Conversations With Pacino


Book Review by Willard Manus

Al Pacino is one of our finest and most famous actors, but he goes out of his way to avoid the media spotlight and remain his own person. It is quite remarkable, then, how much he reveals of himself in AL PACINO--IN CONVERSATION WITH LAWRENCE GROBEL (Simon Spotlight Entertainment). The new book is based on the numerous interviews Grobel did with Pacino over a twenty-seven year period, some of which were published in Playboy or Movieline, others of which appear here for the first time.

A tip of the hat to Grobel for the way he got Pacino to open up. The author of such previous books as The Hustons and Conversations With Capote, Grobel slowly earned Pacino's respect and trust, so much so that actor and journalist have become best of friends.

"I have learned to appreciate his manner, his style over the years, some of which is shocking," Pacino writes in a foreword. "But you accept it because it's Larry. He persists but never with guile...Larry and I know each other very well (as well as anyone knows anybody). We have forgiven each other many times. I have forgiven him for writing this book. I hope he forgives me for writing this foreword."

The portrait of Pacino which emerges from the cloud of talk is fresh and striking. Born in the south Bronx to a poor, unhappy family, he struggled to make it as an actor, surviving rejection and hardship, driven not by a need to become a star, but by a deep, abiding love for theatre--strong, bold, visceral theatre, the kind he grew up with in the 60s (e.g. Joe Papp's Public Theatre, Judith Molina's Living Theatre). The work those groups did inspired him to hang in, keep studying, keep playing small parts, fighting to succeed.

But even after success came--The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, etc--Pacino's values never changed. He made big money and certainly enjoyed it, but was never above returning to Off-Broadway to do a play. He has also put his own money into several film projects--Looking for Richard, The Local Stigmatic--which had no chance of becoming commercially successful. He acted, directed and produced these works simply because he liked them, believed in them, was challenged by them.

"Instead of plotting his career along traditional points of stardom, Pacino seems to choose his parts according to some inner compass, often playing quirky roles that do little to enhance his fame--but that engage his fascination with the process of acting," Grobel writes, adding later that Pacino is "a throwback to a time when artists did what pleased them, what inspired them, and if anyone liked what they did, fine with them. But if they didn't, it didn't matter."

Grobel's book also contains lots of gossipy, funny Hollywood stuff, such as Pacino's feelings about some of the directors and stars with whom he's worked--Coppola, Diane Keaton, Rene Russo, Robin Williams, Mike Nichols, to name but a few. Pacino also deals frankly with some of his bigtime bombs--especially Bobby Deerfield and Revolution.

The latter film, he feels, was "quit on" by the studio. "The lesson I got from it was that it was important to pursue something to its end...After that kind of work and energy and talent put into it, I expected that they would have worked on that film, but they just let it go. They put half a film out. I was appalled and shocked by that. I didn't know what to do...I lost interest for a while. I returned to some of the things that got me here in the first place. I did a movie out of The Local Stigmatic, my own little picture, and it got me in touch with the things I remembered as a young actor working: trying to really pick through things and find an expression of some sort."

That kind of attitude is what makes Pacino special. Same goes for this unique book about him.