— Say hello to my little friend!
Attica! Attica! Attica! Attica!
I show you out of order!
You’re my prisoner. You do what I tell you to do.
It’s not personal Sonny. It’s strictly business.
Keep your friends close -If I were the man I was five years ago – But your enemies closer. – I’d take a flamethrower to this place!
I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse. —
Eric: Hi, and welcome to “The Backlot,” a discussion with the entertainment industry’s top talent. My name is Eric Conner senior instructor at the New York Film Academy, and this week we have one of the all-time greats a true Hollywood legend Al Pacino.
For the students at New York Film Academy in Los Angeles getting a chance to watch Al Pacino speak about his craft was like hearing Joe DiMaggio talk about swinging the baseball bat or Paul McCartney discuss writing “Hey Jude.” So ladies and gentlemen, Al Pacino.
Al Pacino: Thank you all so much for that. Wow.
Eric: But as Mr. Pacino explained he’s also still a student himself to the craft. He was asked about his technique and for him stepping up to the plate is a new adventure with every role.
Al Pacino: You develop that thing known as technique. I love the line that Michelangelo said in a poem when he was doing the Sistine Chapel. He said Lord free me of myself that I may please you, meaning get to that place in us where we’re not censoring ourselves or trying to do it good or right but rather, connect to whatever it is we’re trying to say become, absorb it, and become it, and let it come out, and let the unconscious free and that’s what, well I strive for that. And I rarely, rarely get it. If I do it’s for a moment or two. I sometimes – I’m given a role and then I’m in trouble because then I got to look at the empty canvas and I got to say, “Wow! I don’t know anything about acting. I don’t know anything about anything and just do. What am I going to do?” And you start.
And the hope is that that that instead of figuring it out you find it.
Eric: When you look at Mr. Pacino’s body of work you notice he’s drawn a lot to the underworld to characters on the wrong side of the law. Don Corleone in The Godfather, Tony Montana in Scarface, Carlito, the aged gangster he plays in Donnie Brasco, heck, Big Boy in Dick Tracy; it’s reminiscent of the great gangster films from the 20s and the 30s.
I’m gonna write my name all over this town in big letters. Get out of my way Johnny I’m gonna spit.
A big guy now ain’t ya, shooting your mouth off in the papers. So I ran out when it got hot. You think I can’t take it no more. Well, listen you crummy flat-footed copper, I’ll show you whether I lost my nerve and my brains.
Eric: Mr. Pacino doesn’t gravitate to just any part.
Al Pacino: I had trouble with that word “gravitate” the roles I gravitate mostly, I go home and gravitate about them. You know what it is? Primarily it’s the story and the script. If I see the script has this-this light, I can really like it. But if there’s no role in it that I feel I can identify with – Sometimes I’ve seen parts and in the theater and somebody did that I really thought I want to do that. Hey, I did Scarface because I was here on Sunset and went into the Tiffany movie house it was a movie house in those days. So I went into the movie “The Tiffany” and playing up on that big screen there was Paul Muni as Scarface
Next time I catch you in a place like that again I’ll kill you.
And after it was over I just said I want to do this. I want to imitate him. I want to do it just the way he does it.
I catch you here again. You hear me?! I catch you here again. I’m going to wipe you all over the — place.
Eric: He’s worked with some of the masters of the craft legendary artists like Stanislavski, Brecht, Strassburg.
Al Pacino: You know I’ve known a lot of great people in my life and you know, I would ask some of these people who I’ve known myself, some of the people you mentioned – I just would say, “What do you think about the price of eggs?” Or, “What do you think about what’s going on now in Peterson?” because they were the kind of thinkers and people that no matter what was going on, they have their own way of seeing it. That was what was inspiring about them. That’s what great people have. They say something different. That’s usually what I – what I’ve noticed in my life. And about acting I sort of know that they would say that they don’t know because it’s about experience. Stanislavski started with the theater and that was the style at the time. Things change all the time. They’re moving and going, and the times change, the fashions change. What works doesn’t work. This is really what it is and most of the of the acting you see is that we have today comes from those people but it’s a – it’s sort of a potpourri of all those things.
Eric: Before he was ever involved in the Corleone family business. Al Pacino was a successful stage actor, including winning a Tony Award for “Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?” Over the years Mr. Pacino has bounced back and forth from stage to screen from big screen to small screen and he understands that each medium has its own requirements for shaping a performance.
Al Pacino: I was doing a play in New York. They were coming in to do this thing I really don’t like, which is take motion pictures of the play because they’re going to show it on TV in the reviews or something. And every time you see a poor actors on a stage in a play and they’re on television all of a sudden and you say, “Why would I want to go see that?! They’re screaming!” You know? And they’re all animated and you’re saying why the — where are we? So they were there, and I was doing a scene, and I thought, “Wait a minute! They were way back shooting me in the scene and I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t feel how to do it.” So I asked the camera man to come close here, right here with the camera.
And then what happens is automatically after you’ve done it a while you start to acclimate to the camera and you start to know that, that it’s here. So your position because the difference between an audience and a camera – the camera is your audience the camera is what you play to.
But when you have the audience you play to the audience so your performance is somewhat changed by that but nothing changes except a sense of where you are in relation to the camera, so that you can think more with the camera. You can bring it down you can make it less. The camera picks everything up.
Eric:For instance take this moment from The Godfather and notice how Mr. Pacino is subtly performing for the camera.
Let’s set the meeting. Get our informers to find out where it’s going to be held. Now we insist it’s a public place, a bar, a restaurant, someplace where there’s people so I feel safe. They’re going to search me when I first meet them. All right? So I can’t have a weapon on me then but if Clemenza can figure a way to have a weapon planted there for me then I’ll kill them both.
Eric: In contrast here’s a moment from his performance in the stage production of The Merchant of Venice.
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
Eric: As you noticed in the clip Mr. Pacino modified his performance for the stage playing to not just the front row but the back of the House as well. It may seem bigger it might even seem over the top. But when you’re in the audience especially if you’re in row ZZ, you appreciate what Mr. Pacino’s bring into that part. Adding that grandeur to the scene. But as thrilling as stage work can be it also presents its own challenges.
Al Pacino: I was doing a play in New York many years ago, a Shakespeare play, and I was exhausted and I was young, relatively. I was – I was – I had a hard time doing eight shows a week, and on the weekends we had like five shows.
So you have a show and you did the play at three, four, or five o’clock you were done. At 7:00 you were doing it again.
Right. And I’m doing this soliloquy. And it’s it’s long and it’s arduous and I think to myself I said that line before. And then I thought wait a minute I’m saying my lines twice. I’m repeating myself. I say a line and I say it again. And the audience is looking at me.
And they’re being very, very kind because they know I’m losing my mind and they don’t know what to do. And I’m really, really scared. Really scared. It’s not like I’m hearing echoes. It’s like I think I’m saying it again. I’m so tired that I’m just you know. And then I realized I wasn’t saying it I don’t know how I realized that mercifully.
And the audience didn’t know that was going on with me.
One of the strangest hijacks attempts to date began yesterday when two gunmen held up a bank in Brooklyn New York. The gunman got twenty-nine thousand dollars. But before they could leave police moved in and the bank robbers seized eight hostages. It all ended fifteen hours later at New York’s Kennedy Airport. ABC’s Carol Burke has the story.
Eric: That long hot summer day in Brooklyn in 1972 turned out to be the inspiration for one of Mr. Pacino’s greatest films, “Dog Day Afternoon.” But that’s not the only time he’s played a real life character. He’s portrayed Jack Kevorkian, Phil Spector and of course, Frank Serpico.
— Hey! It’s me, Serpico! Hey! I’m a police officer. Police officer. I’m an officer. I’m a police officer. —
I worked with Frank Serpico when I made a movie called “Serpico,” and the real Serpico and I became friends. And it was a real it was very important to be around this man because he’s- he stimulated me – his imagination – and I was very taken with that. So, that’s really something to access if you have a real person. I’m also maybe going to play Napoleon, you know. So I’ve been seeing him a lot lately.
Eric: But when you’re acting it’s not enough just to be a mimic of a real life character. It’s also about the script the interpretation of the character that the writer has already created.
I mean it’s – so much too is the screenwriter who gives you the role. That’s the person you’re really in contact with. When I did Roy Cohn in “Angels in America” it wasn’t really Roy Cohn. It was Tony Kushner’s rendering of Roy Cohn; his interpretation of that character which is a great character.
AIDS, homosexual, gay, lesbian, you think these are names that tell you who someone sleeps with? They don’t tell you that. – No? – No like all labels. They tell you one thing, and one thing only. Where does an individual so identified fit in the food chain? in the pecking order? not ideology or sexual taste, but something much simpler. Clout! Not who I — or who — me but who will pick up the phone when I call?
Eric: Just as important for an actor to collaborate with the writer’s vision of a character. He also has to collaborate with the director’s vision as well. One student asked about Mr. Pacino experiences working with directors.
Student: What in your opinion makes a director great?
Al Pacino: I wish I knew. You know?! I wish I knew because then I would direct.
But I have no – I was talking to Barry Levinson about this today. It’s very hard to understand. A lot has to do with where they can place a camera. Like for instance, Brian De Palma is a great director. So I was doing Scarface with him – He directed Scarface. I woke up at the Fountain Blue Hotel in Florida. I remember being outside and there’s the beach and the water, and look out and I see all these people sort of facing the ocean in a kind of semicircle about a hundred of them looking and I thought, “What happened?” You know? You – did some sort of a large whale get washed up on shore? And I looked and I stood up on the thing to look out. And I realized at the surf standing there was Brian DePalma and all these people were just looking at him, and all he was doing was trying to figure out where to put the camera. And I said I’m not doing that.
Imagine all these people waiting for you every decision on a movie. It’s the director. And there’s an appetite to do that, and also likes to get people around and likes to tell stories.
Eric: If Al Pacino says it it must be true no matter what your role is on a film, it all goes back to story. This episode was written by me, Eric Conner, based on the Guest Lecture Series produced and moderated by Tova Laiter. The episode was edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Produced by David Andrew Nelson, Kristian Hayden, and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler. Associate produced by Vinny Sisson, with a special thanks to and Robert Cosnahan, Sajja Johnson and the entire crew and staff who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. See you next time!