was among his...elite. That's where that whole thing with that first scene is. Diagnosing the dead girl and everyone around is watching his technique. So I took that opportunity and that how I showed him as a "super-cop."
You've become kind of an iconic cop figure. Are you aware of that reputation?
And if so, how much of that was a part in your choosing the role?
Well I think that there are times when you…people seem to see me in a certain kind of role so you want to do that from time to time. I made the decision because of Chris Nolan. And loved his work so much with MEMENTO and his approach to making films. That was the biggest reason I did the picture and again I liked the idea of a character who is in conflict. Like a good/bad guy. I like the good/bad guys…
How are your intuitions?
That's very interesting because it reminds me of…You know there's been movies…I knew when I did certain films, like when I met Frank Serpico, somehow I wanted to play him. It's almost like something you want to be. I didn't get that at all. I wish I did, but I didn't. I tried. But it was a strange feeling. I had that desire. I felt there was something that I was identifying with in him, something in his eyes. There were other people I've played and I just didn't respond in that way. So it is an intuitive kind of thing. I try to listen to it. Cause every time you don't listen to it…now, you don't want to be too quick to judge, but at the same time, it's a good thing to listen to. Hey, I'm still here you know? (Crowd laughs.)
Could you talk a little bit about working with Robin, both on-screen and off?
This is what I get for trying to be funny like Robin. I just love being around him. I'd like to see him personally after the picture and we'll try to get together. He's a very bright, caring guy about the world and things around him. He's well-informed. And he's just so fun to be around cause he's so sweet and treats you right. I can't say enough about him. And as far as funny goes, he's out there. I just recently saw his…did you catch his act? He's just amazing. A performing art at its finest.
How did you feel about shooting in Vancouver and what was that experience like?
I was unaware of any controversy and of course I like to shoot…if they could come to my house and do the picture there (crowd laughs)…but there is so much to say for filming to the location and moving on in a movie. I think it serves the picture so much and I think one has to weigh that when making a picture.
And as far as Canada goes, it's a beautiful country and every time I've been to Canada, Toronto or Vancouver, it's been swell. I didn't get much time to spend. You know how the days are shooting movies. Shoot all day, fourteen hour days, so there's not much time off. And then I shot back to LA. Where I was in the world, in Alaska and Vancouver, we were up there with the bears, the grizzlies. I watched an avalanche. They called me out of the camper and said, There's an avalanche - and it was a few hundred yards away, it was surreal - Really? Shouldn't I go back in my camper? It had a placid look about it. Then there were wolves which I'm not used to seeing. And we were on boats, living on boats because there were no hotels. And in the boat next to me were wolves. And wolves would come from all around at night and cry…
Did you touch it?
I looked at it. We looked at each other. And that was it. Anything on a leash, I think twice before I touch. (Crowd laughs.)
Out of all your movie roles, which one would you say hits most to home and
reflects you most as a person?
(Long pause as he thinks.) I was gonna say The George Washington Story. But I didn't do that. I-I-I have to think, and the classic answer you hear all the time, is that some of them are closer than others. But I really don't believe that there's…because there's so many gray areas. It's comfortable to me to look at it like a painter looks at an object to paint. Sometimes it's odd because the character that you think is the farthest from you turn out to be some of the best work you've done. And sometimes the characters that are the closest to you don't make the best…don't take the same step. It's hard to know. Desire and passion to do a role doesn't mean that you're…that it's you. It's just like a desire to paint something. It's a complicated paradox sort of and I'm not smart enough to really understand it. I don't know. If I feel that there's something that there's a chance for me to do then I will maybe get a performance that I like. Sometimes I hit, sometimes I miss. That's all I go by.
See what I learned early in my life, as an actor, is that you try different parts in order to see if any of them will work and that's the benefit of repertoire. I mention that to young actors, to go into repertory work because you get a chance to play different roles. And you yourself find out what some of the pitfalls and you read a role on the page and say I could never do that and you find that you rehearse it and work at it and you're able to get to it. Then the roles where you say I can really sink my teeth into that, you do and nothing happens. And the only way you learn that is through the actuation. Just do it. So it's important to do that. It gets tougher to do that on the main stage, if you know what I mean. Out there in the commercial world, you want to take chances but you don't want to get burned for them. Film is a medium where you're trying to serve an audience and appease them.
You did enough running, jumping and stunts in this movie to make Sly and Arnold
jealous. How do you get ready for that?
Well, you go into the hospital for a few weeks, and you have people oil you and massage you and tie you up and mummify you, and then you pray, and then somebody says Action! and pray again and you go. That's all I know. It was really…I couldn't believe it as I was doing it. I said, Al, your legs are moving! One time, I was a young guy too, I was playing softball in the park. I hit the ball and everything was the same, except it took me twice as long to get to first base. I wondered why. I thought, those trees are not going by as fast as they used to. It's just this thing. You do know that you have to get in shape to do it. You have to get in shape. I did one where I had to chase Bobby De Niro in Heat, and I got up and pulled out of the camper at 3 or 4 o'clock and didn't stretch out and BOOM there goes my hamstring. did one take, and I said, Gee, I feel like the old Al, but I am the old Al…(crowd laughs) I have memories of when I did it and I said gee, sure I'll do another one or two. And then the third one (rolls his eyes and snaps his finger) it was over. And that was unfortunate because we had to stop for about a week and a half. They had somebody else do some running. So you learn from your experiences. So when I was doing this stuff here, I prepared. Cause I'm not the kind of guy who when he's not working, works out and stuff. When I get the urge to exercise, I lie down till it passes. (Crowd laughs.) That's Oscar Wilde.
Reporter asks spoiler filled question. Al chides her (gently) and asks we don't
give any plot points away. He still manages to answer her questions without spoiling
The question of wishing something - how do you wish? This is what Chris and I discussed before the film. And I think the film just maybe touches on it. It would be great to make a movie that just goes into that. The idea that we sometimes have wishes and feelings and that sometimes those wishes came true, to feel that maybe…that wonderful scene in A PLACE IN THE SUN. I don't know if anyone here's seen A PLACE IN THE SUN. I don't mean to date myself but I just recently saw it. It's an almost perfect movie. A great movie. At the end in the trial when she was going and he didn't really help her when he could've. That kind of thing here is the prevailing thing. What kind of thing happens when we wish something and it comes true. And it doesn't even have to be something negative. If any wish comes true, how do we feel about that?
Congratulations on being a new Dad.
We want to know how you're doing on the diapers. Are you watching
"Barney" or "Sesame Street" yet?
Well you know, I catch "Barney" every once in a while and the baby's like to watch that. It's, without sounding… whatever…they've certainly made my life. What can I say?
Do you change their diapers?
Oh gee. I don't want to tell any dirty diaper stories.
Do you feel like a legend and how do you respond when people call you a legend?
Well…what I usually do when they say that…(takes a harmonica from his jacket pocket and begins to play)…and that's all I can say to that. (Crowd laughs and applauds.) [Just uploaded an audio file of Pacino playing harmonica. Never in my life did I ever think I'd be in the same room with Al Pacino playing the harmonica! Listen for yourself and realize the glory of Pacino!] I really don't know what to say. I guess I've just been around a while. I'm still here. I'm still acting…
And why do you think that is?
First of all I appreciate your comments and…I guess I like to do it and I still get something from it. It gets tougher to do. In one respect it does, in the other respect it gets easier and I'll tell you how. Movies are a lot of waiting around, and what I think I've learned to do a little bit, is deal with the downtime on a movie. I've found ways to help me get through the day of waiting. When I was a younger actor, waiting was impossible, and movies to me…doing movies, was all about that. I wouldn't do films early in my career because of it, I'd spend a couple of years between doing movies, and now I've found a way to deal with that waiting time. I've found a life that takes place during it. You learn how to distribute your time, I think that's the biggest thing I've learned in doing films. Every time I make a movie, as that last shot comes, you think that's gonna be it for a while. I'm very fortunate to be making movies, to still be offered films, I really, really mean it when I say that, but at the same time, it's a comforting thought in thinking that maybe I could just float around for a while. I think I've earned that in the last couple of years.
A quote recently said that one of the movies you wish you hadn't made was THE
GODFATHER III. Was that a true reference from something you said?
I never said that. I don't like to confirm or deny anything usually. But since we're here talking about that, I never said that. I did think that things changed with GODFATHER III. I think that at the heart of it, GODFATHER III was a different script to start with, but what people didn't foresee is that there were difficulties in the negotiations with different actors. Because of that, the basic story of GODFATHER III was changed, and it was moved into another place, the script was rewritten entirely, and that was fine, because the script was very good. But it wasn't the way it was originally. In the original script, it took more access to some of the themes and lines of GODFATHER and GODFATHER II. It made it different. Francis Coppola can operate in any kind of crisis, he has the ability to change course, and he changed course in this picture. He took a thing that would've closed down most movies and reinvented it, so I have to give him credit for that.
How do you cope with the life of a busy actor, being away from home so often?
Well, you take the pictures that remind you of your life, you take a couple of people that I have working with me. The wonderful thing about movies is that you meet new people. Part of the thing a lot of actors feel is that feeling of getting together as a family to do the film.
How do you feel when you see actors that are thought of as being in a lesser
caliber as far as actual talent getting more money for the roles they play, whether it
being based on looks or whatnot, while some of the truly talented actors miss out on those
Now what are we gonna do about this? (Crowd laughs.) I honestly think that things are the way they are because that's what people want and it's working. A lot of these movie stars are very good at what they do, and they're all very gifted. They project a certain kind of thing that makes audiences come, and that's a special thing. It should be rewarded and applauded, because not many people can do that the way they do it. I'm a great admirer of this.
When did you first know you were famous?
When I was on the street corner once, and there was a really attractive redhead standing there, next to me. And I turned, and I just kind of looked at her, just as a gesture of hello. And she said Hi Michael. And I thought, I'm not Michael, but then again, maybe I am also, so I'm gonna go home and have a cup of tea, because who knows what this could lead to.