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Wednesday, September 10, 2014
PACINO TALKS 'HAPPY VALLEY', SCARFACE, DE PALMA
SAYS THEY'RE WORKING ON PATERNO STORY, DISCUSSES THE DOCUMENTARY
Several outlets have published interviews with Al Pacino this week. The September 15th issue of The New Yorker includes a profile on the actor by John Lahr, who mentions that Pacino has "two new movies waiting in the wings (Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, about the man who supposedly killed Jimmy Hoffa, and a Brian De Palma bio-pic about Joe Paterno), and a David Mamet play, China Doll, in the works for Broadway in 2015." Interesting to note that Lahr never mentions the title Happy Valley, which has been used as the title of Amir Bar-Lev's documentary, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and is also the title of an otherwise unrelated BBC One TV Series, a cop drama that has gained some popularity now on Netflix. In the following excerpt, Lahr's article delves a bit into Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and De Palma's Scarface:
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After Pacino got the "Godfather" role (for which he was paid a flat fee of thirty-five thousand dollars), he walked from his apartment, on Ninetieth Street and Broadway, to the Village and back, thinking about how he’d play it. “I didn’t see Michael as a gangster,” he said. “I saw his struggle as something that was connected to his intelligence, that innate sense of what’s around and being able to adjust to things.” He added, “The power of the character was in his enigmatic quality. And I thought, Well, how do you get to that? I think you wear it inside yourself, and you find a way to avoid, as much as you can, the obvious.” However, after his first week of avoiding the obvious, according to Pacino, “they wanted me fired—they didn’t see what I was doing. Luckily for me, the Sollozzo scene”—in which Michael earns his Mafia spurs by executing two men in a Bronx restaurant—“was the next day. When they saw that scene, they kept me.”

Pacino’s performance in “The Godfather” put him at the center of one of the great cinematic sagas of the century and on a first-name basis with the world. He was showered with accolades and offers. (Coppola asked him to star in “Apocalypse Now,” but he declined. “You know, sometimes you look into the abyss?” Pacino said. “I’m, like, this is the abyss. I’m not gonna go there.” He also turned down “Star Wars,” “Die Hard,” and “Pretty Woman.”) But perhaps the most satisfying response came from [Mario] Puzo, who wrote, “It was, in my eyes, a perfect performance, a work of art. I was so happy . . . I ate crow like it was my favorite Chinese food.” [Puzo had said Pacino was "terrible" in his screen test.]

Pacino’s other great early successes—“Serpico,” “The Godfather, Part II,” and “Dog Day Afternoon”—only added to his momentum. But, of all his performances in those years, the sleeper was his embodiment of the garish, vulgar, sensationally violent Tony Montana, an impoverished Cuban refugee who becomes the most powerful drug trafficker in Miami, in “Scarface.” The role was dismissed as “macho primitivism” at the time, but, over the years, it has emerged as a challenger to Michael Corleone as Pacino’s most popular creation. The director, Brian De Palma, designed “Scarface” as a kind of hyperbolic pageant. “The picture had a fire to it,” Pacino said, in “Al Pacino: In Conversation with Lawrence Grobel.” “The violence blown up, the language blown up. The spirit of it was Brechtian, operatic.” To play Montana, Pacino drew inspiration from the swagger of the Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran and from Meryl Streep’s committed rendering of the traumatized Polish immigrant Sophie, in “Sophie’s Choice.” As an actor, Pacino said, “you’re always looking for that thing that’s going on besides the words.” In “Scarface,” he connected with Montana’s raging ambition and the rebelliousness in his epigrammatic lines: “All I have in the world is my balls and my word, and I don’t break them for no one”; “You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked!”; “You wanna play rough? O.K. Say hello to my little friend!”

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PACINO: PATERNO STORY IS "DANGEROUS, SO ONE HAS TO UNDERSTAND IT, EXPLORE IT"
Variety's Scott Foundas mentions one other movie (besides Manglehorn and The Humbling) that Pacino has "in the can," Dan Fogelman’s Danny Collins, "where he plays an aging rock musician opposite Jennifer Garner and Michael Caine." Foundas then writes, "and just ramping up is Happy Valley, a reunion movie with his Scarface and Carlito’s Way director Brian De Palma in which he’ll play embattled Penn State football coach Joe Paterno." Of the latter, Pacino tells Foundas, “It’s dangerous. So one has to understand it, what happened, and explore it and try to find the tragedy in it.”

And Pacino also talked to The Daily Beast's Alex Suskind about Happy Valley, as well as Scarface, its upcoming remake, and some other things. It's a great conversation-- here's an excerpt:

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When you were at Venice promoting The Humbling, you said the best advice you ever got was from Lee Strasberg telling you to constantly “adjust,” or live for the present and avoid reflecting on past failures or glories.

Yeah, I am one of many who live by that! Live in the moment. Seize the day. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to look at both of them [failures and glories]. I mean, all bets are off.

The reason I bring that up is, aside from the parallel to this film, when it comes to past glories, so many of your earlier projects—The Godfather, Serpico, Scarface—are completely entrenched in pop culture. I feel like it would be very hard to not reflect on them in some way. Do you agree?

Well the truth is, I still sort of don’t [talk about them]. I must say, I am very grateful that I was around, especially in the ’70s, which were kind of a renaissance. But man, I have no memory of the ’70s! You have to understand, I was in another world! I didn’t know what was going on. But I am glad it worked out. So when you meet somebody who met you once—because I meet a lot of people and they know you because you’re an actor—it’s nice to know that when you meet that someone they say, “You were nice to me.” It’s just interesting. I’ve always appreciated the journey. They say it’s not the destination but the journey. So it still means something to me to be able to have an opportunity to be involved with something that I feel I have something to say with. It’s a form of communication. I still love the stage. I like doing that, but I wish I could define how it’s changed, because it has changed.

Acting in general?

Acting in general. I just want to do things that I feel would be in some way part of what I am going through or have some sense of. What you really do as an actor is you try to find in the role something that you can relate to that you feel can ignite you and give you the appropriate energy to commit to it in that way. Some of the movies I did early on I had that in general. Now I would find that it would be hard to do something that I couldn’t say something with.

And the roles you’ve chosen in the last few years definitely reflect that. You played Phil Spector and Jack Kevorkian. You also have Joe Paterno coming up for Happy Valley…

Yeah, we’re working on that.

How’s that going?

It’s developing. I see [the story] as a major fall—it’s a fall of a person.

It’s Shakespearean, Paterno’s story.

It is! Did you see the documentary Happy Valley?

I did. It was very good.

Stunning movie. And I kept thinking, it’s not the story of Paterno—that’s part of it, but it’s about Happy Valley. And it’s about all of us. It’s the way it’s sort of depicted and the intensity and the thought and how it makes you think. You go feeling one way and you leave and you sort of don’t know what to do.

How’s it being back with Brian de Palma [who’s directing Happy Valley]?

I love Brian. You know that. I love that guy. There’s a few things I am working on now. I am doing a new play with David Mamet.

Are you still doing The Irishman?

The Irishman. Wow. Oh yeah, Steve Zaillian script.

Yeah, and Martin Scorsese directing.

Yeah, [Joe] Pesci, [Robert] De Niro, Bobby Cannavale.

You’ve never done anything with Scorsese, which is interesting because you would assume you would have at this point.

Isn’t that something?

Have you guys gotten close to doing anything together?

I don’t think I’ve gotten close to doing something with Marty. I know him. He’s such a great director. But I am sure there are other actors who Marty hasn’t worked with.

Of course. But you’re very much associated with that community of actors and filmmakers.

Yeah, I know. But at that period [in the 1970s] we were sort of split. Scorsese made movies with De Niro and I was making movies with [Sidney] Lumet. But I can’t think of a Scorsese movie that I would have been right for.

I assume it will be nice working with Robert De Niro again.

Oh, I love Bobby. I love him. Getting the opportunity to work with him, especially on something that is with one of the greatest directors ever.

Critics weren’t too kind to you and De Niro’s last project, Righteous Kill.

Well, that one was not [pauses]… You want to do something again that you feel good about.

Do you pay attention to critics at all? In the last decade, they have been pretty brutal about the films you’ve done.

Well, something happened, because it’s all about the Internet. How do you not pay attention and then how do you pay attention, is the question. Because you get a sense of things and you get a sense of where it’s going. That’s why you try to just keep going. I have always been aware [of the bad reviews]. It’s not wise to stick [with them]. Unless you can find good criticism, which is hard to do, because you get too subjective.

So, like, constructive criticism?

Yeah, I mean, I love that. I especially like it in live theater. If you know what you’re doing, it’s fulfilling something in yourself, then it doesn’t matter as much. It still matters. We’re all sensitive to it. It’s when you feel a little bit on the fence about what you’ve done and you’re concerned about it. It’s like Tennessee Williams said, “You can always depend on the kindness of strangers.” You can’t do that here [laughs]. You know what I mean?

I mentioned Scarface earlier. Have you heard about this remake Universal is doing?

I’ve heard of it!

What are your thoughts on that? They are kind of changing the story apparently. It’s going to be set in LA.

Well, if it’s inspired by the movie, I think that’s good.

I think it’s inspired by both. The original and yours.

That’s what we were doing. I saw the Scarface with Paul Muni on Sunset Boulevard at the… whatever the name of that theater is, the Tiffany. I said, “Oh I love this Paul Muni so much, I just want to make a movie and imitate him. That’s all I want to do.” And I called [my agent] and said “There is a movie here for us to do now.” It was 50 years old but it says so much. So we got De Palma, we got Oliver Stone to do the screenplay…

I think it’s fascinating the second life the film has taken on, especially in hip-hop.

Yeah, it still goes on. And the fact that it was so eviscerated when it first came out was a bit surprising, because we thought Brian deliberately tried to make it operatic. There was a whole thought in the 1980s, that Wall Street greed thing and this sense of avarice was in the air. And this movie sort of covered it, and it was Brian’s vision, which I went along with completely. I thought it was the way to go. And I think critics didn’t quite follow that. But audiences kept coming and stayed around. And they just kept coming and it had this resurgence. We always felt there was something there. But at the time, like all things, it wasn’t in fashion. The fashion was more in naturalism in films. Low-key stuff. There were so many wonderful movies being made during that. But this came out in a different fashion and it didn’t belong in the pantheon of things.

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Posted by Geoff at 4:36 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 4:44 AM CDT
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