"DE PALMA, IT SEEMED TO ME, WAS MORE INTERESTED IN 'THE BIG PICTURE'"
Oliver Stone's memoir, Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game, will be published July 21, 2020 (a week from today). Yesterday, Entertainment Weekly posted an excerpt from the book's section on Scarface. Here's an excerpt from the excerpt:
Meanwhile, Bregman went painstakingly through the script with me, with Pacino separately making incisive suggestions. We never discussed the Born on the Fourth of July debacle, but as I grew to know Al better, I found him surprisingly humorous, coming up with one-liners to fit Tony Montana, whom he was evolving into with a broad Cuban accent and all. It surprised me that Al had never snorted cocaine or known anything about drugs. According to Marty, he’d had a serious problem with alcohol when younger but was now completely dry. Yet he had no problem behaving onscreen like the ultimate coke addict. Al definitely belonged to the “Method” school of acting, worshiping the aloof Lee Strasberg, who with his wife seemed to be making a rather good living teaching theater to a new generation. Al also kept a respected acting coach, Charlie Laughton, close to him, which greatly irritated Marty, who still wanted to“manage” Al in all ways, particularly his “warped” thinking. Al, to my mind, always had one goal — the play. Nothing else seemed to exist.
I continued to refine the script, and without much delay, Ned Tanen at Universal, Bregman’s friendly studio, agreed to make the movie for some $14 to $15 million, which was quite good for a violent gangster film that, even on paper, was gathering a reputation for being “over the top” — another Midnight Express type of extravaganza from Oliver Stone, now paired with the excessive and violent Brian De Palma, who’d made Dressed to Kill and Carrie. Bregman asked me to take DePalma down to see the locations and meet the figures I’d come to know while researching. Brian was a cold man, like Alan Parker — it comes with the territory — but he wasn’t threatened by me and seemed to want me around. So did Bregman, who stayed very much in control of the film, sitting with Brian through every casting call. At one session I attended, I fought hard for Glenn Close to play the role of Al’s mistress in Scarface, as she’d been great in the reading. I’d written the original Elvira role as an upper-class New York girl whom I knew, slumming in South Beach with a gangster boss when Tony meets her. Marty dismissed my idea as nuts — “She’s got a face like a horse!” He was married to a beautiful actress, Cornelia Sharpe, a blond, and generally had a big thing going for blonds. Marty and De Palma ultimately chose a twenty-four-year-old newcomer, Michelle Pfeiffer, who scored hugely in the film and went on to a distinguished career. But at the time, I had to grudgingly rewrite Elvira’s part down to make the role more of a materialistic South Beach bimbo.
Al asked Marty to keep me on the set to help him, presumably with a director he wasn’t quite sure of. At first I was glad to stay on, although I was being paid only in per diem to cover my expenses, but I regarded it as a learning experience. Al was still, at this time, quicksilver of nature, turning on a dime, very sensitive to his environment, eyes, ears, skin on fire. If he saw a new face on the set, he’d react. He was just that way. At all costs I’d avoid his line of sight when he was in acting motion lest my concentration disrupt his own — somewhat like particle waves. Billy Wilder described this sensitivity in recounting how Greta Garbo banned him from Ninotchka for appearing in her sightline. It wouldn’t be easy to direct Al, but De Palma seemed indifferent to that; he was never really an actor’s director like Lumet, whom Pacino had wanted. De Palma, it seemed to me, was more interested in the “big picture,” and in that vision actors were more or less an important part of the scenery.