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Al Pacino Relives His Acting Life (and Leaves Out Most of the Good Parts)


by Stephen Becker 17 Nov 2010

Tuesday night at the Winspear Opera House, Al Pacino showed clips from three of his films and discussed them at length. If you guessed that those films were the not-yet-released Wilde Salome, 1996’s Looking for Richard and The Local Stigmatic from 1990, well, you’re lying. This night was not about his experience making the movies he’s known for. Instead, Pacino was raring to discuss his life as an actor, much of which has been spent on the boards.

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Tuesday night at the Winspear Opera House, Al Pacino showed clips from three of his films and discussed them at length. If you guessed that those films were the not-yet-released Wilde Salome, 1996’s Looking for Richard and The Local Stigmatic from 1990, well, you’re lying.

This night was not about his experience making arguably the best picture of all time (The Godfather), the film he won the Oscar for (Scent of a Woman) or the movie that made him the patron saint of hip-hop gangsters (Scarface), though each were briefly discussed.

Instead, Pacino was raring to discuss his life as an actor, much of which has been spent on the boards.

Perhaps seeing that SMU theater professor Stan Wojewodski was the interviewer should have been a tip that this wasn’t going to be a walk through Pacino’s notable film roles. Instead, Pacino’s work with the Actor’s Studio, a crazy experience he had in the audience at New York’s The Living Theatre and his obsession with Shakespeare took up most of the night.

You got the feeling Pacino could have talked about this stuff for way more than the two hours he spent on the stage. I’m not sure that the audience could have endured it, though.

Imagine if you went to see the Rolling Stones and all they played were B-sides. You’d still think, “Hey, cool, it’s the Rolling Stones!” But at some point, you at least expect to hear “Gimmie Shelter.”

And that was the basic problem with the night. Pacino is a fascinating character whose true love for acting was evident. But this crowd was eager to connect with the actor they knew. And aside from a brief Q&A with the crowd, that itch was mostly left unscratched. About an hour or so into the night, he told the story about how he almost got fired from The Godfather. In the early scenes, the studio heads didn’t think he was giving very much. But that was Pacino’s M.O. as he intended to grow Michael Corleone into the ruthless monster he becomes by the end of the film. Once the suits saw the dailies from the scene in which Michael kills Sollozzo and McCluskey in the Italian restaurant, the studio knew it had its man.

Great story, huh? If only there were more of them.

Pacino wrapped up the night by doing a couple of selected readings, beginning with an e.e. cummings poem and working through a scene from David Mamet’s American Buffalo and other stage roles he’s portrayed. He closed with a stirring performance of a scene from Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending – a reminder that this is an actor capable of much more than the bombast and rage he’s known for on screen.

But by then, it had become clear that the audience was not going to get what it really came for. And the click clacking of the heels towards the exits had already begun.

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  • Anne Bothwell

    Stephen, I liked hearing Pacino talk about his theater work. To me, it’s more interesting to get him going about something I’m less familiar with. Though judging from the audience questions, many would have been happy if he spent the whole evening talking about “Scent of a Woman”. I’ve never seen “Looking for Richard,” and now I want to.

    Not sure Pacino needed a moderator though. Stan Wojewodski seemed super-prepared, but Pacino’s attention was entirely on the audience. Fascinating to watch him work it. It’s kinda cliche to say actors get their energy from performing, from an audience. But watching Pacino respond to the crowd as he talked at length about his work revealed that in a way seeing him play a character probably wouldn’t.

    The clacking heels are annoying. It’s hard to leave the Winspear quietly.

  • freddyc

    The thing is The Local Stigmatic and Looking For Richard aren’t B-sides, they are some of the most best, most interesting, revealing work this great actor (our greatest actor arguably) has ever done.

    That’s what makes him so interesting – he has the “big” films but he has a whole part of his career devoted to Art for Art’s sake. It’s the one that deepens the other – he’s not just Scarface…..he’s Shylock on Broadway right now too.

  • Jennifer

    I agree with Stephen’s take. I think a lot of what Pacino said was interesting, but a lot of it was simply rambling, and throwing out names of pretty obscure theater folk I’d never heard of. Strangely, for being such a great stage performer, Pacino really wasn’t reading his audience very well…
    And I also wonder (as I did the first time I was at the Winspear, right after it opened) what the heck they were thinking putting in wood/laminate floors!

  • Sherin Farouk

    Who cares about Mr. Pacino talking about trivia of his movies? I am sure those who agreed to attend such a night, they were well aware that this is not a common super star who sits to recount funny stories for their roles in movies, their relationship with their co stars and similar commercial stories. This man has other important issues to disclose to his audeince. This is Mr. Al Pacino. This is not any actor. He is an artist and watching him talk about his acting experience, the events that made up his talent and the outcome of all his acting experience embodied in Looking For Richard, Chinese Coffee, the Local Stigmatic and finally Salomaybe is but a golden opportunity for those who appreciate this actor and have a sense of art in them.