Interviews


Al Pacino


Occupation: Actor, Director
Date of Birth: April 25, 1940
Place of Birth: New York, N.Y., USA
Sign: Sun in Taurus, Moon in Sagittarius
Relations: Daughter: Julie Marie (mother, Jan Tarrant); companion: Beverly D'Angelo (actress)
Education: High School of the Performing Arts dropout; studied acting at the Actors Studio and the Herbert Berghof Studio, both in New York City

 

A NATIVE son of New York City's East Harlem, Al Pacino was the only child of Salvatore (an insurance salesman) and Rose Pacino. His parents divorced when he was two, and Al and his mother moved in with her parents in a poor neighborhood near the Bronx Zoo. Little Alfredo was a rather sensitive child, and his overprotective grandparents cherished and coddled him to such a degree that he wasn't even allowed out of the house until he had safely passed his seventh birthday. He got to tag along with his mother to evening features at the local movie theatre, but his days were spent housebound with nothing better to do than reenact for his grandmother the plots of the films he had seen. His improvisational skills spilled over into his schoolyard bravado, which included regaling the other kids with whoppers about his exciting and colorful past, living in Texas with his ten dogs  a very cool alternative reality to ten-year-old boys living in the Bronx circa 1950. Tall-tale-telling, sports, and mostly harmless street mischief kept Pacino's attentions pretty well diverted from academics, so when his teachers began to see his talent for drama, they encouraged him to perform in school plays, and to read passages from the Bible during assemblies.

At fourteen, Pacino attended a performance of Chekhov's The Seagull at Elsmere Theater in the South Bronx, whereupon he decided to transfer to the High School of the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, English seemed to be the only subject he wasn't continually flunking at the renowned school, and so at the age of seventeen, it took little deliberation for Pacino to decide to throw in the academic towel once and for all. He spent several years drifting from odd job to odd job, working variously as a mail deliverer in the offices of Commentary magazine, a messenger, an usher in a movie theatre, and as a building superintendent. But his life wasn't all errands and leaky faucets  during this period, Pacino began taking acting classes and appearing in basement-staged plays of little repute. He squirrelled away enough money to enroll at the Herbert Berghof Studio, where he trained under drama coach Charlie Laughton. Apprenticing in acting, directing, and writing in a handful of way-off-Broadway theatres, Pacino eventually gained acceptance to the famed Actors Studio in 1966, where he received further training in Lee Strasberg's school of Method acting.

This period of leaps-and-bounds advancement was marked by his appearance opposite James Earl Jones in a production of John Wolfson's The Peace Creeps and a stint performing at the Charles Playhouse in Boston. He returned to New York to appear in an off-Broadway production of The Indian Wants the Bronx, in which he played Murph, one of two young hoods who accost and brutally terrorize an aging Native American man in the street. The critics couldn't say enough nice things about Pacino's unstagey and potent performance, and the young actor was awarded an Obie as Best Actor for the 1967-68 season. The following year, Pacino stepped onto an honest-to-goodness Broadway stage for the first time, in the role of a psychotic junkie named Bickham, in Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie? Though the production closed after a meager thirty-nine performances, the critics deemed its star "sensationally menacing," "spectacularly good," and "magnificent," and Pacino scored his first Tony Award.

Drowning in umpteen plaudits, the critics' darling decided to make a bid for a film career. Pacino's first two features, Me, Natalie and The Panic in Needle Park, recycled his proven virtuosity in the role of junkie. In preparation for the latter film, Pacino and Panic co-star Kitty Winn schooled themselves in the mannerisms of heroin addicts by doing extensive research in and around various methadone treatment centers and drug-pusher haunts. On the basis of his gut-wrenching performance in the film, Pacino was offered the role of Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, a plum assignment plucked handily away from the likes of Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. Stealing quietly into the film as the reluctant Mafia scion thrust into the family business, Pacino crafted an ingenious study of Michael's metamorphosis from idealistic war hero to lethal underworld lord. He swaggered away from The Godfather with movie stardom and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor to his credit. He followed up quickly with forceful performances, in Serpico (in the role of a scrupulously honest cop who attempts to uncover corruption in the N.Y.P.D.), The Godfather, Part II (in another Oscar-nominated performance as the rancorous don), and Dog Day Afternoon (in the role of a volcanic bisexual bankrobber). Sure, Pacino made the inevitable missteps along the way: Bobby Deerfield (1977), Cruising (1980), and Revolution (1985) were about as well-received as a death sentence, but he successfully counterbalanced their disappointments with Scarface (1983), Sea of Love (1989), and Frankie and Johnny (1991).

From the beginning of his film career, Pacino had remained something of a commuter between Hollywood and Broadway. His title role in a production of The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel won him a second Tony in 1977, and memorable turns as Antony in Julius Caesar, and as Walter Cole in David Mamet's American Buffalo, alleviated any fan fatigue that might result from being one of the most popular and most frequently Oscar-nominated (a career total of seven to date) film stars in the biz. On-screen, Pacino kept cranking out popular favorites: he donned his dark habit once again to play Michael Corleone in 1990's The Godfather, Part III; he blistered as a slick real estate salesman in 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross; at long last he took home the elusive Best Actor Oscar for 1992's Scent of a Woman, in which he employs Chris O'Donnell as his seeing-eye dog; Carlito's Way gave him the chance to essay another effective ethnic characterization, this time as a Puerto Rican ex-con trying to go straight; and he played cool cop to Robert De Niro's equally cool robber in 1995's Heat.

While it may be true that Pacino's fame was cemented with his true-to-life portrayals of urban toughies on film, his heart has always remained tethered to the stage. "The play is the thing. That's my motivation," Pacino commented in an interview about his double-duty as actor and director in his well-received 1996 documentary Looking for Richard. A love letter to Shakespeare and a forthright statement on the craft that has captured his imagination for over a quarter-century, the film sets about familiarizing audiences with one of Shakespeare's most dense and rich works, through deconstruction of scenes and interviews with Shakespearean scholars, with prominent actors like Sir John Gielgud,Kevin Kline, Winona Ryder, and Kenneth Branagh, and with your average men and women encountered on the street. Just when we all thought he'd cleaned up his act, he returned as his stock-in-trade urban crime figure in Donnie Brasco, and portrayed a Mephistophelean lawyer in Devil's Advocate (both 1997). Late 1999 brought a brace of solid roles: he turned in a brilliant portrayal of 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman in The Insider, which tells the story of Bergman and Mike Wallace's investigative reporting into the American tobacco industry; and headlined Oliver Stone's gridiron drama Any Given Sunday.

On a more personal note, Pacino and girlfriend of several years Beverly D'Angelo are expecting twins. The children will be the first for D'Angelo; the never-married Pacino has a daughter, Julie Marie, whose mother is acting teacher Jan Tarrant.

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