Al Pacino sat down for a wide-ranging conversation on Wednesday night in New York, touching on everything from his early days on The Godfather and his decision to turn down Star Wars to his views on retirement.
The 82-year-old star sat down with David Rubenstein as part of 92NY’s “People Who Inspire Us” series for an hour-long chat, where he looked back on his career and revealed he is currently writing a memoir. “You get to that age, you start to do things like that. I stayed away from it, but I think I’ve got to sort of talk about certain things,” Pacino said. “It’s fine, I have kids and all, it’d be a good idea, and I’m working on it,” noting his co-author was in the audience.
Starting with his big break in The GodfatherPacino first asked the crowd who had seen the recent Paramount+ series The Offer, which follows the behind-the-scenes making of the 1972 film. “I watched it and about half of it was true. Really, that’s a shock,” the actor said. He recalled starting work on The Godfather, and after the first day of shooting, “Diane Keaton and I got drunk and thought, ‘This is it, our careers are over. This is a mess.’”
The film obviously ended up being far from a mess, going on to receive 11 Oscar nominations. Rubenstein asked Pacino if he was upset that Marlon Brando was nominated (and won) best actor while Pacino was recognized as supporting actor, although Pacino had more lines in the film. “How does a story like that get out? I wasn’t upset, are you kidding me?” said Pacino, explaining that he didn’t go to the ceremony that year “not because of that. Let’s clear the air on that one. I’d been hearing about that up the grapevine.”
Rubenstein also asked Pacino if he thought The Godfather Part II was superior to The Godfather, to which the star replied, “No, I don’t. I really think it’s more — what would you call it — artistic or something, I don’t know. I don’t mean to play it down and be overly modest because I star in it with Bob de Niro, but at the same time, it’s a different film.”
“You see, The Godfather is more entertaining. The Godfather II is this study, this personal thing for Francis [Ford Coppola],” Pacino continued. “Godfather I, I saw it recently, it’s always got two or three things going on in a scene. You’re always in the story, you’re going. You don’t know what’s going to happen next, it’s storytelling, it’s really storytelling at its best. The Godfather II sort of linearizes, and [it’s] kind of different, somber, moves slowly. But it’s a great movie, I have to say.”
He also reflected on his later roles in Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and Scarface. When asked if there were any roles he regretted passing on, he noted, “I turned down Star Wars” when he was new on the scene and being offered anything and everything to play.
“So I was there and all of a sudden they gave me a script that was called Star Wars. I said, ‘I got the script, they offered me so much money, but I don’t understand it,’” eventually deciding he couldn’t do it for that reason. He joked, “I gave Harrison Ford a career, which he has never thanked me for!”
After nearly 50 movies, Pacino said he currently has four more on the schedule and hopes to do an adaptation of King Lear next year. When Rubenstein asked about retirement, the actor joked, “I’m always retired. I was retired when I was 25. I mean, who cares? Please don’t call it retired, I just don’t want to work anymore.”
“I don’t know, sometimes I just don’t want to do it as much. I like the lead-up to it, you know what I mean? It’s sort of like foreplay or something. I like to get there and then see, ‘Will I make it? Will I not make it? That kind of thing. I don’t know anymore,” he continued, putting his hands on his knees. “I wake up in the morning, I sit at the edge of the bed like this. And I think, ‘Is it really possible that I’m gonna get through this day?’ And then I think, ‘But I did say that yesterday, and I said it the day before and the day before that, and I got through it.’ I said that this morning, ladies and gentlemen, and you’re seeing him today!”
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