A meeting with the Godfather
A goatee as well trimmed as a vine, raven black hair, a jacket straight out of The Godfather, a voice rendered gravelly by a few too many cigarettes and a little too much Malt – it can only be Al in person. The man is a legend. To meet him is to rub shoulders with Tony Montana alias “Scarface”. Blush brings you an exclusive interview with the seventy-something ex-Godfather, still capable of almost childlike humour!
In Dan Fogelman’s Danny Collins you play the title role, a rich but ageing rock star. Your character wallows in opulence. He travels by private jet, drives luxury cars and wears designer suits and watches and flashy jewellery. Do you have anything in common with the character? In real life do you throw your money around or watch carefully over your nest egg?!
It comes and goes, that’s all I can say. I never lived life the life depicted in Danny Collins even if there was a period in my life when I lived like a king! But I did have to make a few adjustments to not become a caricature of a guy who spreads it around! That’s what I like about this character – his ability to understand his mistakes.
When he was younger he was presented as the next Bob Dylan, and the next year he was forgotten! But Collins was lucky in that he managed to turn his life around in a positive way, to adapt and set out in a new direction.
You have been making films for 40 years now. How has the industry changed in your opinion?
I notice that marketing has gained a very important place in the film-making process. It would seem that those who know how to market something well are those who succeed, who get ahead of the others, who get something out of an ever more complex game. Business seems to have taken precedence over creativity. It’s a sad fact that if the communicators don’t support you there’s little chance your film will be a success! In short, promotions of all shapes and sizes are the most notable change in the movie business. The need and the desire to make films are still there but it’s the way in which they’re produced that has completely changed. Before, when you made a movie there was always time for rehearsals. This was an essential step for us, the actors, because it gave us a chance to get to know each other better and to get to know the director and the technicians. This created a certain dynamic, a constructive energy. Nowadays that almost never happens. They don’t even give the paint on the scenery the time to dry. “Time is money”.
What is the best career advice you have ever been given?
One day a wise friend said to me: “Don’t spend the money you have deposited in your bank account. Try to live off the interest that your investments generate.” Easy to say but I did try to follow his advice to the letter! I have another anecdote for you. When I was younger I had the impression everyone around me was changing – that’s generally what happens when you get successful. Lee Strasberg, my acting teacher, looked me straight in the eye. He knew I was having a difficult time because of this fame that upset me a great deal. Anyway, he said to me: “If you want to carry on in this business you’re going to have to know how to adapt.” I heard what he was saying well enough but it took a little while before I acted on it. (Laughs). Lee was very perceptive when he gave me that advice. What else can you do in life? You just have to adapt and move forward. And that’s not only true in the film world but also in finance and in politics etc. If you don’t change you disappear. It’s in man’s nature to live or survive in a world that is constantly changing; a world in which only the smartest or the best prepared have a future.
This film shows the good and bad sides of fame. What are the best and worst parts of being a star for you?
The worst I think is the need to separate out the different levels of relationships you can have with the outside. You have to sort the authentic people from those who are just trying to take advantage of your position. The advantage is that people give you so much free stuff when you’re famous! You get free upgrades on airplanes, the best tables in restaurants, discounts when you buy a car etc.
But then I also get coach loads of tourists stopping in front of my home, taking loads of photos of the entrance gate on their iPhones. I don’t mind that as long as they stay the other side!
What is the strangest meeting with a fan you have ever had?
To be honest I have strange meetings all the time. One guy came up to me a while ago in the street and said: “Are you Al Pacino?” I replied in the affirmative so quickly that he answered: “That’s impossible; this guy can’t be Al Pacino because Al Pacino would never have stopped for me!” (Laughs) You should follow me sometimes, it’s funny. People often ask themselves: “What on earth can Al be doing in the street? Who’s he talking to?” And they begin talking amongst themselves although I’ve never seen them before in my life. That’s the way it goes, you get used to it!
You like Oscar Wilde. This film reminds me of something that great writer said which was that he was tired of being at the top. I think he wrote: “I should like to stare into the abyss to experience something new!” Do you ever get tired of being part of the upper echelons?
I have very strong memories of this life you are talking about. And the truth is it would be strange if I tried to go back to it. But I do occasionally go on the odd round trip between reality and the world you describe! For example, I worked on Oedipus for seven and a half months with Dianne Wiest at the Actors Studio. And the Actors Studio is still there, unchanged since I took my first infant steps there. It’s a way for me to go back to my roots to a certain extent. Like I said, you can’t really go backwards but you can remember the past. I’m not a chronic nostalgic but I admit sometimes I think back on all I went through in my youth, especially in New York City, which taught me so much and gave me so much. It was New York that educated me, that made me understand life, that took me under her wing and I am so glad I had that in my life. And then when I went back to Sicily during the shooting of The Godfather I felt such a strong connection with that land. I really had a visceral experience in Sicily. It’s an experience you can only have once in your life. When I arrived there with my bags I really felt at home.
Do you remember the very first interview you ever gave?I must have been 26 or 27. Just a kid! I was playing theatre. I talked for hours and I remember being shocked when I read the published article. (Laughs) The reporter shot me down in flames after I had poured my heart and soul out to him! Then there was another paper a few days later. It was in quite a smart place with my manager, the kind of establishment I wasn’t used to. Behind me there were some big shots in politics deep in discussion. I can’t tell you how surprised I was when I saw the photo they took of me; you got the impression these politicians were my friends when I never even spoke to them! From that moment on I became wary of reporters! I’m not wary of you though because you’ve asked the right questions and make me feel like I am very intelligent – which I’m not!
Interview conducted by Frank ROUSSEAU, our Hollywood correspondent.