Not your most commonly seen biography, the following is an interview that originally appeared in the July 2002 issue of Esquire
Magazine and will serve as this site's version of a "Biography." More than anything that has ever been published, this
holds more meaning; for they are words from Al...
WHEN I WAS A KID, my great-grandmother would occasionally give me a silver dollar. She was always very affectionate toward
me. When she would give it to me, the rest of the family would always scream in unison, "No! No! Nooooooooo! Don't give
him the silver dollar!" And they meant it, because we were really poor. And as soon as it was in my hand, everybody would
scream, "Give it back! Give it back!" and so I'd feel uncomfortable about taking it.
My father and mother split up when I was very young. I was an only child in a tenement in the South Bronx with my mother,
my grandmother, and grandfather. We didn't have much. So it was a big day when I found out you could get Tom Mix spurs off
the back of a cereal box. Tom Mix was a cowboy hero in the movies, and he was huge. Huge! Just the fact that the spurs came
in a box by mail made them huge. And so we sent away for the spurs.
I MUST HAVE been about six years old when my great-grandmother died. I don't remember much about the funeral, only bits and
pieces, you know, everybody clustered together. We come home - and the Tom Mix spurs have arrived in the mail. I get all excited.
But then I remember my great-grandmother has just died. I want to be happy, but... On that day, I learned conflict.
I WAS HOME ALONE A LOT, growing up. My mother worked, but she would take me to the theatre to see all the movies. And the
next day, all alone, I would act out the movie at home, playing all the roles. I saw The Lost Weekend at a very young age.
Probably too young to see something like that. But I was very impressed with it. I didn't know what was going on, but the
passion was interesting to me. Ray Milland won an Oscar for that. In it, there's a scene where he's looking for a liquor bottle.
When he was drunk, he hid the bottle in the apartment. Now he's sober and he wants to find it. He knows it's somewhere, but
he forgets. He looks for it and finally finds it. I used to do that scene. On occasion, when my dad used to visit me, he'd
take me to his relatives in Harlem and say, "Show 'em the bottle scene." I'd act it out and they'd all laugh. And
I'd be thinking, Why are they laughing? It's a very serious scene.
I WAS AT A STREET CARNIVAL when I was a kid and threw the ball and knocked down a couple of bottles, but they didn't give
me the prize. To this day, I can't believe that they would do that. The injustice! I went back to the apartment and told my
grandfather. And that look on his face, it comes back to me even now. It said: "You're not expecting me to go down six
flights, walk five blocks, and try to prove to some guy at the carnival that you knocked down the bottles and should get the
prize." I saw all that on his face. At the same time, he tried to tell me how sometimes this happens in life. And he
was right. It happens in life.
MY MOTHER died before I made it. You know, here's what I really remember about my mother. We're on the top floor of our tenement.
It's freezing out. I have to go to school the next day. I'm maybe 10 years old. Down in the alleyway, my friends are calling
up to me. They want me to go travelling around with them at night and have some real fun. My mother wouldn't let me. I remember
being so angry with her. "Why can't I go out like everyone else? What's wrong with me?" On and on I screamed at
her. She endured my wrath. And she saved my life. Because those guys down in the alley - none of them are around right now.
I don't think about it that much. But it touches me now as I'm talking about it. She didn't want me out in the streets late
at night. I had to do my homework. And I'm sitting here right now because of it. It's so simple, isn't it? But we forget,
we just forget.
ONE OF THE MOST striking things I've ever experienced was in the South Bronx, in one of those vaudeville houses that had been
turned into a movie house. It seated thousands, and this travelling troupe came through. I was 14 and had never seen grown-ups
act on a stage, though I'd been onstage myself. In elementary school, I was in a show where there was a big pot - the melting
pot - and I was the representative from Italy, stirring. I can remember the kids in school asking for my autograph, and I
would sign it "Sonny Scott." It was catchy, you know.
Anyway, this troupe was doing The Seagull by Chekhov. There were about 15 or 20 people in the audience, all of us clumped
together in the middle of a theatre that seated thousands. The play started and then it was over. That's about how fast it
went for me. It was magical. I remember thinking, Who was the person that wrote this? I went out and got a book of Chekhov's
stories. Then I went into the High School of Performing Arts.
AND ONE DAY I go into the Howard Johnson's near the school for something to eat and the star of that show is pushing coffee
behind the counter. My jaw dropped. I was in awe of this guy. I had to tell him. I remember that exchange. He was so grateful
in a way, kind and understanding. He had to be all of 25. There he was, waiting on me at the Howard Johnson's. Things are
MY BIG BREAKTHROUGH came when I was 21. I was doing Creditors, a translation of an August Strindberg play. My friend Charlie
Laughton directed it in an obscure theatre in the bowels of SoHo, which at the time wasn't SoHo but just a bunch of warehouses.
The play takes place in Sweden at the turn of the century, and the character I played is named Adolf. It was the first
time I had the opportunity to explore a world that I hadn't come in contact with - and then to find myself actually inhabiting
that role. It wasn't the literal thing of being Swedish but the feeling that I was connected to the metaphor. It was a transforming
experience, tantamount to falling in love.
It felt like I didn't need to do anything else in life but that. It was like discovering you could write. Suddenly you had
an outlet. The concern was no longer whether you were going to get paid for it or whether you were going on to be successful
or famous. It was, as they say, no longer the destination but the journey.
I was homeless at the time. I would sometimes sleep at night in the theatre where I performed. Sometimes Charlie would
put me up at his place. It was hard, but at that age you can sleep anywhere. At the time, I even thought it was cool. I was
alive to what I was doing.
There's a time in your life when that happens to you if you're lucky enough to have it happen. Then it goes. You start
to make a living. But, you know, from time to time I try to think about life back then... and to stay in touch with it.
THE FIRST TIME I felt like I had money was in Boston, when I was in a repertory company. Before that, the closest I'd come
was bus-transfer slips. When I was a kid, they had these transfer slips that came in yellow and pink and blue. There was a
place where these rejected slips were, and we would stuff our pockets full of them. Even though they were valueless, there
was a kind of value to them. You could imagine what it was like to have a pocket full of bucks.
Later on, I got a job delivering a trade paper called Show Business to the newsstands. Rain, sleet, and snow, I delivered.
I'll never forget - I got $12 for it. A 10 and two singles. I would always cash my 10 so I had 12 singles. Then I could peel
off the singles at a bar and it looked like a bankroll. I must have been 25 when I got that paycheck from the repertory
company in Boston. I went into a bar and had a martini and a steak. And afterwards, I still had money.
I WAS A YOUNG MAN when I went to shoot The Godfather. I remember being in Sicily, and it was so hot. If you haven't slept
and you're not feeling well and it's 120 degrees and you're dressed in all wool, well, you just want to go home. You start
feeling, What am I doing? I'm just shooting this over and over again and I don't know what this is anymore.
All these Sicilian extras were lined up. They all got wool clothes on, too. This one guy, this Sicilian extra, says in
Italian, "We've been out here all day. It's hot. I'd like to take a break." And the production guy says, "You
take a break and you're off the picture." Now, the extra obviously has no money, which is why he's doing it in the first
place. He looks at the production guy, shrugs his shoulders, says "Mah!" and walks away. And I said to myself, This
guy, he's my hero.
These are the things that stay in my head. I loved that guy. Could I have done that? No. Could I do it now? Nahhhhhhhh.
That was freedom. For a moment, that guy made me feel good. Suddenly, the wool was OK.
I didn't know what was gonna happen with the movie - and then, the most amazing thing happened. We were in New York, doing
the burial of Don Corleone. We'd shot all day. It's six at night and I'm going home. I see Francis Coppola sitting on the
gravestone, and he's crying. Literally bawling. "Francis," I say. "What happened? What's the matter?"
And he says, "They won't give me another set-up." Meaning, they wouldn't let him shoot the scene again. So he's
sitting on the gravestone crying, and I thought, This guy is going to make a movie here. If he's got that kind of passion,
that kind of feeling about one set-up ... That was the moment. I could feel it then. This guy cares. And that's it. That's
the way to live - around people who care. It may be a tough ride, but something is going to come out of it.
I DIDN'T KNOW how to drive until I was 24 or 25. I didn't need to, growing up in New York. But I had to learn for films. The
money was coming in, and finally I got a car. I went with my friend Charlie and got this white BMW right out of the dealership.
We get in the car and drive to my apartment in Manhattan. As we're driving, I'm thinking, Y'know, this just isn't me. It just
didn't feel right. But I said to myself, "What the hell, you'll get used to it." I parked it in front of the apartment,
and we went up for a cup of coffee. When we came down to drive Charlie home, the car is gone. I remember looking at that space
where the car used to be, looking at Charlie, and laughing.
And I had a flashback.
Years before, Charlie and I were riding bikes and we went into Katz's Deli on Houston Street. Now, the relationship I had
with my bike was much different from the one I had with the car. I'd had that bike for a couple of years and used it to get
from the Bronx to Manhattan. I didn't have money at the time, and it was not only my form of transportation but a great source
of fun and amusement. It was one of the few things I could do for free. Anyway, Charlie and I park our bikes on the street
and go in the deli and get some hot dogs. Every other bite I would turn around to check on the bikes. I must have put mustard
on the dog or something, because the next time I turned around the bikes were gone. I remember running outside and they were
nowhere in sight. It wasn't funny that time.
I WAS AT A STREETLIGHT ONCE, and I looked over at a young woman and smiled. She said, "Oh, hi, Michael." You know,
Michael from The Godfather. It was as though she'd stripped me right there of my anonymity. Just stripped me. I wasn't Michael
when I said hello. I was me smiling at a young woman on a street corner. I was seen, but I wasn't, you know what I mean?
UNTIL YOU ARE famous, you can never understand the haven of anonymity. There's a line from the play The Local Stigmatic that
goes like this: Fame is the perversion of the natural human instinct for validation and attention. That's a bit of a hard
line. But I'll tell you this: Fame really complicates personal relationships. And when you put together fame and success,
that can be a bit of a headache. But as Lee Strasberg, my friend and mentor, once said to me: "Darling, you simply have
I HAD A DEAR, dear friend who died of cancer at age 35. We were the same age. I went through the whole thing with him, saw
it all. There was a moment I will never forget. It was outside his room. His father and mother came to visit him. I was very
close to him, and I'd never once heard him talk about his father. He had a relationship with his parents that was complicated,
and they hadn't seen him for a while. But there was love there somewhere. Anyway, his father was in the room with him, and
I was in the hall. And his father came out and looked me straight in the eye and said: "What are we gonna do?" I
hesitated, but he had my arm. He looked at me and said, "If I could take his place ..." Not only was this guy ready
to die, ready to go right there on the spot for his child, but he was really asking me if I knew how he could do it. It was
very powerful. And then I had children, and I understood.
I DIDN'T KNOW my Dad well. He was an accountant. Finally, he got himself a little bar in California with a music stand. It
was his place, which he felt good about. I went to visit him. I remember excusing myself to go to the bathroom. As I was going,
I just felt a sense of somebody covering my back.
My father was married five times. What does that tell me? That he liked married life. OK, what does it tell me? It tells
me we're creatures of habit.
I'VE NEVER MARRIED. On women, I can be funny and glib. Or I really can try to tell you. Where to start? I have always enjoyed
the company of women. I have very close women friends. I could probably sit here for a long time and tell you why that is,
or why I think it is. But to say a lot would be an understatement, right?
We'll let it ride there.
I WENT FOR FOUR YEARS without doing a movie toward the end of the '80s. It wasn't a conscious decision. It just happened after
I was unhappy with the results of the couple of movies I'd made.
I don't want to mention the movies. But it bothers you when something that is potentially worthwhile doesn't come through.
You know how actors have recurring dreams about not knowing their lines? Well, I have a recurring dream where I'm in one of
those movies that doesn't work. In my dream, I'm saying, "But I didn't know I was doing that movie. It was a mistake.
Really. I didn't know I was being filmed."
It was time in my life to take a break and look around. I found myself wanting to get back to some of the things that
I'd done earlier in my life, to observe more.
AN ACTOR WITH too much money will usually find a way to get rid of it. I poured my money into my own film, The Local Stigmatic,
which I never released. I did some plays. All of a sudden the years passed, and suddenly I owed some back taxes and the mortgage
was due and I was broke.
But you know what really hit me? I was walking through Central Park and this guy comes up to me - didn't know him at all -
and he says, "Hey, what happened to you? We don't see you, man." I said, "Well, I... uh, I... uh," and
he said, "C'mon, Al, I want to see you up there!" And I recognized that I was lucky to have what I've been given.
You gotta use it.
IT SURPRISED ME, the feeling I got when I won the Oscar for Scent of a Woman. It was a new feeling. I'd never felt it. I don't
see my Oscar much now. But when I first got it, there was a feeling for weeks afterward that I guess is akin to winning a
gold medal in the Olympics. It's like you've won a race and everybody knows you won. It's a wonderful feeling, a complete
feeling. I wish I had better words for it.
THERE'S A SCENE in Insomnia where I'm chasing a character played by Robin Williams over logs floating on cold water. You know,
it's what the loggers do, sort of a cross between rodeo and tap dancing on logs.
A scene like that shouldn't be perfect. It should be spontaneous. That's what it's about.
I like to avoid the word perfection. There's the real apple. And then there's the apple that looks like the perfect apple.
The problem is when you bite into the perfect apple, it doesn't have the taste or nourishment of the real apple.
AFTER EVERY MOVIE, Humphrey Bogart - even at the end - was very worried he'd never get another part. If you don't get the
job, there's no work, there's no outlet, there's no expression, there's no painting. You just live and hope that another day
will come with a role that will serve as a canvas for you.
"Charlie Laughton is probably the most important person in my life. He made me realize that acting is poetry, an art
that employs the voice, the body, the spirit. It's fantastic being an actor, and so few people know that."
"I remember one day when I was just 21. I was running down a flight of stairs to look in the mailbox, and I jumped over
the last few steps and quickly spun around and looked up to the top of the stairs where Charlie was standing. He looked back
at me and said, "Al, you're going to be a big star! That's all he said and it was not at all the way Charlie usually
spoke, it was not his nature. Yet, when he said it, I received it, I knew. I was always certain this would happen to me, that
I'd be a star - even during the years of struggle. And that's the truth."
"I was very shy, and when I was about 3 years old my mother began taking me to the movies, night after night. The next
day, all by myself, I would enact all the parts of the movie before a mirror. My grandmother would be there, but always off
in another room. "Al likes to talk to himself," she used to say. "He's doing OK." I was really all alone
those first seven years of my life. In fact, I used to go steady with a broom, or maybe it was a mop."
The above excerpt was from the LA Times Interview dated 1973.
"...In person, Pacino seems rumpled, softly funny, slightly scattered: a favorite uncle with a giant rip in his coat.
He tends to wave away praise, though he clearly doesn't mind hearing it. Tell him the obvious - that he and his generation
altered the defination of a movie star - and he quibbles: "Dustin blew everything open. He changed it all when he did
that early stuff, like "The Graduate." Tell him that because of him, Hoffman and Robert De Niro nobody wants to
be a pretty-boy leading man anymore and he rears up in surprise: "I do!"...
Excerpt from "Understanding of Family and Fame. A Rare, Intimate Talk With a Legend" by Jeff Giles for Newsweek
"....At one point, we joke about the mystery of his
vanishing shyness - - he has, after all, just spent several hours answering questions with ease and forthrightness.
Mr. Pacino assures me that his shyness is innate and still there somewhere in the bottom of his psyche."
says, "I think there comes a point where you have to state who you are. You can't run away, you can't hide, really.
Finally, you just have to say, Here I am."
Above excerpts from The New York Times, September 12, 1999, By Karen Durbin.