by Lawrence Grobel
A candid—and very rare—conversation with the enigmatic actor and superstar.
Al Pacino is pacing in his camper, parked on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, the location for the day’s shooting of his latest and most controversial picture, Cruising. While waiting for director William Freidkin to set up the next shot, he tries to relax by reading aloud all the parts from Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui to his hair stylist , secretary and make-up man. Down the street, behind a police barricade, he can hear faint shouts and the shrill whistles of the gay activists who have gathered to protest the making of this picture, which deals with homosexual murders.
“There they go,” Pacino says, interrupting his reading. “Sounds like day crickets.” The people in the camper smile, but no one is laughing, especially Pacino, who has found himself in the midst of a controversy he doesn’t understand. All his life he has shied away from social movements, political issues, marches, protests. Then, last summer, he did Richard III on Broadway—the first “Richard” done on Broadway in 30 years—and many of the critics attacked him so fiercely it seemed vindicative. No sooner did that play complete its run than Cruising began. And, once again, the press was provoked. For an actor who considers himself removed from such furor, and a man who has passionately avoided the press, the spotlight has suddenly been turned strongly his way—and this is the only major interview he has ever granted.
Alfredo James Pacino has traveled a great distance from the South Bronx of his childhood to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where he lives today. He was born April 25, 1940; his father left his mother when he was two, and he was raised by a protective mother and grandparents.
Nicknamed Sonny, his friends often called him The Actor, and though a prankster throughout his school years, in junior high he was voted most likely to succeed, mainly in recognition of his acting abilities. But what he really wanted to be was a baseball player. When they started teaching Stanislavsky’s acting principles (the Method) at the High School of Performing Arts, which he attended, he thought nothing could be more boring. He made it only through his sophomore year before the money ran out and the pressure to get a job surpassed the need to continue his education.
The succession of jobs brought him in contact with all kinds of characters. He was a messenger, shoe salesman, supermarket checker, shoe shiner, furniture mover, office boy, fresh-fruit polisher, newsboy. But he also sensed that he could be more, so he auditioned for Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, while a teenager. Rejected but undeterred, he enrolled in another actor’s studio, Herbert Berghof Studios, where he met the man who would become his mentor and closest friend, Charlie Laughton. Laughton not only taught acting and directed him in his first public play (William Saroyan’s “Hello Out There”) but also wrote poetry and introduced him to poets and writers. Pacino was accepted by the Strasberg studio four years later.
In the mid-sixties, he and a friend started writing comedy revues, which they performed in coffeehouses in Greenwich Village. He was also acting in plays in warehouses and basements. He appeared in numerous plays, including “Awake and Sing!” and “America, Hurrah”. In 1966, he received his first recognition in an off-off-Broadway production of “Why Is A Crooked Letter”. Two years later, he won an Obie for Best Actor in an off-Broadway production of “The Indian Wants the Bronx.” The following year, 1969, he was awarded his first Tony—the legitimate theater’s Oscar—for his Broadway performance in “Does A Tiger Wear a Necktie?”
Like Marlon Brando after his major stage debut in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Pacino was lured by Hollywood. He was offered about a dozen pictures before he and his then manager, Marty Bregman, decided to choose The Panic in Needle Park (though he did appear in a bit part in a Patty Duke movie called, Me, Natalie). Panic was a strange and disturbing film about a New York drug addict, and has only now picked up a cult following.
There was something, however, about Pacino that made another newcomer in Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola, choose him for a film he was about to do on the Mafia. Coppola had big ideas. He wanted not only this relatively unknown actor to play a major role in his film but also another actor not considered bankable at the time: Marlon Brando. The studio balked twice, but Coppola insisted. The result was The Godfather, a film that reversed the downward trend of Brando’s career and that shot Al Pacino into the ranks of stardom.
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Pacino was insulted (he was onscreen longer than Brando, who won—and refused—the Oscar that year) and boycotted the awards ceremony. For his third movie, Scarecrow, he chose a freewheeling rover on the road with an ex-con, played by Gene Hackman. An unsuccessful picture, it became Pacino’s most upsetting experience with the movie industry.
Still, he responded with another recognized performance in Serpico, the New York cop who exposed the New York police force for taking bribes and almost lost his life for it. This time he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. His third Oscar nomination came after his strongest performance to date, as Michael Corleone in Godfather II. This was the movie that proved that Pacino was among the rare breed of actors who would leave their mark in American cinema history.
It was a controlled and troubling performance, which put him in the hospital for exhaustion halfway through the production. But when it was completed, he signed to do another controversial and memorable film, Dog Day Afternoon, in which he played a bisexual bank robber. For the fourth time, he was nominated for an Oscar.
Hollywood continued to recognize his enormous talent, but he was still an outsider. He refused to move to California, preferring to live in a small, unpretentious apartment in Manhattan; and he refused to consider himself solely a movie actor. Pacino feels his roots are in the theater, and he returns whenever the pressure of being a movie “star” become too great.
His next movie was Bobby Deerfield, the story of a superstar race-car driver going through and identity crisis. It was also the story of Pacino and his co-star, Marthe Keller, who became an item when they decided to extend their relationship offscreen as she moved in with him. But the film didn’t work for Pacino or the public. He decided to return to Broadway to do “Richard III.”
But before he did, he completed one more picture, …And Justice for All, directed by Norman Jewison. Just released , it tells the story of an ethical lawyer fighting corruption in the judicial system. Once again, Pacino displays a wide range of acting ability that will almost certainly earn him his fifth Oscar nomination.
While his professional life has turned him into a superstar and a wealthy man (he received over $1,000,000 for …And Justice for All), his private life remains somewhat in turmoil. When he was still in his teens, he lived with a woman for a number of years. When the broke up, he lived for short periods with other women, until he met Jill Clayburgh. They lived together for five years. When that broke up (she married playwriter David Rabe), he had a relationship with Tuesday Weld, and then with Marthe Keller. That too, ended about a year and a half ago, and Pacino, who will soon turn 40, remains, like so many of the characters he plays, alone. But his attitude toward relationships and what he wants out of life is changing, as Lawrence Grobel (whose last “Playboy Interview” was with Godfather One, Marlon Brando) discovered. His report:
“My first impression of Pacino’s lifestyle brought to mind a line from “Hamlet”: “I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.” His three-room apartment consists of a small kitchen with worn appliances whose toilet is always running, and a living room that is furnished like a set for a way-off-off-Broadway production of some down-and-out city dweller. I know poor people who live in more luxury than this, I thought. Which made me instantly like this man, whose material needs are obviously slight. All around the living room, were dog-eared paperback copies of Shakespeare’s plays and stacks of scripts, including one that Costa-Garvas had recently given him based on Andre Malraux’s “Man’s Fate.”
“For the next two weeks, I saw Pacino every evening and some afternoons, our talks often continuing into the early hours of the morning. For an hour or two, he would sit or lie on the couch, then jump up and go into the kitchen to light a cigarette from the stove, check the time, walk around a bit. One night I smelled something burning and we ran into the kitchen to see a potholder in flames on the stove. Pacino picked up the teakettle and calmly, as if such things happened all the time, put out the fire. On another night, I arrived to find him downstairs in the hall, picking up the pieces of a broken Perrier bottle that he had dropped on his way to the elevator. “People wouldn’t believe I do this, but I do,” he said.
During our first few meetings, Pacino had trouble completing his thoughts—his mind jumped, his sentences dangled, he spoke in dashes and ellipses. But as we got to know each other, his sentences and thoughts became complete. He was fascinated with the actual process of being interviewed. “Nobody ever asked me for opinions,” he said.
We finished the interview on a Saturday and I was scheduled to fly back to L.A the next evening. Sunday morning, Pacino called, wanting to know when my plane was leaving. When I told him, he said, “Well, that gives us enough time for one more talk.” I put the batteries back into my tape recorders and grabbed a taxi to his place.
“Finally, it was time to say good-bye. I had 40 hours of talk on tape and close to 2000 pages of transcription to reduce. “I feel like I have played ball with you,” Pacino said as I left. “Like we know the same candy store or we remember that time when we opened a hydrant or something. It is a good feeling”. I smiled and nodded. That was exactly how I felt about him. And I think some of that good feeling comes through in the interview. Along with the doubts and hesitations, which he continued to express over the phone after I arrived in Los Angeles. He may never do another interview, but for this one, Al Pacino definitely was talking.”
PACINO: Actually, I’d rather you not put the tape on yet—until I get a little bit warmed up here.
PLAYBOY: It’s best to just leave it on and forget about it.
PACINO: Whatever you say. I’m not going to tell you how to do your job. This is so new to me.
PLAYBOY: Do you feel like this is a coming out for you?
PACINO: Definitely. It is a huge thing, this interview. There’s a certain power in these interviews that I haven’t found in profiles—a real power. Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, they can be taken seriously. I don’t know that I can be yet, because I haven’t accomplished enough things in my life.
PLAYBOY: After a lifetime of avoiding the press, what made you finally decide to talk?
PACINO: I sort of got tired of saying no, because it gets misread. The reason I haven’t before was that I just didn’t think that I would be able to do it. But after a while, you just start to feel like, why not? So I’ve been saying yes much more. I’m tired of being too careful, too protective. Actually, look what yes has done to me. I said yes to Richard III and to Cruising. No wonder I said no for so many years! (Laughs)
PLAYBOY: Want to change your mind?
PACINO: No, let me try yesses for a while.
PLAYBOY: Do you care how you come off in this?
PACINO: I want to be interesting in an interview just as much as I want to do well in a part.
PLAYBOY: Good. First, though, we’re curious: Why do you have Candice Bergen’s name on your apartment door and another name on the directory downstairs?
PACINO: For the obvious reasons—to avoid being hassled. She used to live in this apartment, but it doesn’t say Candice Bergen, it says C. Bergen. On the directory, I had Goldman for a while, but then a guy named Goldman came in and said, “Stop using my name.”
PLAYBOY: We can appreciate your desire to keep a low profile. How many people in this building know you live here?
PACINO: Everybody in the building knows. They are very considerate.
PLAYBOY: From the looks of things in this apartment, it doesn’t appear that your star status has gone to your head.
PACINO: My lifestyle changes a lot. I’ve been here five years, but it’s like I’m passing through. On your way to Bombay, you stop here, stay over and then keep going. This is the kind of place I have. It’s always been that way. I look around at places I think I should be living in, then I come back and move the couch or the piano and I’m satisfied. This is a pretty nice place.
PLAYBOY: OK. Let’s start on your current film—…And Justice for All. How do you feel about it?
PACINO: I sense a certain kind of originality in the way it is done. I have never seen a film like this before.
PLAYBOY: How do you see it?
PACINO: It’s a simple picture, really. It’s about ethics and people; about a guy who is trying to do his job and his relationship to the law. To say it’s about legal systems sounds boring, and that’s not what it is. It’s funny and poignant.
PLAYBOY: Have you had any feedback from the legal community?
PACINO: Most of the lawyers I’ve talked to are very pro the picture after having read the screenplay. One big lawyer said, “It’s just a farce.” Others have really enjoyed it. I enjoyed doing it, it was another world to travel in for a while, the world of our courts.
PLAYBOY: The build-up has it as a lawyer’s M*A*S*H.
PACINO: It didn’t seem to be that farcical. It has certain exaggerations, but it gets real…and yet not real. People who have had dealings with the law, been divorced, might have an interesting reaction to this.
PLAYBOY: What made you decide to do this one?
PACINO: Norman (Jewison) came to me with it. I said, “Norman, why don’t I get some actors together and read it for you? Then I will see how I feel after I hear it.” We read it aloud and after I finished, I said I’d do it. I thought it had a nice structure to it. It’s an unusual film because it is so verbal; you really have to pay attention to it.
PLAYBOY: How was Jewison to work with?
PACINO: He was different from anybody I have worked with before. The thing I like most about Norman is you get a sense of his involvement, he’s constantly with the movie. He broods about it. Even after it’s over, he’s with the picture—he cares about it a great, great deal.
PLAYBOY: Do you think the film can be seen as Serpico Takes on the Courts?
PACINO: Yeah, in a way. I saw a similarity to George C. Scott in The Hospital, which conveyed the feeling I had when I went into a hospital. The similarity to Serpico would be strongest. Although I find this character, Arthur Kirkland, to be less detached, more involved. I like him because of his involvement and his desire to be a part of the system. He liked his work. Only the system drives him nuts. Which creates an ethical question at the end: Is this right or not?
PLAYBOY: The ending is pretty radical—you sort of watch your character’s law career go down the drain in a rather triumphant, perhaps self-indulgent way.
PACINO: Does the audience have a sense of that? I hope they do. That guy is giving it all up. You are seeing this guy struggle; it ‘s the last time he’s going to be up there. What he’s trying to do is expose the system.
PLAYBOY: How much research did you do for the part?
PACINO: I researched it a lot. I did a lot of work with lawyers before the filming began, so I felt kind of close to the courts. At one point recently, a friend said to me he was having trouble with a contract and I just instinctively said, “Let me see that.” You get the feeling that you are able to do these things. It is crazy. I literally took it from him and began to give him a legal opinion. Can you imagine that?
PLAYBOY: Didn’t you also do something like that when you played Serpico? Try to arrest a truck driver?
PACINO: Yeah, I tried to. It was a hot summer day and I was in the back of a cab. There was this truck farting all that stuff in my face. I yelled out, “Why are you putting all that crap in the street?” He said, “Who are you?” I yelled, “I am a cop and you are under arrest, pull over!” I pulled out my Serpico badge. It was a fantasy for a moment. I told him I would put him under citizen’s arrest, but then I realized what I was doing.
PLAYBOY: Have you gotten carried away like that in any of your other pictures?
PACINO: Let me see. In The Panic in Needle Park, I was playing the part of someone dealing dope on a street corner—and there was a guy actually dealing heroin right there. I looked at him, he looked at me, and I got real confused.
PLAYBOY: Panic was your first film—were you very selective in choosing that?
PACINO: I turned down a lot of films before I made my first one. I knew that it was time for me to get into movies. I didn’t know what it would be. When The Panic in Needle Park came along, Marty Bregman pushed and helped get it together. Without him, I don’t know what I would have done. He is directly responsible for five movies. He was just a great influence on my career.
PLAYBOY: How did Bregman become your manager?
PACINO: He saw me in an off-Broadway show and said that he was willing to back me with anything I wanted to do. I didn’t quite know what he was talking about. Then he said that he would sponsor me. I still didn’t know what he meant. As it turned out, he acted as a go-between for myself and the business. It was a very important relationship. He acted as an insulator. He got me work. Encouraged me to do The Godfather. Serpico was completely his idea. He got me to do Dog Day.
PLAYBOY: Did you have a formal contract with him?
PACINO: Yes, I did. And it was expensive, but it was certainly worth it.
PLAYBOY: You’re no longer with him?
PACINO: No. Our relationship changed several years ago, then it just finally dissipated. He became a producer. It wasn’t the same anymore.
PLAYBOY: Getting back to Panic, what did you think when you first saw yourself larger than life?
PACINO: I was drunk when I saw the first screening, but I was surprised at my bounciness, that I was all over the place. I did say, though, “That’s a talented actor, be he needs work. Help. And he needs to work. And learn. But there’s talent there.” I don’t like to go on about myself. I feel sometimes that it’s not ME who has something to offer, but hopefully, my talent.
PLAYBOY: Well, unless your talent talks, you’re going to have to go on about yourself.
PACINO: (Getting up) Mind if I stand and talk to you? Walk around a bit? I wonder if it’s a competition thing, an interview. Does it become a battle or a cat-and-mouse thing? But it’s probably impossilbe to strip my defenses. How could I do that with anybody?
PLAYBOY: Are you feeling very defensive now?
PACINO: I’m in a…certain kind of condition now.
PLAYBOY: Why don’t we talk about it? It must have something to do with the fact that you’ve been filming Cruising in New York City and the set has been picketed and harassed. Gay activists have claimed the story is antihomosexual.
PACINO: I feel I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t understand it. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been in this position.
PLAYBOY: You play a cop who tracks down a killer of homosexuals, and some of the protests have been about the fact that the film shows scenes on the sadomasochistic fringes of gay life, rather than the mainstream of homosexual life.
PACINO: That’s the point! When I first read the script, I didn’t even know those fringes existed. But it’s just a fragment of the gay community, the same way the Mafia is a fragment of Italian-American life.
PLAYBOY: What does the film seem to you to be about?
PACINO: It’s a film about ambivalence. I thought the script read partly like Pinter, partly like Hitchcock, a whodunit, and adventure story.
PLAYBOY: Apparently, the gay community in New York sees it differently. Pamphlets were distributed calling the film “a rip-off” that uses gay male stereotypes as the backdrop for a story about a murderer of homosexuals.
PACINO: How can they say that without seeing the movie?
PLAYBOY: But how do you react to the charges?
PACINO: Well, it makes me feel bad. It’s actually hard for me to respond at all. When I read the screenplay, the thought of being antigay never even came to me. It never dawned on me that it would provoke those kinds of feelings. I’m coming from a straight point of view, and maybe I’m not sensitive enough in that area. But they are sensitive to the situation, and I can’t argue with that. The only thing I can say is that it isn’t a movie yet. It has not been put together as a movie.
PLAYBOY: Do you think those protests will have an effect on the outcome of the film?
PACINO: If the gay community feels the film shows them in a bad light, then it is good they are protesting, because anything that raises consciousness in this area is all right. But I hope that’s not the case. When I saw The Deer Hunter, my only reaction to some of the war scenes in Vietnam was: War is tough; I don’t want to be there. I was taken by a general wave of feeling and swept up in the horror of war. But I wasn’t thinking that the film was racist, as many accused it of being. If I had been preconditioned to think it was racist, I probably would have read that into too.
PLAYBOY: Is Cruising you most controversial project?
PACINO: There is no second to it. I thought Dog Day was going to be, but nobody bothered us on the set. Nothing else even comes close.
PLAYBOY: Don’t you feel a responsibility for some of the issues the movie raises, since it’s an Al Pacino movie?
PACINO: You’re turning this into an Al Pacino movie? Al Pacino is an actor in this movie. They way the press focuses attention on something like this is by throwing my name into it. Responsibilities are relative. My responsibility is to a character in a script, to a part I’m playing—not to an issue I’m unqualified to discuss.
PLAYBOY: But aren’t we all ultimately responsible for what we do? Isn’t what you’re saying something of a cop-out?
PACINO: I don’t think the film is antigay, but I can only repeat—I’m responsible for giving the best performance I can. I took this role because the character is fascinating, a man who is ambiguous both morally and sexually; he’s both an observer and a provocateur. It gave me an opportunity to paint a character impressionistically—a character who is something of a blur. I also took the role because Billy Freidkin is one of the best directors working today. My communication with the public is as an actor. Although I’d never want to do anything to harm the gay community—or the Italian-American community or the police community or any group I happen to represent onscreen—I can only respond in my capacity as an actor.
PLAYBOY: Since you’re halfway through the filming, what’s your sense of the movie so far?
PACINO: There’s a power to it, a certain theatricality, no doubt about that. I sensed it when I read it and I can feel it while we’re shooting it. I hope Billy’s energy comes off on the screen. It’s extraordinary to be around him. It’s like a temple he’s creating, and it lifts you. He’s a lot like Coppola in that way.
PLAYBOY: How is that?
PACINO: I remember that when I first met in a restaurant with Francis to discuss doing Godfather Two, I left absolutely filled with his inspiration; he just charged me with electricity. I wasn’t going to do Godfather Two. There’s a funny story about how much they were going to pay me for Godfather Two, before Francis convinced me. It’s about how I got that first big salary everybody talks about.
PLAYBOY: How DID you get it?
PACINO: They wanted to give me a hundred grand on the second picture, and even I knew that was…They said, “How about a hundred and fifty?” I said, “Well, I don’t think so.” They said, “How about if Puzo writes the screeplay?” I said sure. Mario wrote a screenplay, I read it and it was OK, but it wasn’t…So I said no. They went up to two. I said no. Then they went up to two-fifty and three and three-fifty. Then they made a big jump and went to four-fifty. And I said no. Then they called me into the office in New York. There was a bottle of J&B on the table. We began drinking, talking, laughing, and the producer opened his drawer and he pulled out a tin box. I was sitting on the other side and he pushed it over in my direction. He said, “What if I were to tell you that there was $1,000,000 in cash
there?” I said, “It doesn’t mean anything—it’s an abstraction.” It was the damnedest thing: I ended up kind of apologizing to the guy for not taking the million.
PLAYBOY: He was obviously making you an offer as if you were really the Mafia character you played. What made you change your mind?
PACINO: Francis told me about the script. He was so wigged out by the prospect of doing it, he would inspire anybody. The hairs on my head stood up. You can feel that sometimes with a director. I usually say, if you feel that from a director, go with him.
PLAYBOY: Let’s finish the story. You didn’t get $1,000,000 for it, you got $600,000 and ten percent of the picture; is that correct?
PACINO: I think so.
PLAYBOY: You didn’t go to 1,000,000 until Bobby Deerfield, right?
PLAYBOY: And what did you get for the first Godfather?
PACINO: For the first one, I got $35,000. And about $15,000 I owed in legal fees.
PLAYBOY: For what?
PACINO: I was involved in a movie called The Gang who Couldn’t Shoot Straight at MGM. I can’t talk too much about it, because I don’t know the details. My lawyer is taking care of it, but I was supposed to have said yes and signed for it, and then The Godfather came along. Nobody wanted me for The Godfather; I guess they wanted to cast Jack Nicholson. My agents were telling me to stick with The Gang who Couldn’t Shoot Straight. I said, “Well, I don’t know, Francis keeps telling me not to go with another picture.” It was very nerve-racking. I remember saying to Francis, “I don’ t want to be around where I’m not wanted, so please, Francis, no more auditions, no more screen tests, I can live without this picture.” He said, “No, you must play it.”
PLAYBOY: And then, after the picture was made, MGM got its lawyers after you?
PACINO: Naturally. After Godfather Two, the MGM people remembered their lawsuit against me and said I owed them a picture. It was a real crazy legal battle that was costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars. There were depositions—“What color tie did he wear when he told you that?” This craziness. Reams and reams of paper. I finally said, “There’s something really wrong here,” so I called the head of MGM and said, “What’s going on? This is in the hands of lawyers now, there’s no dialogue here, what’s up?” He and I talked face to face about the situation and we settled the whole thing. The situation was humanized. Sometimes you’re fighting corporations and forget that people can talk to each other.
PLAYBOY: How did you settle it?
PACINO: Amicably. If a project comes along, we’ll work out something. Any project that I find encouraging that isn’t attached to a studio, I can go to them, which I definitely would. There’s no more paying the lawyers. There’ s a time to get into them. You have to take an interest in what you do.
PLAYBOY: Even when you don’t understand what is going on?
PACINO: What happens is you get an inferiority complex, because you don’t feel qualified to deal with those situations and you just sort of stand there and look around and nod your head. They say, “Right?” And you say, “Yeah.” And you don’t even know what you’re saying. You don’t even listen. You pretend to listen. But you’ve got to learn what’s going down—it’s like the streets, in a sense.
PLAYBOY: We imagine you didn’t stay long with the agents who had told you to forget The Godfather.
PACINO: I changed agents. I did it on my own. There was a period where I didn’t have an agent and I called William Morris. I said, “Can I speak to the William Morris people? I’m looking for an agent.” She said, “Oh? What ’s your name?” I said, “Al Pacino.” She said, “Are you sure?”
PLAYBOY: Getting back to The Godfather, Coppola called you self-destructive after you first screen test. Why?
PACINO: Well, he was expecting me to do more in a scene. He took the dullest scene Michael had, the first wedding scene, which is an exposition scene, and I did it and he wanted me to do more. I don’t know what he expected me to do. He tested people with the wrong scene. At first I thought he wanted me for Sonny. At the time, I didn’t care if I got the part or not. The less you want things, the more they come to you. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Every time I’ve stuffed or forced something, it hasn’t been right.
PLAYBOY: Yet you always knew you’d get the part, didn’t you?
PACINO: You just get a sense of things sometimes. You just know it. It’s kind of simple to assess something if you allow it to happen. It’s when the ego and greed get in the way that it’s harder to assess what the situation is. But if you step back and you take a look at it, you can sense what’s going to happen. If I hadn’t gotten the Godfather role, it would have surprised me, frankly.
PLAYBOY: Did Coppola have you in mind before or after he had decided on Brando?
PACINO: He had Brando in his mind first, I’m sure. We were together at a party and Francis said to me, “Who do you think the Godfather should be?” I said Brando. Francis is extraordinary in that way. He just feels you out. He’s a strange kind of man. He’s a voyeur that way. I never saw the likes of him. He can detach like nobody I’ve ever seen. For a man that emotionally powerful to be able to detach the way he does…like Michael Corleone. That’s why Francis understood that character.
PLAYBOY: Did you have Francis in mind when you played Michael?
PACINO: Partly I did Francis, partly I modeled him from several people I know.
PLAYBOY: What about any real Mob figures? Did you ever meet any of the Mafia?
PACINO: Yeah. Privately. Somebody gave me a reference.
PLAYBOY: So you could observe them?
PACINO: Observe them, yes.
PLAYBOY: And they let you?
PLAYBOY: And what happened?
PLAYBOY: Are they all still alive?
PACINO: I can’t answer that.
PLAYBOY: Is what we saw on the screen styled after what you observed?
PACINO: Ah, no. It wasn’t.
PLAYBOY: Where did you meet? At a restaurant?
PACINO: Ah…in the sky. Space Station 22.
PLAYBOY: Right. What were you trying to capture when you played Michael?
PACINO: In the first Godfather, the thing that I was after was to create some kind of enigma, and enigmatic-type person. So you felt that we were looking at that person and didn’t quite know him. When you see Michael in some of those scenes looking wrapped up in a kind of trance, as if his mind were completlely filled with thoughts, that’s what I was doing. I was actually listening to Stravinsky on the set, so I’d have that look. I felt that that was the drama in the character, that that was the only thing that was going to make him dramatic. Otherwise, it could be dull. I never worked on a role quite like that. It was the most difficult part I’ve ever played.
PLAYBOY: There are numerous stories of actors perfoming with Brando for the first time. What’s your feeling about him?
PACINO: There’s no doubt every time I see Brando that I’m looking at a great actor. Whether he’s doing great acting or not, you’re seeing somebody who is in the tradition of a great actor. What he does with it, that’s something else, but he’s got it all. The talent, the instrument is there, that’s why he has endured. I remember when I first saw On the Waterfront. I had to see it again, right there. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t leave the theater. I had never seen the likes of it. I couldn’t believe it.
PLAYBOY: What was your first meeting like?
PACINO: Well, Diane Keaton was at that first meeting. We went in and sat at a table and everybody was pretending that he was just another actor, even though we were all nervous. But Diane was open enough to admit how she felt. She sat at the table and Brando said hello to me and to Diane. And Diane said, “Yeah, right, sure,” as if she couldn’t believe it. She really did it. She said, “I just cannot take that.”
PLAYBOY: And afterward?
PACINO: You can’t imagine my feelings during the first rehearsal with Brando. It was Jimmy Caan and Bobby Duvall and me, all sitting around, and there’s Brando going on about the Indians. Francis is saying to himself, This is the first rehearsal, what’s going to happen tomorrow? We have two more weeks of this. And Duvall was making these faces. I had to leave and sit on the bed, because I was laughing and I didn’t want to have Brando think we were laughing at him. Duvall finally said, “Keep talking, Marlon, none of us want to work, just keep talking.” With that, Marlon laughed. I will never forget Brando the first time I did a scene with Keaton. He came and stood right in front of the camera and watched. During the scene at the table, a leaf fell off the tree onto my shoulder. I took off the leaf and tossed it and later Brando said, “I like what you did with the leaf.” Afterward, Diane and I just got drunk. But Brando was wonderful to me. He made me laugh, the things he’d do. I’d be playing a scene, and he’d show up offcamera, straight-faced, with a silly fake bird in his pocket. His support was so powerful, it helped me a great deal. What can you say about someone that gracious? He made it so easy.
PLAYBOY: People have said that artistically , you are Brando’s godson.
PACINO: People have said that. I don’t feel anywhere near that. It’s meaningless, like saying I have green hair.
PLAYBOY: There’s a rare quote attributed to you about the Godfather: “They may have come to see Brando, but they left remembering me.” Did you say that?
PACINO: I never said that.
PLAYBOY: Did you have a good time making the Godfather films?
PACINO: Actually, except for Francis, I felt really unwanted on the set. And except for Al Ruddy, who was incredibly helpful and good. And with Francis, although I had personality differences with him, those were his performances, he made them. And he knew it. He’d say, “I created you—you’ re my Frankenstein monster.” Another time, he put me in elevator shoes and said, “What’s wrong with you? You’re walking like Donald Duck!” I said, “get those lifts out of my shoes and I may move straighter.
PLAYBOY: In fact, you did walk and move differently as Michael, didn’t you?
PACINO: I had to move in a different way than I’ve ever moved before. All heavy. Especially in Two.
PLAYBOY: Do you have a favorite scene in either of the Godfather films—a moment you’re particularly proud of?
PACINO: I have one moment in Godfather Two nobody sees it. Michael and his sad brother Fredo are in Cuba, seeing the Superman show in the night club, and Fredo tells Michael, “Johnny always used to take me here.” And you see in that moment that Michael realizes his brother betrayed him. That’s my favorite moment, but it’s subtle. After the scene, I was taken to the hospital, the next day.
PLAYBOY: From exhaustion?
PACINO: Yeah. We were shooting in the Dominican Republic and I was being treated like a prince or something. Eight bodyguards and all, which was unnecessary. It was very disconcerting. I got physically ill. I was just overworking in that part.
PLAYBOY: How would you rate that part against the others you’ve played?
PACINO: Of all the parts, I’m most satisfied with Godfather Two. It was the most important.
PLAYBOY: Is there a Godfather III in the future?
PACINO: There was a scene, which was only half shot, where Michael’s son comes back to visit him. The kid talks about how he wanted to join the family business. And I tell him that he should give it more time. But they didn’t shoot it all, which I found hard to believe.
PLAYBOY: Why didn’t they shoot it?
PACINO: We lost the light. Maybe if we hadn’t, we’d be hearing about Godfather III.
PLAYBOY: Perhaps it’s a good thing, because you followed that with another remarkable performance in Dog Day Afternoon.
PACINO: You know I almost never got to do that film?
PACINO: I quit once. Dustin Hoffman was going to do it. I was the original one, and then Dustin, and then it went back to me.
PLAYBOY: Why did you quit it?
PACINO: I had just done Godfather Two and I was tired of films. I just didn’t want to make a movie. I found it a hassle. I had done years of stage and I thought I was one of those actors who couldn’t adjust to film, because it was too laborious. I guess I was just too tough on myself. I was working in a medium I didn’t know and I felt unsure.
PLAYBOY: Why did you decide to do it?
PACINO: Because Frank Pierson wrote a terrific screenplay. And I had strong feelings for that kind of character. See, there’re three reasons I take a screenplay: The director, text and character. If I relate greatly to the director, the text is pretty good and I think I can do something with the character, I might take it. Or, if I can relate greatly to the character and the text and director are OK, I’ll take it, too. As long as there’s one really strong positive in it. That’s how I pick things now. Before, all three had to be great.
PLAYBOY: Is that how you felt about the script, the character and director, Sidney Lumet, of Dog Day Afternoon?
PACINO: Yeah. Pierson had structured it quite beautifully, he really made it sing, it was alive. And Sidney Lumet is a genius in staging; he never tells you a word; just by the way he has you move, the scene comes alive. He pointed me in a direction and said, “Go here and go there.” It’s extraordinary.
PLAYBOY: There’s a truly memorable scene in that film where you come out of the bank screaming, “Attica! Attica!” Was that an important scene to you?
PACINO: Yeah, I sensed that kind of rush. Lumet helped me with that. He said, “It’s HIS day in the sun, with all those people out there.” Charging at windmills, somebody once said to me. But there’s another moment that, I think, made it the kind of film that got received univerally.
PLAYBOY: What moment?
PACINO: When the delivery boy delivers the pizza and then turns around to the crowd and says, in effect, “I’m a star!” It hit right where we’re at—the kind of energy wrapped up in the media and with imagery and fantasy and film. We don’t know enough about the media yet, we don’t know it’s effect on us. It’s new. It’s got to do something to us.
PLAYBOY: Did you sense that Dog Day was an explosive kind of picture?
PACINO: Yes. My friend Charlie Laughton saw the film and said to me, “Al, do you know what it is like? It is like pulling a pin out of a hand grenade and waiting for it to explode.” I remember Lumet saying to me at one point, “It is out of my hands. It has got it’s own life.
PLAYBOY: Have you felt that with any other picture?
PACINO: With Serpico. It had that kind of pace.
PLAYBOY: What drew you to that picture?
PACINO: I read the treatment and thought, another cop picture. Then Waldo Salt came over with a screenplay that I could relate to and I was there. Then I met Frank Serpico. The moment I shook his hand and looked into his eyes, I understood what that movie could be. I thought there was something there that I could play.
PLAYBOY: Did you prepare for the part by hanging out with him?
PACINO: Yes. I went out with the cops one night, did about five minutes of that and said, “I can’t do this stuff.” So I would just sort of hang around Frank, long enough to sort of feel him. One time we were out at my rented beach house in Montauk. We were sitting there looking at the water. And I thought, well I might as well be like everybody and ask a silly question, which was, “Why Frank?” Why did you do it?” He said, “Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I have to say it would be because…if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?” I mean, what a way of putting it! That’s the kind of guy he was. I enjoyed being with him. There was mischief in his eyes.
PLAYBOY: Frank Serpico is living by himself on a farm in Holland. Is the piece we saw together on one of the TV news-magazine shows the same man you knew?
PACINO: No. That was what was so shocking. He looked as if he didn’t belong there. Not natural.
PLAYBOY: He seemed to possess a certain resigned wisdom.
PACINO: Yes. Resigned wisdom—he would laugh at that. He is a funny kind of guy. He was a loner. A man of intelligence. He’ll be back on the police force.
PLAYBOY: Pauline Kael, in her review of Serpico, wrote that as you grew your beard, she couldn’t distinguish you from Dustin Hoffman.
PACINO: Is that after she had the shot glasses removed from her throat?
PLAYBOY: Is that really insulting to you?
PACINO: Why did you ask me that question?
PLAYBOY: To piss you off. (Laughter).
PACINO: Really. I’m too good, right. I’m really too nice.
PLAYBOY: We’ll find out.
PACINO: We got time. If somebody says something like that, I can’t retort to it. It has to do with what was going through her head at the
time. It seems beside the point.
PLAYBOY: Kael wrote, “Pacino’s poker face and offhand fast throwaways keep the character remote.”
PACINO: Are you kidding me or what? Why was she pissed at me, I wonder? Sometimes the things that piss people off …Well, I piss myself off, too sometimes. When I’ve seen myself onscreen from time to time, I’ve said, “Who does he think he is, smirking like that? Or, “Why doesn’t he take a bath?” But that film seemed pretty good to me.
PLAYBOY: What other films seem pretty good to you?
PACINO: Bang the Drum Slowly is my all-time favorite film. I saw that three or four times. I’d like to go see it again. The baseball motif, the quality of the relationship between Moriarity and De Niro, is beautiful. Maybe I relate to it because I wanted to be a baseball player. For some reason, people don’t talk about that movie.
PLAYBOY: You and De Niro are friends, aren’t you?
PACINO: Yeah, I know Bobby pretty well. He’s a friend. He and I have gone through similar things. There was a period in my life when it was very important that I get together with somebody I could identify with.
PLAYBOY: Those must have been strange conversations, since neither of you is very talkative. How did you communicate at first?
PACINO: Sign language.
PLAYBOY: That’s probably what the press would have to do to interview him.
PACINO: He’s always very quiet, it’s an inherent thing. He’s really honest about that. I think that the press respects that. They don’t push him. He does talk with me, though.
PLAYBOY: Do you see any similarities between you and De Niro professionally?
PACINO: I can only judge by what I see on film. I don’t see similarities between me and Bobby. The same thing with Dustin; I don’t see it, although I think he’s great.
PLAYBOY: What other films besides “Bang the Drum Slowly” do you like?
PACINO: I liked “Viva Zapata.” I liked Gielgud in “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. I like the “Loves of Isadora” with Vanessa Redgrave; she’s a great actress. I loved Nick Nolte in “North Dallas Forty”. I like going to see Olivier. And Walter Matthau, I go see all his movies. When first saw “8 ½,” I liked it a lot. I loved “La Strada.” I wasn’t crazy about “Amacord.” I don’t like the Bond films.
PLAYBOY: What about “Star Wars?”
PACINO: Didn’t see it.
PLAYBOY: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind?”
PACINO: Yeah, I saw that one.
PLAYBOY: Any reactions? If a spaceship landed in front of you (laughter), would you go up in it?
PACINO: Yeah, but not with Richard Dreyfuss. (Laughs).
PLAYBOY: How did you feel when you saw “Saturday Night Fever” and spotted the poster of yourself—in your Serpico beard—on the wall of John Travolta’s room?
PACINO: I ducked. I was watching the screen and I muttered, “That’s not Al Pacino, that’s Serpico.” Sometimes I talk aloud in a movie theater. Like in “The Good-Bye Girl,” with Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, one of the characters says to the other, “Nobody knew Al Pacino before The Godfather, and I yelled up at the screen, “You’re full of shit, Marsha. You were in a one-act play with me before The Godfather!
PLAYBOY: That was during a regular screening at a movie theater?
PACINO: Yeah. Sometimes I’ll do that.
PLAYBOY: Did people turn and stare at you?
PACINO: No, I think Dreyfuss looked down at me from the screen and said, “Shush, Al.” (Laughs).
PLAYBOY: What other movies have you liked lately?
PACINO: I liked “Norma Rae.” “A Little Romance.” I like this new girl, Laura Antonelli, in “Till Marriage Do Us Part.” She’s a find, a striking actress.
PLAYBOY: What actress do you most admire?
PACINO: Julie Chrisite is just about my favorite actress in the world. I love her. She’s the most poetic of all the actresses.
PLAYBOY: What about the so-called bankable actresses, such as Streisand, Fonda, Dunaway? Would you like to act with any of them?
PACINO: They’re all exciting actresses, but the fact is, I don’t know them very well. And you don’t get to know anybody in a movie until after it’s over. You work less together in a film than you do onstage. Onstage, you’ re out there together, but in a film, they shoot her, they shoot me. Unless the project is originated together or you have rehearsal time to develop something. Like, Diane Keaton was talking to me about doing a movie. We’ll get together with it, read it a few times and try to develop seomthing. I know Diane from working with her before; we’re friends. I think we could maybe do a comedy together. You know, the reason she works with Woody is that familiarity; it takes the edge off.
PLAYBOY: How do you think you’d go over in a comedy?
PACINO: You didn’t know this, but that’s what I did before 1968. I wrote comedy. I directed and acted in revues that I wrote in coffeehouses and like that. I pretty much spent my time doing comedy. But there’s a strange thing going on that bothers me. I don’t understand it. They’re doing surveys, they actually do this at universities, and they ask people what they want to see. They don’t want to see me in comedies, they want to see me in certain serious roles. So that’s what’s going to come my way. There are studio heads who say, “No, no, no you don’t want to put him in this, put him in that.” It goes back to the old days, when you had your studio saying, “We have to put him only in romantic parts.” So where is the opportunity? Maybe I’m being stubborn, but I refuse to look at myself that way, that I’m a commodity. This is such a commercial medium, and I understand and appreciate that. You can’t ignore the amount of money you’re given for this thing and say you’re going to do some kind of art film. But it’s disturbing to me when I hear they’re taking polls and want me only in serious stuff. It’s strange, since I have not done a comedy yet.
PLAYBOY: There are comedic moments in …And Justice for All.
PACINO: But it isn’t the kind of comedy that I want to do. I really want to do the all out Buster Keaton-type comedy. Slapstick. That’s what I did, that’s what I wrote: We were clowns. I used to think of myself as a comedian, believe it or not. I’ve always admired comedians. Their minds, the way in which they se the world is so striking, the way they juxtapose things, the way they can see humor in people. There’s a liberation in that.
PLAYBOY: Do you like Mel Brooks and Woody Allen?
PACINO: Mel Brooks will have these flashes in his films; you laugh for hours afterward. I wonder how he is, what he’s like. The same with Woody; I go to see all of his films. Dick Van Dyke is also one of my favorites.
PLAYBOY: Who do you think is the best actor in America?
PACINO: Among the post-Brando actors—I call it post-Brando, it was about ten years after Brando that a lot of actors….There are so many fine actors….I don’t know. George C Scott.
PLAYBOY: Do you remember that scene of Scott’s at the end of “The Hustler,” when Paul Newman is walking out of the pool hall and Scott is sitting there and suddenly screams—
PACINO: (As Scott) “YOU OWE ME MONEY!!” Very strong movie.
PLAYBOY: What other actors have you admired?
PACINO: Gary Cooper was kind of a phenomenon—his ability to take some thing and elevate it, give it such dignity. One of the great presences. Charles Laughton was my favorite. Jack Nicholson has that kind of persona; he’s also a fine actor. Mitchum’s great. Lee Marvin, too. These guys are terrific actors.
PLAYBOY: What about some of the younger actors. Such as John Travolta or Richard Gere?
PACINO: Travolta’s a very talented young actor. I never saw Gere’s acting. Oh, I saw him in “Days of Heaven.”
PLAYBOY: Some critics say he’s a young Al Pacino.
PACINO: Young Al Pacino, huh? (Laughter) You said that, not me. Talk like that, you’re never going to get me to bed. (More laughter).
PLAYBOY: Oh, yeah, that’s what your character says to the girl in …And Justice for All. Have you ever compared yourself to anyone? To a Nicholson, De Niro, Brando? In the privacy of your room, do you look into the mirror and think—
PACINO: When I look in the mirror, I think of…Gary Cooper. Naturally. (Laughs) No, I don’t think I ever did.
PLAYBOY: You and Nicholson were involved in a Best Actor race for the Oscar that many people felt was extremely close—your performance in Dog Day Afternoon and his in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Did you think you’d get it?
PACINO: No, I never thought I’d get it.
PLAYBOY: You thought Nicholson would?
PLAYBOY: Do you feel he deserved it?
PACINO: Yeah, I did. He’d been out there a while, he’s made a lot of different films, he’s been great.
PLAYBOY: Would you have turned the role down?
PACINO: Yes, I would have turned that down.
PLAYBOY: Because of Dog Day?
PACINO: No, because I thought “Cuckoo’s Nest” was a kind of a trap. It’s one of those built parts; I don’t think it has much depth. Commercially, it ’s very good, but as far as being a really terrific role, I don’t think it is.
PLAYBOY: You still don’t?
PACINO: Yeah. I just don’t see much depth in that role.
PLAYBOY: But you said that you thought Nicholson deserved the Oscar for it.
PACINO: Who said that?
PLAYBOY: You did.
PACINO: When did I say that?
PLAYBOY: A little while ago.
PACINO: I’ll bet you $5,000 I didn’t say it.
PLAYBOY: Five thousand dollars? You SAID it. Would you really bet?
PACINO: I’d bet ya $5,000. Yeah
PLAYBOY: You would?
PLAYBOY: OK. After you read this, you can send the check care of Playboy. So, if you didn’t think he did, do you think you did?
PACINO: (Smiling) You really want to corner me, don’t you?
PLAYBOY: You’ve been sitting on it too long. It’s got to come out.
PACINO: You’re asking, Do I think I deserved the Academy Award for Dog Day Afternoon? Not any less than he did. For that.
PLAYBOY: Do you think you deserved it more than he did
PACINO: What do you think? WHAT DO YOU THINK?
PLAYBOY: Now we’re cooking. Did you think “Cuckoo’s Nest” deserved to win for Best Picture?
PACINO: Did it win?
PACINO: It won? Well, I didn’t think so. If you asked me, Did I like “Cuckoo’s Nest?” I have to tell you I didn’t. Did you?
PACINO: Finally, we disagree on something. Finally.
PLAYBOY: What the hell.
PACINO: Get out of my house, then. (Laughs).
PLAYBOY: What about the year before, when you and De Niro were up for Godfather Two? He got it for—
PACINO: Yeah, for supporting.
PLAYBOY: And you were up for Best Actor. Do you remember who won?
PACINO: Art Carney.
PLAYBOY: Well, you understand that. Can’t you?
PACINO: You really are a wise-ass, you know. “You can understand that.” Talk about putting words in my mouth.
PLAYBOY: You really felt you deserved it for Godfather Two?
PACINO: I think you’ve got to really get your act together about “deserving” Oscars. You really are off there.
PLAYBOY: It’s not the fact that you didn’t get it, you mean, it’s the fact that someone else did that could disturb you?
PACINO: Whoever gets it deserves it. Deserves it for what? If you had to get down to the nitty-gritty and say, “If these actors were doctors and I have to have open-heart surgery, which one would I choose?—then we’re talking.
PLAYBOY: But you do care about these things?
PACINO: Let me say, honestly, I don’t care. I do not give a shit. Honestly.
PLAYBOY: But you did get excited about the Nicholson thing. Enough to forget what you said, anyway. So you care a little bit.
PACINO: Ah ho. You’re starting to get to me now. If I don’t give a shit whether I win or not, what difference does it make?
PLAYBOY: None at all.
PACINO: What I mean, basically, is if I won the award, that’s terrific. I’ ve won awards. And they didn’t make me feel bad winning them, I’ll tell you that. They made me feel pretty good. But it also did not make me feel bad NOT winning the Academy Award. I will honestly say I felt…the same. I didn’t feel as though I was cheated or that I deserved something and didn’t get it. That’s honest. That’s true. Now, if you ask me whether Jack Nicholson deserved it or not—if he got it, he deserved it. Fuck ‘em.
PLAYBOY: Well, you’ve been nominated four times and you most probably will be again for …And Justice for All. Would you do anything to subtly campaign for it as some actors do?
PACINO: I wouldn’t personally, but I can understand somebody campaigning for that. There are certain manipulations that go on, certain favoritisms, partialities. I don’t know where, specifically, but I can sense them. I’ve experienced having lost four years in a row. It’s strange. You feel good being nominated, then you get turned into some kind of loser when you don’t win it. You’ve been feeling terrific and suddenly you’ve got all these people consoling you. Real strange.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever gone to the Academy ceremonies?
PACINO: I was at the Oscars once, for Serpico. That was the second time I was nominated. I was sitting in the third or fourth row with Diane Keaton. Jeff Bridges was there with his girl. No one expected me to come. I was a little high. Somebody had done something to my hair, blew it or something, and I looked like I had a bird’s nest on my head, a real mess. I sat there and tried to look indifferent because I was so nervous. Any time I’m nervous, I try to put on an indifferent or a cold look. At one point, I turned to Jeff Bridges and said, “Hey, looks like there won’t be time to get to the Best Actor awards.” He gave me a stange look. He said, “Oh, really?” I said, “It’s over, the hour is up.” He said, “It’s three hours long.” I thought it was an hour TV show, can you imagine that? And I had to pee—bad. So I popped a valium. Actually, I was eating valium like they were candy. Chewed on them. Finally came the Best Actor. Can you imagine the shape I was in? I couldn’t have made it to the stage. I was praying, “Please don’t let it be me. Please.” And I hear…”Jack Lemmon.” I was just so happy I didn’t have to get up, because I never would have made it.
PLAYBOY: Before Serpico, you were up for Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather. Do you feel you were in the wrong category?
PACINO: Oh, sure. Definitely. That was outrageous. It’s things like that that get you a little sour. I decided to pass the ceremonies by. There were certain people around me who wanted to write a letter, who wanted to announce that I would not accept the nomination. I would always say, “Let it go. Let it go. Don’t make waves.” But then, even though I didn’t go, I watched it on TV. I felt bad. I didn’t care for that kind of contradiction.
PLAYBOY: In the future, will you attend?
PACINO: I feel a little bit guilty if I don’t go. It’s more than likely that I would attend. A couple of awards I’ve won, I was to caught up at that time and had gone through too many strange periods to understand what they were about. To be able to finally understand what appreciation is, enjoying the moment…Take it for what it is.
PLAYBOY: Do you think you might ever turn down an award, as Brando and Scott have?
PACINO: I can’t forsee that. At one time, I didn’t see myself having an interview with Playboy, so anyting’s possible.
PLAYBOY: We’ve been talking mostly about your film career, but the fact is, you’ ve put a lot more of your time into the theater. Do you consider yourself more deeply involved with the stage?
PACINO: Yes, I would say I am more concerned with the plays I’m going to do than the movies. I’m more comfortable in a play. In film, there’s always a certain sense of control, of holding back. The stage is different ; there’s more to act. There are more demands put on you, more experiences to go through. It is a different craft when it is on stage. The play is the source, it is orchestrated with words. In a movie, you are not dealing with as much as that. There are machines and wires. When you’re acting for a camera, it keeps taking and never giving back. When you perform with a live audience, the audience comes back to you, so that you and the audience are giving to each other, in a sense. It’s an extraordinary thing. It’s wild turf up there. The time I was doing Pavlo Hummel in Boston, I made connection with a pair of eyes in the audience and I thought, This is incredible, these eyes are penetrating me. I went through the whole performance just relating to those eyes, giving the whole thing to those eyes. I couldn’t wait at curtain to see who it was. When curtain call finally came, I looked in the direction of those eyes and it was a seeing eye dog. (Laughs) Belonged to a blind girl. I couldn’t get over it—the compassion and intensity and the understanding in those eyes…and it was a dog. What a profession!
PLAYBOY: Is there ever a time when a play is like a film?
PACINO: You know what’s close to a film? When you’re doing a play and the critics come. One wishes that they would come when you do not know it, then they would be able to see a process. When I know somebody is in the audience, I want to say, see how wonderful I am, look how terrific I’m doing here. And everything goes right out the window. I blow it. It takes away from a certain spontaneity.
PLAYBOY: You tried to prevent that from happening when you refused to have an opening night for your Richard lll on Broadway earlier this year. But it didn’t seem to work, you got clobbered pretty badly by some of the press.
PACINO: I knew that we were going to get hit. It was unavoidable. You figure, well, if you spread it out, it would be easier. All it wound up being was instead of one opening night, four. I thought, well, gee, this isn’t working right, you know?
PLAYBOY: How did you know you were going to get hit?
PACINO: The Richard I did was different, it was a departure. We did it in 1973 at the Loeb Theater in Boston, but it wasn’t very good. So we moved it to a Church…and the thing took off. Something happened. Three hundred people would come. I came out of the pulpit and put my head out and talked through a microphone. The concept had continuity and consistency. The Times came and Time Magazine and the reviews were encouraging. So I thought of doing it again. But when we took it out of the Church and put it in the theater, things changed. Before, it had a concept; now it didn’t.
PLAYBOY: Have you seen Olivier’s film of Richard lll?
PACINO: I never saw anyone do it and I didn’t want to see anyone do it. Although I would imagine seeing him would naturally widen my understanding of it.
PLAYBOY: There aren’t many stars of your caliber willing to take the risk of doing Shakespeare on Broadway. Why did you do it?
PACINO: To stop smoking, for what other reason? You can’t smoke when you do Richard lll Are there reasons for people’s doing things? What is a risk? It’s a risk NOT to take risks. Otherwise, you can go stale, repeat yourself. I don’t feel like a person who takes risks. Yer there’s something within me that must provoke controversy, because I find it wherever I go.
PLAYBOY: What did you think of Richard Dreyfuss’ comic interpretation of Richard lll in “The Goodbye Girl?”
PACINO: (Sardonic smile).
PLAYBOY: Richard Eder, in “The New York Times,” wrote, “The stage bristles with cross purposes, crossed purposes, dim purposes and Mr. Pacino’s purposes.
PACINO: Yeah, I imagine it mush have been true, what he said. It’s what it was. It had flaws. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad, either. There was something going on and the people were coming. The main thing was that people felt the connection with Shakespeare. I’ve always felt somewhere within me some connection to the Elizabethan temperment. It excites me, serves me.
PLAYBOY: But do poor reviews also discourage you from doing it again?
PACINO: You know, there WERE some good notices. But there’s too much going on to really dwell on that. Kitty Winn once told her grandmother how affected she was by the criticism of The Panic in Needle Park. Her grandmother said, “Well, that’s awful, you should quite.” Of course, she didn’t, but that’s your alternative. Or you can lament about it. The thing is in doing it, that’s what it’s about. Not in the results of it. The one I love is what Wallenda said, you know, the(trapeze artists) Flying Wallendas? The accident they had? He was up there and they said, “How can you go up again after that tragedy?” And he said, “Life’s on the wire, the rest is just waiting.” That’s where life is for me. That’s where it happens. And it does. In a lot of ways, the controversy over Richard has only made me feel like I want to do it again. It has encouraged me. I don’ t mean that as a backlash. The critics certainly weren’t encouraging. I guess one of the great pleasures in my life was just going through this Richard lll sequence. It opened the door again to say, well I’m doing things. I survived this, you know, having worn through it, having watched and learned. I’m glad I did it. It was very valuable to me.
PLAYBOY: Would you be more specific about what you learned from the Richard experience?
PACINO: Something challenging—where you get hit hard, when it’s not smooth—often illuminates what other people think and alters your own perspective. And that kind of metamorphosis is a positive, cathartic experience. After 70 performances of Richard, something started to happen. A scene that I thought I would never get or understand. I began to understand. I knew that there was a lot I had to learn. That’s why I can’t wait to get back on the stage. See, repetition is a big thing with me. That’s technique, repeating. Someone once said, “Repetition keeps me green.” I like that saying. Also, doing a play like Richard lll is being involved with worlds, with where we’re from. Four hundred years ago, people were saying and going through those exact same things. You feel that connection, you get that sense of universality, of being a part of things.
PLAYBOY: As an actor, though, can you really make those connections? Or do you feel like an outsider, an interpreter?
PACINO: Actors are always outsiders. It’s necessary to be able to interpret—and that gets distorted when you become famous. Our roots are always outside—we’re wayward vagabonds, minstrels, outcasts. And that may explain why so many of us want to be accepted in the mainstream of life. And when we are—here’s the contradiction—we sometimes lose our outsider’s edge.
PLAYBOY: One would think that you’d be more hardened to criticism than sensitive to it after spending all your life in the theater.
PACINO: It used to worry me what people said about me. I’m learning not to worry as much. Sometimes you feel critics are wrong all the time, but I don ’t take objection to it, because that’s the way it goes. They can be wrong, they can be right. They can be cruel, they can be kind. For instance, Walter Kerr, who is now the top reviewer for “The New York Times.” I dislike what he believes. There is no doubt about his knowledge, but he hurt me. Two things he said hurt me. It was the only time in my career that I felt that I would confront him on a couple of things he said.
PLAYBOY: What were they?
PACINO: What he said about Pavlo Hummel. There was something in what he said that profoundly scared me. He said that a character like that was unimportant as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.”
PLAYBOY: What was Kerr’s criticism of Richard?
PACINO: He said I didn’t belong in Shakespeare. But Shakespeare is one of the reasons I’ve stayed an actor. Sometimes I spend full days doing Shakespeare by myself, just for the joy of reading it, saying those words….I do Shakespeare when I am feeling a certain way. Sometimes I will sit here for a day and a night acting out parts. I can go for ten hours straight. Maybe it goes back to the way I worked things out in my subconscious when I was very small, when I went home and acted all the parts in the movies I’d seen. People are always asking me to do Shakespeare—at home, at colleges, on film locations, in restaurants. It’s like playing a piece of music, getting all the notes. It’s great therapy.
PLAYBOY: Is that what acting is for you?
PACINO: More than that; I have a need to do it. My favorite line in Richard lll is, “Nay, for a need.” FOR THE NEED! The need is everything. That is what it is about. Appetite and need. (Here, Pacino takes a cookie from a bag in the floor and dips it into his Perrier water.)
PLAYBOY: Do you know what you just did?
PACINO: (Looks down, laughs) Now I’m dipping my cookies in water. Next thing you know, I’ll be sitting on the window sill.
PLAYBOY: There’s a box of cookies on top of your refrigerator, the majority of which are half eaten. Is it that you don’t expect many visitors or you don’ t care if you offer them half-eaten cookies?
PACINO: Half a cookie? I have to see that to believe it.
PLAYBOY: You mean you don’t know you do that? (Pacino gets up, goes into the kitchen, discovers the box of half-eaten cookies.)
PLAYBOY: OK, tough question: What’s your favorite cookie?
PACINO: My favorite cookie? Lavagetto. Cookie Lavagetto played third base for Brooklyn in 1910. I once knew a bartender I used to call Cookie. “Hey, Cookie, let me have a couple of beers.”
PLAYBOY: What is your favorite food?
PACINO: Now you’re sounding like Barbara Walters. Spaghetti and meatballs. There is no second to that.
PLAYBOY: Not even the head of lettuce and celery sticks you’ve been eating for dinner as we’ve been talking?
PACINO: (Laughs) I’m usually stuffing things down my mouth. I can get something in the kitchen and on the way to the living room it’s gone. (Takes a box of blueberries from the refrigerator.) Now I’m going to start eating blueberries.
PLAYBOY: As you do, let’s talk about your childhood.
PACINO: I come from the South Bronx—a true descendant of the melting pot. I grew up in a really mixed neighborhood; it was a very integrated life. There were certain tensions that usually had to do with one’s income situation. Being an only child, I had difficulty with competition. I wasn’ t allowed out until I went to school at about six; that’s when I started to integrate with other kids. I was very shy. It wasn’t very pleasant going to school at that age and having the feeling that you might get beat up any day. I think a lot of kids suffer from that kind of tension. I didn’t know how to protect myself very well, because I never learned it. I learned to wrestle, I learned defensive fighting at a young age, because when someone hit me, I would throw up and fall down. Once, I was doing a tightrope walk on a very thin rail up about five feet. I slipped and fell and the rail hit me right in the crotch. My friends laughed. I got up, walked about 20 feet, feel down. Got up and walked 30 feet and fell. Then I crawled up against the building and some of the big guys came and carried me to my aunt ’s house. My mother and grandmother came over and there were these three ladies looking at my private parts. I was lying prostrate on my back and they were all looking and playing with me! I must have been nine. Then one time I was playing guns in the lots and there was this barbed-wire fence. I caught my lip on the barbed wire. My friend was shooting, “Gotcha. Gotcha, you’re not falling, I gotcha.” I was screaming and he said, “Yeah, but you’ re dead! You’re dead!” This guy finally runs up and tells my mother that
I ’m hanging from my lip. She fainted dead away.
PLAYBOY: You were raised by your grandparents and your mother because you were still a baby. Was it tough?
PACINO: My mother kept a curfew when I had to be upstairs. I needed that, it gave me a sense of right and wrong, a sense of security. She used to take me to the movies at a very young age; that’s how I started acting. My grandfather raised me. He never raised a hand to me. He didn’t talk much. He wasn’t demonstrative. He didn’t display his feelings much in terms of affection. But he was there. I found myself touching him a lot. It was just great to kiss him sometimes. I guess he knew I was an actor, because I used to love to hear him tell me stories about what it was like in New York in East Harlem in the early 1900’s. I would bring him out more than anybody else did. I don’t think anybody else was interestd. He would just string these yarns for hours on the roof. I would spend nights up there, him talking to me. It’s almost like a grandfather and grandson on a fishing boat, but we were in the South Bronx, up on a roof.
PLAYBOY: What were his stories about?
PACINO: His immigration here, how his mother came first, what it was like. His mother died when he was four. He quit school and went to work at nine on a coal truck. Every time he’d come home from work, I’d be playing in the lot and I’d wait for him to come by. I would ask him for a nickel. He would always “kvetch” about it, but he’d bend down deep, way down, like he was going into his shoe. And he would come up with his nickel. How DID he finger the nickel?
PLAYBOY: Would you say he provided a role model for you?
PACINO: I imagine he did, yes. My grandfather was a provider. Work, any kind of work, was the joy of his life. So I grew up having a certain relationship to work. It was something that I always wanted.
PLAYBOY: In …And Justice for All there’s a touching scene in which you visit your grandfather, played by Lee Strasberg, and you say to him, “You cared for me, you loved me, but your son was a shit.” Is that getting pretty close to your background.
PACINO: That was the screenplay. No, I didn’t have those feelings when I played the character. There are people whose sense of reality is very strong, who have a sense of honesty. Lee Strasberg is like that, my grandfather was like that. These are the kinds of men I’ve had close relationships with.
PLAYBOY: What about that line, though? Was your father, in real life, a shit?
PACINO: No, no. My relationship with my father wasn’t a close one, but he saw me throughout my life. He would come and see me and visit. When I was younger, I stayed with him for a while. Sometimes four or five years would go by before I saw him, but he always tried to communicate with me. (Puts hand into empty box.) I think I ate the whole box of blueberries.
PLAYBOY: What was school like for you? Weren’t you once put in an emotionally disturbed class?
PACINO: I was, for a couple of days.
PLAYBOY: What for?
PACINO: Pranks. I carried on a lot. I was in a library class, sitting in the back, pushing all the books until the book end would fall and make a noise. I did it once too often and they threw me out. They put me in what they called the ungraded class, but I wasn’t there long.
PLAYBOY: What did you imagine you’d grown up to be?
PACINO: I wanted to be a baseball player, naturally, but I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I just had a kind of energy, I was a fairly happy kid, although I had problems in school. In the eighth grade, the drama teacher wrote my mother a letter saying she should encourage me. I used to recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” And I would read the Bible in the auditorium. That was the first time I heard of Marlon Brando. I was in a play and they said, “Hey, Marlon Brando—this guy acts like Marlon Brando.” Isn’t that weird? I was about 12. I guess it was because I was supposed to get sick onstage and I really did get sick every time we did this play. Actually, the person I related to was James Dean. I grew up with the Dean thing. “Rebel Without a Cause” had a very powerful effect on me.
PLAYBOY: What encouraged you to attend the High School of Performing Arts?
PACINO: I went to Performing Arts because that was the only school that would accept me. My scholastic level was not very high.
PLAYBOY: But you also acted.
PACINO: I was never very happy with performing; it didn’t turn me on much. If I made a catch at third base, I’d do a double somersault and sprawl out on the ground. I was acting—overacting. Instead of O.D.ing, I O.A.’d. They taught Stanislavsky at Performing Arts. That whole thing about the Method and serious acting, having to feel it, I thought it was crazy. What was going on? Where was the fun? So I was kind of bored with it. Once, I was in class and had to act out what it was like when I was in my room alone. Since I never had a room to myself, I had to make it up.
PLAYBOY: How many slept in your room?
PACINO: At one point, there were nine of us living in three rooms. I lived with aunts and uncles and their children. It was back and forth, it changed. There was some tendency for people to get volatile in those situations. Once, after I’d improvised something at school, this drama teacher, who was into Stanislavsky, told me, “You have the fire of the great Sicilian actors!” She called my mother, who said that acting was for rich people, that I should get a job. Well, I left high school after two years to support myself, but I remembered how “natural” the teacher said I acted. And I went around all the time trying to be natural. I didn’t know the difference between being natural and being real. What do I know from Stanislavsky? He’s Russian, I’m from the Bronx.
PLAYBOY: As a kid, what did you learn about sex? We haven’t brought up that up yet.
PACINO: (Laughs) I was wondering when you’d turn that corner. I love work because it keeps sex in perspective. Otherwise, it can
become a preoccupation.
PLAYBOY: You mean that’s why you work so much?
PLAYBOY: So you can afford it?
PACINO: So I can afford it. (Groans) You said that.
PLAYBOY: Do you remember your first sexual experience?
PACINO: My first sexual experience…I had an encounter with a girl when I was nine. She took off her blouse and she actually had breasts. Maybe she was older. Maybe I was older. I put my hands on them and she giggled. She was standing in front of a mattress spring and I pushed her. She bounced off the spring and we repeated that three or four times. I thought that I had been laid. I went right out and bought a pack of prophylactics. You used to carry them around in your wallet. You didn’t know what they did, but….
PLAYBOY: You mean you didn’t have a friend who knew about those things?
PACINO: That would be Cliffy, my closest friend. He looked like a cross between Richard Burton and Marlon Brando. He was a Jewish guy who wanted to turn Catholic. One of the toughest guys I ever knew. He had something we didn’t see, like he knew a secret. He was wild. He was ahead sexually, too. He read Dostoievsky at 14 and told me how terrific it was. One thing he did, I will never forget, he tried to feel up my mother once. I saw that. He was about 14. I thought that was really odd.
PLAYBOY: What did your mother do?
PACINO: She kind of discouraged him and laughed. She seemed to understand it. Maybe she was flattered. I don’t know.
PLAYBOY: Do you still see him today?
PACINO: He was on junk and finally died of drugs at 30. My other best friend died of drugs at 19. My two closest friends.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever shoot up?
PACINO: No, I never did. That is when we started separating. They were going into other worlds. I would say my mother kept me alive. I didn’t go for the needle at all. I never cared for drugs, because I saw what they did to most people. I thought that was the end of the road. I liked booze every once in a while. I was doing that when I was about 13—the way most young guys do. You would get the guy on the stree to buy you a bottle because he was older. Drinking and smoking grass were a part of my life as far back as I can remember. I thought everybody drank. I started smoking cigarettes around nine. I chewed tobacco when I was 10. I smoked a pipe at 11. But it was Cliffy who was always doing something original, something I had never seen.
PLAYBOY: Such as?
PACINO: Such as hijacking an entire public bus filled with passengers. Or stealing a garbage truck and pulling up in front of my house with it. He actually got me into trouble once when he kicked in a store window to get me some shoes. A cop caught him at it and there was this embarrassing scene in front of a crowd. My grandmother got me out of it. There was always something going on in that neighborhood. One time I remember going down to where the buses used to be to get some transfers, which we used as play money. I was about 10, and this strange kid came up to me with a funny look on his face. He said, “Sonny”, which was my nickname, “some strange guy just came up and peed in my mouth.” I thought, that was a weird thing to do. “You’d better go up and tell your mother,” I said. Things like that would happen every day.
PLAYBOY: Sounds like you might have ended up as your friend Cliffy.
PACINO: I once had this job working for the owner of a fruit farm. My friends were outside playing and I was separating the green from the red tomatoes. The owner came to me and he actually drew a countryside on a board. He diagramed the trees and the paths. He said, “There are two paths in life: the right one and the wrong one.” I thought it had something to do with the tomatoes. But it had to do with my friends outside. He said, “Stay with them and you will end up like them. Jobless and free.”
PLAYBOY: Your mother died when she was 43. How old were you?
PACINO: I was 22. My mother’s death was traumatic to my whole family. She had certain problems with her blood. She was in the hospital with some kind of anemia and she was suffering so much. It wasn’t expected. My grandfather died a year later. I think it was part of the reason why. He was a very strong man. Never sick in his life. It makes one a little more fragile when it happens. These are tough things to talk about.
PLAYBOY: Were you alone at the time?
PACINO: I was living with someone when my grandfather died. I used to deliver “Show Business” newspapers to newsstands once a week, on Thursdays. That was my job at the time. I was on the route, on Broadway and 48th Street, and I passed out. I had trouble seeing. The doctor looked at me, took my pulse, said my heart was all right and said I should go to the outpatient clinic at Bellevue.
PLAYBOY: After those deaths, did you become closer to your father?
PACINO: No; as a matter of fact, I didn’t talk to my father until years later. You know, Brando said something good in the “Playboy Interview” about guilt.
PLAYBOY: He said it was a useless emotion.
PACINO: Useless. It is. And when you finally come to terms with that, it gets a little easier. I think I’m beginning to. Because it took a long time before I realized I had it.
PLAYBOY: (After a long pause) What are you thinking?
PACINO: I was thinking about forgiveness and guilt. Forgiving oneself. We forgive others.
PLAYBOY: You’ve had to deal with death at an early age. Do you fear it?
PACINO: At one point in one’s life, you get a sense of your own mortality. You view death in a certain way. From that point on, you look at your fellow man with a new understanding. I have some feelings for it now. They say it happens in your mid-thirties. Sometimes I have a fantasy of my corpse being carried around in a box, people mourning me. Saying, “We shouldn’t have treated him so badly.” I had a bone spur in my left toe recently. I said to the doctor, “Well, it has to get better, right?” He said no. And I realized there’s an age where everything doesn’t automatically get better…We talk like this, I’ll smoke cigarette after cigarette.
PLAYBOY: We can change the subject.
PACINO: If I die, you can write my epitath: He was just beginning ro resolve some of his problems. In about 10 or 15 years, he would have been happy. He had made SUCH progress.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever go back to your old neighborhood in the Bronx?
PACINO: How can you go back there? It’s not there anymore. The neighborhood is gone. It’s over. That world is over.
PLAYBOY: What were some of the odd jobs you used to do?
PACINO: I was a mail boy, a janitor, a shoe salesman, I worked in a fruit store, a drugstore, a supermarket, I used to move furniture—that’s the hardest work I ever had. The first thing you look at when you’re a moving man is the books. Everybody has books, thousands of them. They put them in boxes. It is very deceptive; they have 5,000 paperbacks in boxes. I’m the guy who would got to a movie job in a taxi. They’d say, “Al’s a little late,” and I’d come flying out of a taxi to lug pianos up the stairs for three dollars an hour. I was also an usher. People would always ask me, “What time does the show start?” “What is the last show that went on?” They ask you all kinds of questions: “Is it good?” Finally, I figured, these people will listen to anything I say—you’re the usher, right? The Rise of the House of Usher. So I bet another usher that I could get them to line up across the street. Then I told the people that because of the crowds, the line was forming across the street, in front of Bloomingdale’s.
PLAYBOY: And nobody protested?
PACINO: No, they lined right up.
PLAYBOY: So you won the ber. Did you get paid?
PACINO: I got fired. Another time, I got fired in mid-stride—another of my famous usher stories. I was an usher at another moviehouse and I suddenly saw myself in a three-sided mirror. I had never seen my profile. I was about 24 at the time. I couldn’t believe it. Who was this strange looking person? I had never seen the back of my clothes or the back of my head. So I couldn’t stop staring at myself. This manager saw me doing it. He didn’t like me from the word go. He just didn’t like ushers, I think. He said, “Pacino, what are you looking at?” I mumbled something and he warned me not to do it again. But I did the same thing a little later as he was coming down the stairs and he caught me at it and said, “You’re fired!” He never stopped, never broke stride, just kept going downstairs. I felt this rush of happiness. I should have been very unhappy, but I wasn’t. I went down to the locker room and I began giggling. A couple of my friends asked, “What happened?” I said I had just been fired. “Why?” I said, “Looking at myself too much.”
PLAYBOY: What job did you hold the longest?
PACINO: The longest stretch was with “Commentary” magazine. I did office work for a couple of years. I delivered things. I enjoyed working there.
PLAYBOY: Were you acting then, too?
PACINO: I was going to acting school. The Herbert Berghof Studios. That’s when I got to meet Charlie Laughton. I was about 18. He was teaching an acting class. I thought there was something about him. I just felt connected to him. Charlie introduced me to writers, to the stuff that surrounds acting. We became family—Charlie’s wife and daughter. Charlie and I just sort of stuck. A great actor himself, but he never pursued it. In acting class, he talked to me like I was a person, not a student. He was responsible for educating me, in a sense.
PLAYBOY: Was he a father figure?
PACINO: I imagine he was. It went from father figure to brother to friend. I wouldn’t have made it here without Charlie. Among many other things, he put me straight about my drinking. He said, “You’re drinking. Look at it and recognize it.” I didn’t know it and I didn’t know that other people knew. It was a powerful moment in my life. Now I find that when I’m around people who do drugs or drink to excess, I become uncomfortable. I’m very sensitive to it and I pick it up.
PLAYBOY: Was it Laughton who first recognized your star potential?
PACINO: Absolutely—and it’s an incredible story. I was a 19-year old kid living in a tenement in the Bronx. Charlie was coming by as I came down the stairs of my tenement, and he just nailed me: “You’re going to be a star.” There, in the middle of the Bronx. Weird. And you’ve got to understand, he doesn’t talk that way. I don’t talk that way. Neither of us ever mentioned it since then.
PLAYBOY: Before enrolling at Berghof, didn’t you try to get into Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio?
PACINO: Yeah, I auditioned got through the preliminaries and was rejected. Four years later, I auditioned again and was accepted. They even lent me $50 to pay my rent, from the James Dean Memorial Fund. Dustin and I got in the same year. I kept hearing there was this actor, Dustin Hoffman, he’s terrific.
PLAYBOY: We heard through the grapevine that you’ve established a fund at the Actors Studio like the one you borrowed from. True?
PACINO: Yeah; I don’t talk about it.
PLAYBOY: How important was the Actors Studio for you?
PACINO: The Actors Studio meant so much to me in my life. Lee Strasberg hasn’t been given the credit he deserves. Brando doesn’t give Lee any credit—and the Actors Studio has had such a bad name, which is not representative of what it really did for me. Next to Charlie, it sort of launched me. It really did. That was a remarkable turning point in my life. It was directly responsible for getting me to quit all those jobs and just stay acting. It instilled confidence and gave me a place to work out, to connect with people. I could do anything—Shakespeare, O’Neill—it was a constantly active place where actors were coming in. It was a major part of my life. I’ll be grateful to the Actors Studio forever. I’d like to marry that place.
PLAYBOY: Your first stage appearance was in William Saroyan’s Hello Out There. It is true you started to cry because the audience laughed at you?
PACINO: The audience laughed at my first line. It was a really funny line and they SHOULD have laughed, but I had never been in front of an audience doing that play and I didn’t know it was funny. I realized I didn’t know the part well.
PLAYBOY: Backtracking a bit, what was it in your childhood that really decided you on acting?
PACINO: One of the things that made me want to be an actor more than ever was seeing a Chekhov play, “The Sea Gull,” when was 14 in the Bronx. This traveling troupe came and performed the play in a huge moviehouse. There were about 15 people in the audience. It was s stunning experience. Another time, later in my life, I was sitting in a restaurant across the street from the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theater. The actors were sitting around a table, with a red-and-white checkered table cloth and an umbrella, the sun was coming in from the shade—it looked like a Renoir painting. There were seven or eight of them, talking. I said to my friend, “You see them? I can’t get my eyes off that group.” It was as though they had existed hundreds of years and you could see their roots, their background, how much like a family they were, how that was something I always wanted….I was drawn to them. Maybe that IS what I want…I don’t know.
PLAYBOY: So we can credit Chekhov with igniting you?
PACINO: Chekhov was as important to me as anybody as a writer. Brecht, as well as Shakespeare, has really helped me in my life. Also, Henry Miller, Balzac, and Dostoievsky. They got me through my 20’s, gave me such a raison d’etre. The relationships that we have with writers are quite a thing; they ’re different from the ones we have with actors or musicians or composers or politicians. Everything for me is the writer; without him, I don’t exist. So he is first. The actor gets all the fame and glory, but I don’t know about endurance.
PLAYBOY: What are your three favorite plays?
PACINO: Forgetting Shakespeare, “The Iceman Cometh,” “The Sea Gull,” “The Master Builder.” O’Neill, Chekhov and Ibsen.
PLAYBOY: Back to your life. For a while, you supported yourself as a building superintendent, right?
PACINO: I was about 26. My friend told me about this job with a rent-free apartment and $14 a week. So I went down and got a boiler’s permit and came back and I was a super. It was my first real place that was not a rooming house or sharing with a girl—I had lived with a girl before that. Now I had my own little home. I had no money, hardly anything to eat, but I had a roof over my head. I was a super for 11 months. I drank, actually but I hung in there and came out of it. It was a very fruitful time and, at the same time, it was the lowest time in my life. I used to hang an 8×10 glossy of me on the door.
PLAYBOY: Did it help you meet women?
PACINO: Well, this girl moved into the building. I couldn’t believe someone that beautiful existed. I thought I should meet her, but I couldn’t wait for something; I wasn’t working and sex was not in the right perspective. So I thought I would blow her lights our, then that would get her to come downstairs for a fuse and she would—
PLAYBOY: Blow YOUR lights?
PACINO: YOU said that. Why did you have to say that? You spoiled everything. (Laughs) So I went down to the basement and I had to find the fuse box. I had been the super for six months and I didn’t know where the fuse box was. I turned the fuse I thought was her apartment’s, ran through the building and out into the yard, to see if I’d gotten it right. By the time I got to her apartment, I was exhausted. She came to the door and I blew it I was just too overanxious. I went up to her apartment and I said, “I can fix your lights and do you want to see the Village?” She was fresh from out of town, she didn’t know what I was talking about. I came on on a little too strong and I said, I’m blowing this. I know I’m blowing it.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever been afraid of women?
PACINO: Yes, I have been.
PLAYBOY: In what way?
PACINO: You can depend on them for certain things, but you cannot invest anybody with that much power; it’s not fair to yourself or to the person. It’s hard to know that, because you DID invest it in your mother, Momma doesn’t leave you.
PLAYBOY: What you’re saying is relationships break up. You’ve had a number of relationships; who’s the one who usually leaves?
PACINO: It’s been mutual. I guess I probably have an intense fear of being left.
PLAYBOY: What do you look for in a woman?
PACINO: I like women who can cook. (Grins) That’s first. Love is very important, but you’ve got to have a friend first—you want to finally come to a point where you say that the women you’re with is also your friend. There ’s some connection with trust. That takes time. Love goes through different stages. But it endures. Love endures. Shakespeare said, “Even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” You know, it bears it out even to the edge of doom. “Love’s not Time’s fool.” Romantic love can be a lot of crap, though, let me tell you. And it can hurt you.
PLAYBOY: How often have you been in love?
PACINO: I’ve been in love twice. The first time, because of my career. I wouldn’t have any of it. The second time, I found some other reason. I knew the first time was promising, but there were a lot of things happening with my life and I could not deal with it at the time.
PLAYBOY: Were those times with Jill Clayburgh and Marthe Keller?
PACINO: I won’t tell you who they were. Sorry about it.
PLAYBOY: You were with Jill for five years, weren’t you?
PACINO: I was, yeah. I don’t like to talk about things like that.
PLAYBOY: Do you still see her?
PACINO: I will see Jill occasionally. She’s a friend. She’s married to David Rabe, who’s a brilliant playwrite.
PLAYBOY: When did they meet?
PACINO: He fell in love with Jill when I was with her.
PLAYBOY: Did Jill know that then?
PACINO: I don’t know. She didn’t tell me. I guess she didn’t know.
PLAYBOY: Do you see David as well?
PACINO: Even professionally, I don’t see him.
PLAYBOY: What did you think of Jill in “An Unmarried Woman?”
PACINO: She was excellent, wonderful. She came out. She became one of us, in a sense.
PLAYBOY: At the time you were with her, in your early 30’s, you felt wrapped up in your own career?
PACINO: I wasn’t very aware of things at 32. At 32, I was like…swimming. Trying to get our of a barrel. I remember one time with Jill, I was in the bathtub, I had been on a three day….And she came into the bathroom and sat down and said, “I suddenly feel lonely. But you are drunk.” I was pickled. It was as though there was a fog on my glasses. The windshield wipers weren ’t working.
PLAYBOY: What’s the longest you’ve ever lived with a woman?
PACINO: Five years.
PLAYBOY: That was a long time ago. Have you juggled a lot of women around?
PACINO: Yes. Well….if you go with three or four different women, you don’t necessarily juggle them. They could be juggling you, going with three or four different guys. There was a time in my life when being dishonest with women was the natural way to be. I finally said, “Hey, I have to stop this silliness.”…I never talk like this—to men or to women. I just don’t. I never had occasion to.
PLAYBOY: We thought we were being gentle with you about this.
PACINO: I think so, you have been very gentle. If you want to open up with me on that, come on, I’m ready.
PLAYBOY: OK. Sally Kirkland said that women find you fantastically sexy. You’ re obviously aware of that, aren’t you?
PLAYBOY: You can’t verbally record a smile.
PACINO: Yes you can. You just did.
PLAYBOY: And Jill Clayburgh is very complimentary about you; she said you projected power because your lack of egocentricity.
PACINO: Keep ‘em coming!
PLAYBOY: No reaction, eh? Then let’s talk about the women’s movement for a moment.
PACINO: (Sings) “The girl that I marry….”
PLAYBOY: Would you consider yourself a feminist?
PACINO: (Continues singing)
PLAYBOY: All right, have you changed your attitudes toward women since you were a kid?
PACINO: Naturally, just be experiencing life. I used to say I wanted to genuflect to a woman, put her up on a pedestal higher and higher, way up beyond my grasp…Then I’d find another one. But as an actor, I haven’t felt that way. Women have always had equal importance onstage, and working with them must have altered my sensibilities. I’ve never felt sensitive to the whole issue, because being macho has never been a problem with me. But, objectively, sure, I can sympathize with the aims of the movement.
PLAYBOY: Does breaking up with women affect you differently each time?
PACINO: Let’s save that for some other time.
PLAYBOY: Five minutes ago, you said you’d go with us on these questions. Now you say save them.
PACINO: That question doesn’t make sense to me. You mean, is there a pattern in breaking up?
PLAYBOY: How has it affected you emotionally each time? Have you been devastated once, glad the next time, free, sad, neutral? There are different ways to feel.
PACINO: Yes, that’s true, yes.
PLAYBOY: You’re letting our question be your answer.
PACINO: Because I know someone who has all the answers when I see him.
PLAYBOY: Now YOU’RE playing cat-and-mouse. How long were with Tuesday Weld?
PACINO: Close to a year, I guess.
PLAYBOY: She was a taboo subject to talk about then; is she still?
PACINO: I imagine that I wouldn’t really talk about any of the women I’ve been with. I just COULDN’T do it.
PLAYBOY: Just doing our job, running down the stories we’ve heard. What about Carol Kane; were you ever with her?
PACINO: I was never with Carol Kane. She’s a friend of mine.
PLAYBOY: And Liza Minnelli?
PACINO: Just an acquaintance. I happened to be at her birthday party and she sang a simple song, like “My Funny Valentine.” It was a transcending experience.
PLAYBOY: How might it affect your acting to be in a film or a play with a former lover?
PACINO: Well, there needs to be a hiatus, a 20 year hiatus, I think I can handle it. (Laughs) Yeah, it can be fine. You can be friends with them.
PLAYBOY: Have you remained friends with all your lovers?
PACINO: Yes, yes I have.
PLAYBOY: Since you often live with women you’re seeing, how has the Lee Marvin case affected you? Would you ever have a contract?
PACINO: No, I would not. The women I’ve known, frankly, I would never expect that from any of them.
PLAYBOY: But what if, after six months, she said, “You’ve ruined part of my life, I helped you make $2,000,000 that year, I want half.”
PACINO: I’d say (Screams, imitating George C Scott), “You owe me money!”
PLAYBOY: Shouldn’t you give it some thought?
PACINO: I will. But it’s a little premature.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever experience guilt when a relationship is over?
PACINO: No. I am not aware of it. When I think back on some relationships that I really withdrew from, I feel there are certain things I had to resolve that still haven’t been resolved. In order to take a relationship further, in order to be fair to the relationship, you have to feel like a complete person toward her. It was like half of me was here, but the other half was…
PLAYBOY: In the Bahamas?
PACINO: Yeah. Unexplored turf. There were problems stopping me. There were relationships in my life that I didn’t pursue, because I consciously knew that they wouldn’t last. I remember in 1970 stting with a woman friend…I was half in the bag. I said, my professional life is going to go fine, that’s clear, but the personal stuff—that relationship wasn’t going to last. In a particular point in a relationship, I understood that there was something in myself that was lacking, that was not there.
PLAYBOY: Did you get a sense that it was closing in on you? That you needed more space?
PACINO: That is simple, but I guess that would be it. That is the key phrase, the feeling it is closing in on me. And it has to do with you. The woman isn’t closing in on you. It is crazy. What does that mean? Why would she want to close in on you? Why?
PLAYBOY: That comes when a relationship is getting deeper.
PACINO: That’s right. You don’t feel in control. You think, if you let go, you will fall off. You know, we talk about this…this hurt…and we’re not quite able to take it further. When you write, you are able to do it, and when I act, I am able to do it, to go to those parts in our unconscious that are unleashed. But when we sit here and talk about these subjects, it’s like you can see it exhausting itself.
PLAYBOY: Have you thought of having children?
PACINO: I haven’t had a wife!…Yes, I wanted to have a child once. You forget the realities around you, you love the person so much you want to…For that moment, you say yes. Fortunately or unfortunately, it didn’t happen. I knew it wasn’t the time for it. I’m glad. Now I can. I could have 15 years ago. A couple of times, I regretted it.
PLAYBOY: Do you have a strong desire to be a father?
PACINO: Yeah. I will wait until it gets stronger. But there is something about it that wasn’t there before, that really seems to be there. I figure I’ll get the dog first. Then the kid.
PLAYBOY: Sounds like you’re ready to get married.
PACINO: It would mean something to me to have some kind of focus, something that is solid and there all the time. Something you can count on and that is regular.
PLAYBOY: So a family structure is beginning to make more sense to you?
PACINO: Yeah, it is. One understands its relationship to life. Too much of the time, there is a pretended commitment. That is where we get in trouble.
PLAYBOY: Well, there is certainly no shortage of women who would be interested in testing your commitment. You are aware that you’re one of the more publicly desirable men in the world, aren’t you?
PACINO: What did you do, consult a poll?
PLAYBOY: People say there’s a magnetism you get across on the screen that has turned you into a sex symbol. Does that make real-life romance harder for you?
PACINO: I think that is fucking crazy. What are you asking me?
PLAYBOY: About the nature of being considered a sex symbol and what it does to you.
PACINO: I don’t have that sense. I just sense that they are looking at me because I am someone they know. I am famous. I don’t go any further with it.
PLAYBOY: You don’t run into situations in which a woman will come up to you and give you her number?
PACINO: Oh, yeah, yeah, sure.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever follow up?
PACINO: No, I do not.
PLAYBOY: Do you keep the numbers?
PACINO: (Laughs) I was in a swimming pool a couple of years ago and this girl was giving me the eye. I was with some friends and I thought, well, she recognized me and that was it. But there was something different about this girl. She DIDN’T know who I was! I didn’t talk to her or come on to her in any way. I just sat there, but it was a great experience, one that I hadn’t had for years. It was delightful. I didn’t pursue it in any way, but it was very exciting. It made me feel alive.
PLAYBOY: How did you know she didn’t know who you were?
PACINO: She met me afterward and started talking to me. Either she was the greatest actresss that ever lived—that has happened before, a woman pretends she doesn’t know me—but this was genuine. And it was very moving.
PLAYBOY: Why didn’t you respond to her?
PACINO: I did. I gave her a picture of me. (Laughs)
PLAYBOY: Oh, great. Did you sign it?
PACINO: I did. I signed it Robert Redford.
PLAYBOY: Has that ever happened in reverse? That you met someone famous you used to like from afar?
PACINO: When I was a young man, there was a certain celebrity I had a crush on. Some years back, I was at a party and this girl actually approached me and tried to seduce me. I didn’t want her to. I couldn’t tell her, “A good part of my young adult life I’ve had these fantasies with you, and now here you are.” She probably would have said, “Let’s get married,” or something.
PLAYBOY: The picture that deals with reality and fantasy more than any of your others is Bobby Deerfield. You and the character you play are both celebrities obsessed by your professions, not easily communicative, and you don’t readily relate to outsiders. Would you agree with Marthe Keller that, of all your roles, Deerfield is the one closest to you?
PACINO: It was probably closest to me at the time.
PLAYBOY: Did that scare you at all?
PACINO: Sometimes characters you play help you work things out in real life. It was a move away from anything I had done before. I’m very grateful to Sydney Pollack for having that time in my life, it was very important for me personally. It certainly wasn’t a career triumph.
PLAYBOY: It was reported that you and Pollack didn’t get along very well.
PACINO: We didn’t. It’s because we’re different. Sydney had a genuine idea for the movie, it meant something to him. We had different views, and in a movie like that, you need to be together on it. It was a very delicate subject. On that film, it was necessary to be in sync with each other and we were just a mess. Maybe we would have been better off had I listened to him more; it would have been consistent. I didn’t quite understand his point of view. There are aspects in the picture that are really good, but it was one that missed for me.
PLAYBOY: What were you after in Deerfield?
PACINO: I was after the other side of narcissism. That something that happens to a superstar who is left and idolized, a kind of loneliness I was after, narcissistic detachment, depression. That’s what it was about—about breaking that depression, that self-absorption; opening like a flower. In my own life, I have not gone into or resolved many things; many things I’ve avoided. That is what Bobby Deerfield is about. About avoiding—knowing when to duck, when to move, when to hide, when to go in, when to roll with the punches. That is what I call my way of survival. That whole idea of when to duck and when to hide and when to move and when to come down. I’ve had a lot of selfish incidents in my life. One day I just turned around and said, I am a selfish bastard and I don’t have to be.
PLAYBOY: Marthe Keller perhaps sensed that. She said that there was something about that part in you that scared her.
PACINO: That’s complicated.
PLAYBOY: Were you living together?
PACINO: Yeah, we were.
PLAYBOY: When did you break up?
PACINO: About a year ago.
PLAYBOY: Is that relationship over?
PACINO: I don’t want to talk about it. I can’t talk about that experience. Why are you asking me?
PLAYBOY: Because there was a lot of publicity about it before and after you made the film.
PACINO: There was a lot of publicity about that. It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who does what you do. I’ve managed to move away from all that stuff—you never saw anything quoting ME.
PLAYBOY: “People” magazine did put the two of you on it’s cover.
PACINO: I didn’t pose for that. There’s damage being done by that, the relationships become crazed by it. Could we not talk about that? I really have to say I cannot talk about it.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever miss just being a face in the crowd?
PACINO: There’s a wonderful thing about anonymity that I really don’t have, to be just pounding the streets like everybody else. It’s a really important thing to be able to go into the streets. I miss it, and at the same time….
PLAYBOY: You’re willing to pay the price?
PACINO: Yeah; it’s a crazy thing. When I first became famous, it was as though, to paraphrase Pasternak, the lights were pointing in my face and I couldn’t see outward. People treat you differently. So you learn to see only a certain side of people. And one loses touch with the way people really are with each other. So when people don’t treat you in an ordinary way, it can be damaging to your sense of perspective as an actor and a person.
PLAYBOY: How did your sense of perspective about the world around you change?
PACINO: The world is a different place for me, that’s all there is to it. The world got smaller and the block got bigger. Somebody said to me once, on the street, “You’re Al Pacino?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, congratulations, you look like you oughta.” (Laughs) Another time I was with Charlie in a delicatessen. I was standing outside. A girl said to him, “Is that Al Pacino?” He said, “yes” .She said, “no”. He said, “it IS”. She said, “Al?” I turned around and said, “Yes?” She said, “Oh my.” Charlie said, “Somebody’s gotta be him.” I love that.
PLAYBOY: Do people get nervous around you?
PACINO: They go strange, that’s what I call it. I see very normal, sometimes highly intelligent, together people who present such an aura of power and sensibility. Then you walk in front of them and it all goes. They recognize you, they get silly. Only for a moment. It passes and they’ re back to themselves again. But it’s a funny kind of thing. The whole thing of being a star…like, you’re up there and you’re a star, then a superstar. What it implies is that you’re out of it, you’re up there and you’re away. That can be sad. One time, this guy said to me on the radio, “How do you feel being a superstar?” I said, “This is my last interview.” That was the answer to that.
PLAYBOY: Still, it’s your name that brings people to the theaters.
PACINO: I remember one thing that upset Toscanini very much about Caruso. He was having difficulty with a Beethoven thing. Caruso pointed out the window and said, “See those lines? They’re here to see me, not Beethoven.” You know, I’ve seen a lot of actors so crazy about fame they worry about if BEFORE they become famous. They enjoy going through the preliminaries: What will we do? Will we have to move out of the neighborhood? They love it. That kind of thing can turn me off.
PLAYBOY: That’s a good idea for a TV sitcom: people preparing for fame.
PACINO: Yeah, it is sort of like looking at your casket.
PLAYBOY: Would you ever consider doing television?
PACINO: Sure. I don’t get TV scripts. If I do stage, I would do TV.
PLAYBOY: That’s surprising. Most of the major stars—Hoffman, De Niro, Streisand, up to now yourself—don’t do TV.
PACINO: George C. Scott does TV specials. Olivier does television and movies. It depends on the property. If they were to do a TV
version of a play I did, and if I felt it would translate, I would do it. They wanted me to do Pavlo Hummel on television, but I thought
that the experience of the stage production wouldn’t translate to TV. Same thing with Richard lll. But I’m going to do that again, so
maybe the next time it’ll be filmed for TV.
PLAYBOY: Why not Hamlet?
PACINO: Nobody asked me to.
PLAYBOY: If somebody asked you, would you do it?
PACINO: Yes, of course.
PLAYBOY: Don’t you like to instigate these things?
PACINO: I really don’t. There is never a part that I want to do. An actor basically likes to be asked to do something, no matter what position he’s in. It feels more natural. Sitting and waiting is more gratifying.
PLAYBOY: For things to fall into place?
PACINO: Yeah. The fruit falls off the tree. You don’t shake it off before it’s ready to fall.
PLAYBOY: Then there are always the missed opportunities, the fruit that rots on the ground.
PACINO: I can’t BELIEVE I’m having this conversation!
PLAYBOY: You have a reputation of being a workaholic. Do you like working most of the time?
PACINO: Most things I don’t want to do.
PLAYBOY: Really? What percentage of the scenes you do would you say you don’t look forward to doing.
PACINO: Ninety percent of the time.
PLAYBOY: Let’s get that straight. Are you saying that 90% of the scenes you do you don’t want to do?
PACINO: That’s right.
PLAYBOY: You obviously reject a lot of scripts that eventually become films. Are there any pictures that you’ve turned down that you later thought were really good?
PACINO: Yes. I’ve turned down a lot of them. If I told you the parts I turned down, you would laugh. They were really biggies. I can name three right now that were Academy Award nominees. Probably more.
PLAYBOY: What films were they?
PACINO: I can’t tell you. It’s not fair to the persons who played the parts.
PLAYBOY: That’s ridiculous. Everybody knows that scripts go to certain people like yourself first.
PACINO: I know when you’re after something, your legs start shaking. Maybe I’m just too nice to be interviewed, that’s all it comes to.
PLAYBOY: Can’t you just do it in a game—how you might have played a certain role? Some actors will go down a list of what they passed up.
PACINO: Well, that’s not really very nice. I just don’t like it; it grates me to minimize anybody in any way, to move on anybody’s else’s territory. When I talk about this, it puts other actors in another light, in a lesser light, and it just isn’t true. Can you understand that?
PLAYBOY: Absolutely. Now let’s talk about it. Let’s take something like “Kramer V.S. Kramer.” Were you offered that?
PACINO: See, we’ve had a long period of decent talk, but now you’re back to, “How long a prick do you have?” I just wait for it and it comes.
PLAYBOY: We don’t want to keep you waiting.
PACINO: There are times in my life when I didn’t even read what was being offered me. Sometimes I can smell something that’s not right for me.
PLAYBOY: You obviously felt that with “Kramer V.S. Kramer.”
PACINO: It was a book, it wasn’t a screenplay yet. I didn’t get into the book. I had a feeling it was not for me.
PLAYBOY: You mean because it’s about a married man and his son?
PACINO: And the divorce courts and stuff. I didn’t feel, at this point, it would be useful.
PLAYBOY: What other films caused conflict with you?
PACINO: I don’t know. “Days of Heaven.” I love Terrence Malick and I love the picture. And “Coming Home.” I was making “Born on the Fourth of July” at one time. It was too close.
PLAYBOY: Whatever happened to that project?
PACINO: That was a go project. Billy Freidkin and Oliver Stone wrote a terrific screenplay, but Billy couldn’t do it for some reason. Apparently, there was a studio that wouldn’t let him out of a commitment. When a director is taking on a picture of that size and dimension, it’s his picture. I had an interest in making it with Billy. So, suddenly, Freidkin is out of the picture—now what? I wasn’t going to make that movie.
PLAYBOY: Would you ever consider directing a film yourself?
PACINO: Everybody seems to do it. It’s very hard to do. I’ve directed plays, but only when I felt strongly about the play, and I did it all, I did the sets, the costumes. If I wanted to make a movie and really take over, I would do it. But I believe very much that directors are directors and actors are actors. I’d very much like to keep maintaining the independence I have as an actor: You pay me a salary, I come and do a job. The last three pictures I’ve made have been that kind of thing.
PLAYBOY: Did Coppola come to you for “Apocalypse Now?”
PACINO: Yes, he wanted me to do it. I told him I hadn’t been in the Army and I ddin’t intend to go in the Army now—and if I were to go, I wouldn’t want to go to war with him. He said to someone later, “Al would do that film if we could film it in his apartment.”
PLAYBOY: Speaking of the Army, how did you stay our?
PACINO: The first time, I was made 1-Y. That meant I had to go back in a year. I guess I wasn’t ready then.
PLAYBOY: What do you mean you weren’t ready?
PACINO: I failed the tests. Who knows?
PLAYBOY: Do you know or don’t you know?
PACINO: Look, I might have gone into the Army at 18 or 19, but by the time they called me up, I was 23—and too much had already happened to me. Among other things, I had just lost my mother and my grandfather in the same year. I certainly wasn’t ready for the Army and the Army wasn’t ready for me.
PLAYBOY: That was before Vietnam, right?
PACINO: Yes, it was peacetime. I guess that’s why they were so lenient with me.
PLAYBOY: So it wasn’t that war you were against but the system’s telling you where to go for the next two years.
PACINO: Yeah; that was the most impossible thing. You know, I still have a thing about that. I feel they could somehow call me up again—at the age of 39. I know I’ll pass my physical and I know they’ll take me into the Army. (Laughs) But, as Charlie said to me, “Al, don’t worry about it, they don’t want you. Believe me, they don’t want you.”
PLAYBOY: Enough about traumatic matters; let’s talk about money. In 1972, you said that you’ve done a lot of things in your life for money, but the one thing you haven’t done for money is act. Would you retract that now?
PACINO: I won’t act for money. I don’t think I ever will. The big item when I do off-Broadway is the fact that I’m getting only $250 a week. In that area, you can anger people no end—you start talking about how you don’t care about money and there you are, pulling in $1,000,000 or whatever. I feel kind of funny about that, because it really can grate on people’s nerves. When you’re dealing with money, people change, they go a little strange. I know because I’ve been there. I asked this guy once for five bucks. Before that, it was, “Hey, how’re ya doing? Haven’t seen you for so long.” I say, “Pretty good, you know,” and finally I ask for the five dollars. He goes, “See you tomorrow, man, we’ll meet at this time.” He makes arrangements and you get there and he’s not there. People go crazy with money.
PLAYBOY: Do friends borrow from you now?
PACINO: Naturally. But there’s nothing like that to ruin a relationship. If friends need some money, I’ll lend it to them, sure. When I’m lending it, I preface it by saying, “Look, if this affects the relationship in any way, forget it.” Invariably it does, though.
PLAYBOY: Are there any projects you’d like to do that you haven’t signed for yet?
PACINO: There’s one thing I’d like to do and that’s the life of Modigliani. Paris in that time, the changing of the Romantic period. I thought that would make a good movie. I had a friend who went to Paris to write a first-draft screenplay. It’s a little subjective. I’ve given it to Coppola. If he doesn’t like it, I’ll give it to Bertolucci or Scorsese.
PLAYBOY: What about plays?
PACINO: I will do Richard lll again, naturally. And Brecht on Broadway.
PLAYBOY: After your successes in film, you retuned to the theater—was that a way of coping with what happened to you?
PACINO: I went back to the stage because it was my way of dealing with the success I had, my way of coping. It was a way of escaping the responsibilty of what was happening. What I used to say was it was my love of the stage, but I don’t think so. I think it was my need to say, “This is what I am. This is what I do. This other thing I am unfamiliar with, it scares me. It ’s too much.”
PLAYBOY: Have you ever felt threatened as an actor?
PACINO: I used to feel that. I would be in a play and somebody would come and I would say, “That guy looks a little like me; I guess they are going to replace me. Insecurity.
PLAYBOY: Do you dream about your characters when you are playing them?
PACINO: When I’m about to do a project, I dream about the character, about the play, all the time. Acting is hard work. At times, it’s very energizing and enervating. It’s childish. It’s also responsible. It’s illuminating, enriching, joyful, drab. It’s bizarre, diabolical. It’ s—exciting. Eleonora Duse said it’s such a horrible word: acting. It makes you feel bad just saying it. It’s more trying to get at some certain truth, some common denominator, some exchange, some connection, that makes us feel a certain truth in ourselves. The way of acting that you really try to finally learn is how NOT to act. That’s where it’s at. Acting is NOT acting.
PLAYBOY: What are the qualities that make up a good actor and a good director?
PACINO: There are all kinds of good actors. There are actors who are strong in suggestibility. There are actors who are intellectually attacking material. There are actors who are very instinctive and operate completely on tremendous believability in situations. There are actors who are able to find the humor of a situation immediately, get right to the essence of something. As for directors, basically, great directors can understand the staging in such a way that can make a scene come alive. Others have a certain way of pacing the scene. Others have a way of setting a kind of ambience around the set that makes everybody creative around them.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever considered you image onscreen? At the end of The Godfather, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and now …And Justice for All, you appear all alone. You are the loner.
PACINO: Well, most of the successful characterizations that any actor does seem to be those kind of characters.
PLAYBOY: But have you ever thought about it?
PLAYBOY: That you’re always alone.
PACINO: That’s why I can’t wait for you to leave. (Laughs) See, as our relationship develops, you get hurt. That’s wonderful.
PLAYBOY: Well, it’s almost that time. Just a few more questions. What was it that Marlon Brando’s make-up man once said to you?
PACINO: I said, “I’m not going to California.” He said, “Don’t worry, I heard Marlon say that. You’ll be out there in three years.” Well, I haven’ t moved yet. I haven’t moved out of this apartment.
PLAYBOY: What do you think of Los Angeles?
PACINO: I like parts of L.A. But after a while, I can’t help but feel that need to be around people. I can’t take it in a car anymore. I need to be on the ground with people walking by me, crisscrossing. California gets you slap-happy.
PLAYBOY: You’re a true New Yorker.
PACINO: It’s my turf. I really love New York. You can imagine how I know it, having come here when I was 16 from the Bronx. I was a city messenger when I was 16, on a bicycle. I worked 11 hours a day just riding the streets of the city. I watched this city, I’ve walked it, lived in it, I know it in all kinds of times of my life. It’s home. I know it all, from Battery Park right up to Harlem. I know lights—I can time myself so I never get a light. I used to walk from 92nd Street and Broadway right to the Village and back again, bopping along the street, thinking of parts. I worked out a lot of my role in Godfather One that way. I still get out there in the streets as much as I can. Watch a guy put 40 packs of crackers in his soup.
PLAYBOY: You sound like a permanent resident.
PACINO: I’ve already been here too long. I want to get out.
PLAYBOY: What about the museums; ever go to the Modern?
PACINO: Sometimes. I go to look at Picasso’s “Woman in a Chair.” I know every time I go to the museum that I’m going to come away feeling different. It’s almost like going to the Y.
PLAYBOY: Is there anything that upsets you?
PACINO: The thing that can get you a little upset is when people say other people are better than you. That can bug you.
PLAYBOY: What about fears?
PACINO: I have normal ones. I have a fear of electricity.
PLAYBOY: Do you have a philosophy?
PACINO: I believe in one day at a time; you’ve got TODAY, that’s what you’ ve got.
PLAYBOY: What about analysis?
PACINO: I dabble from time to time. I mean, THIS is analysis. By the time we’re finished, I will be empty and it (indicates the tape recorder) will be full. It’s a crazy feeling. I get the feeling when you leave I will be interviewing myself.
PLAYBOY: What makes you cry?
PACINO: The end of this interview. (Laughs) I had a fantasy the other night that this interview is so great that they no longer want me to act—just do interviews. I thought of us going all over the world doing interviews—we’ve signed for three interviews a day for six weeks….
PLAYBOY: That’s what you think. Enough is enough.
PACINO: What? You’ve just put me through something—and it’s over? Where are your whips?
PLAYBOY: Any last words?
PACINO: Yeah. YOU OWE ME MONEY!
PLAYBOY: Not after you read this.
Playboy, December 1979