August 2002, By Philip Berk
In his current film, Simone, Al Pacino plays a frustrated Hollywood director whose leading lady walks out on him, at which point a computer programmer offers him a chance to work with a virtual simulation of an actress who combines the qualities of Garbo and Audrey Hepburn, and who won’t demand a bigger trailer or a private jet or special meals.
Obviously the film satirizes actors whose demands are legend.
Pacino has never been one to make such demands
But surely he’s worked with actors who have.
Can he recall any? I ask him.
“I have seen people in that position of stardom behave outrageously. Probably I’ve been guilty of some of it myself, only I don’t know it, right? Somebody else would have to tell you. But when you’re in a position of power, power corrupts, and you have to learn how to deal with it, which says about why some people endure and others don’t. I’ve been around for 140 years, so I must have done something. But when I look back at it, it’s always been related to the work. Even the moods I get in. If I’m short tempered it’s something to do with the scene I’m shooting that day.”
But then he adds, “Here’s what’s started to happen. When you’re making movies you’re working fourteen hours a day, ten of which is waiting. Where am I waiting? In my dressing room which is a trailer; so I need a decent sized trailer. Recently I did something, and I had a dressing room that had no windows. I could never do that again. It’s hard to be in a room without windows. Now if you’re talking about those perks, you negotiate them. You take less money for a certain perk.”
At his press conference in New York, he’s as unassuming as ever.
Gracious and gentle, he answers every question thoughtfully.
But he wasn’t always that way.
For years he refused to meet the press, and when occasionally he did, he insisted on photo and editorial control even from the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine.
But in l985, he changed his mind and began courting the press.
And it paid off.
Seven years later, after six nominations, he finally won his well deserved Oscar for Scent of a Woman
He’s looking particularly good thanks to a barely discernible hair piece.
And a happy union with actress Beverly D’Angelo.
They are the proud parents of twins, a boy and a girl, born January of last year.
In Simone, which for some strange reason has been sitting on a shelf for two years, his character has a daughter who’s easily the smartest person in the film.
How about his own daughter — the same age — is she as smart ?
“She’s so smart, I can’t even learn from her. Everything she says goes over my head. I say, ‘Could you say that again?’ and she’s, ‘Oh, Dad.”
Her mother is acting teacher Jan Tarrant.
They never married.
Besides D’Angelo, he’s also had relationships with (other costars) Jill Clayburgh, Marthe Keller, Diane Keaton, Kathleen Quinlan, and Penelope Ann Miller, but he’s never married any of them.
Which he won’t talk about.
But he proudly discusses his twins.
When asked his relationship to computers — in the movie he sits behind a computer controlling Simone — he professes total ignorance.
“My 18 month old son is better at a computer than me. Far better. I give him a video and say, ‘You put it in there.’ He can’t talk yet, but he knows how to do that. I have to admit it just passed me by. I have no need for it. Perhaps if I were alone on an island somewhere and had to do it. I recommend it. It’s great for people who can’t get out the house, older people. It opens a world. The internet is fantastic. I know people who spend countless hours there. It’s wonderful. I know I’m missing something but I just have no need to do it at this point.”
How has his life changed with all of them living under one roof? (In the past he lived apart from his daughter and her mother.)
“That’s the whole thing. It really changes because there’s always issues with the kids especially in these early stages. It’s a whole new experience. And it deepens the relationship, and it gives it such a variety; it makes it more interesting and more intimate because you’re working things out. More reality, less fantasy. I recommend it. Especially to people who are older. It’s a little more difficult for women when you’re past forty, but mid forties is a good time to start.”
And then humorously he adds, “But you’ve gotta be in shape, man, because I’m out to dinner with people, I’m talking to somebody, a very interesting person, and I’m falling asleep. I said to the guy, ‘Look I don’t do this. I never fall asleep. I really love what you’re saying. Can I tape it?’ I’ve never been tired like this before. Fourteen hours of filming is nothing.”
How much of a hands-on father is he?
“I’m more hands on now than I was before. I now realize the value of being there, what it means to me, and hopefully what it will mean to them. That’s what you start to see. When you’re not there, there’s just so much you can do. And then when you are there, there is so much catch-up stuff to do, which doesn’t work. So you’ve got to be there. That’s what I found out.”
But then quickly he adds, “But I have to say, I’m very lucky. My thirteen year old, so far, she’s doing okay.”
Which is his modest way of saying she’s doing great.
What does family mean to him now?
“It’s the major part of my life. It’s the value of it. As Tolstoy said, it’s relative to who you are and how you’re doing. There’s a comfort factor in that. Being at home gives you that feeling of belonging, which I’ve never had before. My children make me feel the realest I’ve ever felt. And to think I’ve gone so long in my life without it. But I don’t look at age chronologically. I don’t think about it in terms of years. Maybe I’m delusional. However old you are, it doesn’t matter. I just try to stay thin.”
His own childhood is another thing he rarely talks about, but this time he opens up.
“I had a complicated childhood.”
(His father left home when he was two, and both his mother and grandmother who brought him up died before he achieved success.)
“The theatre was my family, still is. It’s been my family my whole life. It’s what saved my life when I came to the village at sixteen and lived in Greenwich Village. Getting together with all the actors, being part of a troop that were like Gypsies, we were together, and that sort of saved me. The theatre saved me and became my family for many years. And it’s still my family. I still feel the same even though I have this real family. But it’s a different kind of thing.”
Did he always want to be an actor?
“When I was in school, junior high school, elementary school even, I knew I would be an actor. I didn’t know what kind of actor I’d be, but I knew it was something I could do. I saw what others were doing, and I said, ‘I can do that.”
He’s looking so good, what does he do to stay fit. Does he exercise?
“Once in a while I get up and I walk to the chair on the other side of the room. It’s daunting.”
“I just eat less. I don’t recommend any diets. One thing I heard once is that it takes the stomach five minutes to tell the brain it’s had enough. So if you eat slowly, you stop in the middle of a meal, and if you bear it out three or four minutes, you have no desire to eat.”
One thing you can depend on when interviewing Al Pacino, he’ll come up with a wonderful anecdote.
Like the time he was driving with a friend whose car had a flat tire.
“He asked me if I could help him. I said, ‘I didn’t think I was dressed right for it,’ and then he said I’d better do a movie about someone who fixes flat tires so I can learn how to do it.”
This time he remembers doing a play in Philadelphia that was Broadway bound.
“Everyone worked so hard on this play. We worked and worked and it was freezing. So we’re going to the airport one day, and I looked out the window and I thought, ‘Oh Gee,’ and I turned to my friend and said, ‘Look at that person. He doesn’t have a coat on.’ And my friend said, ‘Well, it’s spring, Al.’ A season had passed, and I wasn’t aware of it.”
Does he use a different approach when playing comedy?
“Even when I play drama, I find it’s always a good idea to find something humorous if you can. To give an example, in Dog Day Afternoon, in the opening when he comes into the bank and takes the gun out of the box and the box sticks on the gun for a second, well from that point on the audience is ready for anything. I think humor in drama is almost like the breath you take before you dive in the water. So I don’t find any difference.”
Unlike Brando and DeNiro he’s done a lot of theatre.
Which does he prefer?
“Stage acting I find more challenging. For the two hours when you’re on stage you’re always focused. You feel comfortable. The experience is much more private. You’re alone in your dressing room, and you have that period of time before the curtain goes up where you can prepare. Then you go out, and you’re like a tight rope-walker. There’s no turning back. You change. The adrenaline, the energy produces a chemical change in you.”
Does he still take the character he’s playing home with him?
“When I was younger, I was more or less in character all the time, but you learn as you get older. You still stay in a general state throughout the day, although at certain moments it’s not quite as intense. The only time I take the movie home now is when I feel I didn’t give the best I could have given that day. I’m a bit of a brooder when it comes to that. I’ve gotten better over the years when I realize finally that it’s out of my hands and I’ve gotta let it go. I’ve resigned myself to saying, ‘Okay I did the best I could; tomorrow is another day.’ Next day I ask the director if he’ll let me do it again… but he won’t.”
Unless, I remind him, he’s Sydney Lumet, who let him reshoot the whole first day’s work on Dog Days Afternoon.
Does he prefer playing a character who’s not at all like him?
“Lee Strasberg, who pioneered method acting, believed you learn from the parts that aren’t really right for you. You challenge yourself and you grow in those roles.”
What else did he learn from him?
“He gave me the best advice I ever got about fame and celebrity. ‘Darling, you simply have to adjust.’ Somehow those words as simple as they are made my life easier.”
Next up for him is the film version of Angels in America with Meryl Streep.
“If it were possible I’d like to be in every Meryl Streep movie or play or whatever she does for the rest of my life.”
“Because she’s not only a great actor, she’s a great person to be around.”
And so is he!
© 2002 Philip Berk