An eccentric evening with Al Pacino
Al Pacino played to the crowd at a one-off event at the Palladium; but, says David Gritten, the man himself remains a mystery.
He may be 73 now, and all his best-loved film performances are from the last century, but there’s no denying Al Pacino’s drawing power. He packed out the London Palladium last night for An Evening With Pacino – a curious one-off event in which he was interviewed by Emma Freud as clips from his best-known movies were shown, and genially answered questions from an adoring audience.
Most people left the theatre buzzing, seemingly happy they’d got their money’s worth. Not a negligible achievement, given that tickets ranged from £60 to £250. But for this event, which felt like a fan convention at times, Pacino was halfway home merely by having shown up.
In baggy all-black clothes, he ambled onstage and ran both hands through his hair all night as he talked. Emma Freud lobbed easy questions for Pacino to hit out of the park, and set the tone with her first comment: “Would it be all right if I said I wanted to lick your face?” Friendly grilling, then, rather than Freudian analysis.
Still, Pacino had interesting anecdotes. He’d enjoyed making Scarface (clearly the favourite film of many in the crowd), but found the Godfather trilogy “a long, awful, tiring story.” The studio was apparently poised to dump him from the first one, his first major film, in which he played Michael Corleone, because he seemed to be contributing little. Then director Francis Ford Coppola shuffled the shooting schedule, moving forward a scene in which Michael shoots rival mobsters in a restaurant. The studio suits saw the rushes and concluded Pacino was OK.
There were some decent revelations when he disclosed film roles he had turned down: Richard Gere’s in Pretty Woman (now that would have made it a different movie); Lenny (the role of Lenny Bruce went to Dustin Hoffman); Harrison Ford’s in Star Wars (“it was mine for the taking but I didn’t understand the script,” he quipped); and both Marlon Brando’s and Martin Sheen’s parts in Apocalypse Now.
The clips were exemplary: The Godfather and Scarface, of course, but also the great Dog Day Afternoon and his deliciously over-the-top crescendo of a monologue in Any Given Sunday, with Pacino as a football coach. We also saw a snatch of Scent of a Woman - far from his best movie, but the one that finally won him an Oscar for playing a blind, retired military officer. Asked by an audience member to say his character’s recurring phrase, Pacino obliged: “Whoo-yah.” The crowd went wild.
Still, they stayed politely attentive even when Pacino turned precious, discussing the theory of his craft and talking about an actor’s “instrument.” This was a crowd-pleasing evening, yet there was a cerebral edge to it: Pacino aired his grievances about why Americans find Shakespeare hard to get their heads around; he introduced a clip from his latest film, the art-house Wilde Salome, in which he stars with Jessica Chastain; and he concluded the night by reading an ee cummings poem and reciting part of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
A few celebrities were sprinkled throughout the crowd: Paul O’Grady; singer Beverly Knight and Linda Henry from EastEnders, both looking smart – and, incongruously, ex-Spurs legend Ossie Ardiles. Also, inevitably, a gaggle of not-quite-recognisable D-listers, there primarily to flaunt themselves before photographers. For someone of Pacino’s stature, the list of invited guests should have been more impressive.
Still, an agreeable if eccentric evening. The thought occurred afterwards that Pacino’s performance was a subtle sleight of hand – giving the impression of sharing long-withheld secrets without revealing anything inadvertently. You can call him Al, but you don’t really know him at all.
As originally seen on Telegraph.co.uk