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The Method

"One of the great things about acting is to suddenly be able to tell someone who has a chain saw at your face to go shove it up his ass." - Al Pacino
From 'Pacino's Will' by Lawrence Grobel for Premiere Magazine, December 2004/January 2005  
 
 

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"The work we do is not based on theory. A theory is something which has not yet been proven." - Lee Strasberg
 
"The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication."
--Cecil B. DeMille (1881 - 1959)
 

"The greatest acting genius of our time. What will we do without Marlon in this world?"  (Al Pacino on Marlon Brando’s passing).

 

 

The following are excerpts taken from an article published in the July 5, 2004 “The London News Review,” eulogizing Marlon Brando.  These excerpts provide much insight into the actors’ craft.

 

Brando was a great actor because he was unembarrassed by his trade. The greatness of all great actors (with the exception of the great clowns, like Groucho or Chevy or Harold Lloyd) is simply this: they are not ashamed by emoting in public. And emoting emotions that aren't even theirs to emote.

 

That famous scene in When Harry Met Sally when Meg Ryan does the fake orgasm is not really about sex, it is about acting. The point of Ryan’s groaning and table thumping is not simply that women can howl with false pleasure at the drop of a hat, it’s about how – in order to act (in whatever context, sexual or otherwise) – one has to be utterly unembarrassable.

 

A good recent example: Jim Carey – that rare breed of a great clown and a great actor – sitting in his car in The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, weeping his eyes out, thudding the steering wheel in an agony of lost love. What a perfectly ridiculous thing for a grown man to be doing: pretending to cry like that – bawling and gasping and screaming in front of a film crew.

 

Or take Meryl Streep, the way she’s forever collapsing into heartrending sobs in The Bridges of Madison County, not to mention the way she has to suck hungrily on the elderly lips of Clint Eastwood, and tenderly stroke his chest, and do the whole thing while adopting an absurd Peruvian/Mexican/Sicilian accent: it’s a masterclass in unembarrassment.

 

So how the hell do Jim & Meryl & Marlon & Co. do it? Well, the best actors share two key traits:

 

1) they lack that safety catch in the brain that censors acts of public silliness. In most of us, the catch can quite easily click off after a good dose of alcohol, but in actors, it is pretty much permanently disengaged.

2) as anyone who has watched “The Actors Studio” can attest, all ‘great’ actors exhibit (however self-effacingly) a strange and unsettling seriousness about the craft of acting.

 

Brando's greatness, therefore, lies in his breathtaking ability to take himself seriously, no matter how downright silly he is actually being.

 

Look at Brando in The Godfather. His jowly growlings are perfectly absurd, but he pulls them off with an awe-inspiring lack of shame. Brando in Apocalypse Now is perhaps the best example of his mastery: he murmurs and gurns and sweats his way through his scenes, giving maybe the most cartoonish performance in the history of screen drama, but does so with such weighty seriousness that you buy into it. You believe him. Brando has taken the burden of embarrassment upon himself, so that we can watch the character and enjoy the film without our toes curling up on his behalf.

 

This is why we should thank actors. They soak up the shame of pretending, like children, to be things they’re not, so that we can sit back in our cinema chairs and watch a fiction unfold. They run about with guns like 6-year-old boys, and soliloquize like schoolgirls talking to the fairies in the vegetable patch, and get paid for doing it. It’s really not the kind of things adults should do, which is why top actors get paid so much. It’s shame-money.

 

Look into the eyes of Marlon Brando, and that’s what you’ll see: a devastating, shark-like absence of shame. The greatest actor of all time? Probably not. The fattest? Maybe. But the most shameless? He's certainly in with a shout.

 

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Yale Bulletin and Calendar - News

December 6-13, 1999Volume 28, Number 15

 

 Actors must connect with their characters, says Pacino

 

      Striding down the center aisle of the University Theatre, Academy Award-winning actor Al Pacino flung his arms open wide and proclaimed with a grin, "I don't know what I'm walking into here!"

 

      The declaration drew both laughter and applause from the assembled undergraduates, who certainly knew why they were there -- to garner insights about acting, specifically acting in Shakespearean plays, from one of today's most acclaimed thespians.

 

      Pacino came to campus as a guest of the Yale University Dramatic Association, the Yale Film Society and the Yale Shakespeare Company.

 

      His Nov. 19 visit included a master class on acting in the School of Drama's University Theatre; screenings at the Whitney Humanities Center of Pacino's latest film, "The Insider," and of "Looking for Richard," a documentary about the creation of a production of Shakespeare's "Richard III," which Pacino starred in, directed and produced; a question-and-answer session with the celebrity after the screenings (see related story, below); and a dinner in Pacino's honor, where he was given an award in recognition of his achievements in acting by Yale College Dean

Richard Brodhead.

 

      The hundred or so undergraduates who had gathered at the drama school to hear Pacino's advice on acting included members of the Yale Dramat and theater studies majors. The session began with two scenes from "Othello" -- the murder of Desdemona and an argument between the Moor and Iago -- performed by undergraduate actors.

 

      At the conclusion of these scenes, Pacino pulled a chair onto the stage and questioned the performers about how they'd chosen the scenes they'd staged (the selections had been assigned), how long they'd rehearsed the roles (about four days) and who had directed the performances (only themselves). He encouraged the students to continue working on the scenes -- perhaps even to videotape their performances -- until they'd developed a deep understanding of their character's motivations. Pacino then proceeded to offer suggestions to the group in general about how to enhance their performance skills.

 

      The most important thing for an actor, explained Pacino, is to find a way to develop a bond with his or her character. "The role that connects -- it's the greatest thing that can happen to every actor," he said.

 

      In years gone by, Pacino noted, actors would often find one role that they were particularly good in, and perform that role exclusively. "In our world today, it's not the same thing. Today it's all about diversity," he said.

 

      Pacino noted that, during his days doing repertory theater, he would sometimes audition for a specific role that both he and others thought would be perfect for him, only to end up with another part. Yet, he said, grappling with those less-coveted roles helped him grow as an actor, and he encouraged the students to attempt characters that might, at first, seem incomprehensible to them. "We don't know what's right for us until we try it," he said.

 

      Turning to the challenges of performing in Shakespeare's plays, Pacino contended that the Bard's works are perfect for actors because they were written by someone who was a performer himself. "Only an actor can understand actors. ... So, who can understand Shakespeare better than actors?" he said, advising that performers "stay closest to what Shakespeare wrote" in interpreting their roles.

 

      Pacino conceded that the antiquated language in Shakespeare's plays can impede actors' abilities to understand their characters, and suggested that the young thespians begin by reading the play over and over until they comprehend the meaning behind the language. He also encouraged them to sing their lines, as if they were performing in an opera. "The notes can bring us to a certain place. ... Then all of a sudden, it starts to happen," he said.

 

      The actor -- who has won Tony, Obie and Theatre World awards for his roles in Broadway and off-Broadway productions -- also told the students, "Sometimes it's a good idea to improvise. I know that sounds crazy when you're talking about Shakespeare. But once you improvise being in a certain situation, when you go back into character, you have a better idea of what your motivations are in the scene."

 

      Asking questions about the character can also offer insights into their  motivations, said the celebrity. "Has Othello ever been in love before? ... Why is Iago so [expletive] mad?"

 

      Pacino noted, "You have to find a way to make this role and this situation connect to you, so you can be engaged with it. ... If you can make that connection, it will take away the tendency to fall into the 'language thing,' or to be stifled by it or inhibited by it. ... An adventure is going to start when you know who you are in relation to the character.

 

      The star, who won an Oscar for his role in "Scent of a Woman," pointed out to the students that, "We're required as actors to be in a certain state in order to render, mirror, what's going on in this play." By taking the time to learn every aspect of the character, actors become "really privy to so much stuff ... that makes us have so much more information than anyone in the audience will have, but we have to swallow it, so they can understand."

      -- By LuAnn Bishop

 

      Comments from an Academy Award-winning actor on ...

 

      The following edited and excerpted observations were made by Academy Award-winning actor Al Pacino during his question-and-answer session with students following the screenings of his latest feature film "The Insider" and the documentary "Looking for Richard," which he starred in, directed and produced.

 

      ... How he was drawn to acting.

      "When I was younger, my mother took me to the movies, and I'd act out the parts the next day. It started there. ...

 

      "I never wanted to be an actor. Then in school, I found out it was a good way of getting out of class. Because I got into the plays I didn't have to  do all that other stuff, and I said, 'All right, I'll be an actor.' I knew it was an impossible dream, but I had encouragement when I was in eighth grade. My eighth-grade acting teacher came to my home and said she thought that my grandmother should encourage me. This actually left my memory until later on in life, and I thought, 'Gee, it was this teacher, this eighth-grade teacher, who changed my life.'"

 

      ... Acting in Shakespearean plays.

      "Shakespeare was alien to me growing up. It was something that I wasn't familiar with. It was always communicated to me that you had to be a certain type, you had to have a certain education, to be a certain way, in order to do Shakespeare -- that some kid from the South Bronx, which I  was, was unable to do Shakespeare. It had nothing to do with my life, with what I know.  "But later on, I got into classes and I started responding to this material. Then I started learning Shakespeare in a way, the only way really that an actor can -- that is, to engage in a role and by doing that, to learn the play in that personal, intimate way. I don't think that most of you who are not actors have that opportunity to really learn the play in that way. I think once you do, things unfold: You hear things and you see things in the play that you never would on first hearing.   "If I were to teach a course in Shakespeare to non-actors, I'd have them act because I think they would get inside the play in that way. "

 

      ... Directing a film.

      "Making 'Looking for Richard' made me relate to film in a way that I never  had done before. I do recommend making a film if you want to learn. ... I don't see myself as a director. A director sees material as something he wants to direct; I see the material as something I want to act."

 

      ... "Method" acting.

      "Although I never had a formal training in certain method exercises, I would be close to being a method actor, if that means anything. Not that it really is a method. Everyone has one, and ours really is simply, I guess, living. ... If I'm playing a cook, I have to do a quick study of a cook. It's like finding someone who speaks a certain language. There's just so much you can absorb with the language. You have to find these key things that set you up. When I'm playing a cook, I go and hang out in the kitchen. What I hope will happen is that I'll absorb unconsciously some of these things. ... What stays with me is what I use. I admire very much the way he flips an egg, but that doesn't stay with me later. Another thing stays with me -- the way he wipes a counter ...

     

            "There's this story about Michael Chekhov, the great acting teacher, who was portraying a character going to the guillotines in a play and he was just terrified. Everyone was asking him, 'What are you thinking about, the guillotine? Having your head chopped off?' No, he was thinking about a cold shower. It worked for him. That's method. It's not always that you're just imagining yourself at the guillotine. That's not going to do it. Sometimes it's a little more personal than that, you think about that shower because in the end that's what you're thinking about anyway. You're relating to something. If you're terrified, you're relating to something real, even if you're not conscious of it."

 

      ... His favorite role.

      "It's hard for me to pick one out. They're racing through my mind as I talk. I think 'Scarface' comes out. [Applause and cheers from the audience.] I'm very happy about that movie, because when it first came out it was a scandal. ... At the time I knew it wasn't getting what I thought it deserved. It seemed to be speaking about something."

 

      ... His most challenging role.

      "The first 'Godfather.' It was the most challenging because I didn't know how I could sustain this kind of guy and then turn into that later part.

 

    ... I remember spending many, many weeks -- months -- just thinking about how I would make this kid into what he becomes."

      -- By Dorie Baker

 

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Al Pacino discusses his film career at forum in Fowler


CLASS: Actor also made an appearance at UCLA course on interviewing

 

Daily Bruin Reporter By Dexter Gauntlett

Oscar-winning actor Al Pacino spoke before an audience of 300 at Fowler Hall Monday night, leading to nearly three hours of open discussion about acting, Shakespeare and the Godfather himself.

Pacino, who is notorious for not giving interviews, fielded questions in what he called a "very informal, casual" atmosphere.

"Most of the time I don't have the answers, but I definitely enjoy the questions," Pacino said.

"It made me think ... about how we are in a certain place right now in society, and I think we need to go to informality – a kind of reaching out in society," Pacino said.

Larry Grobel, an English professor and friend of Pacino, organized the event and had the actor surprise his "Art of Interviewing" class earlier that day.

"My students had no idea that Al was coming and then when he walked into my class I said, 'OK, here's Al,'" Grobel said.

Grobel and Pacino formed a friendship when Grobel, who freelanced for Playboy, was asked by his editor to interview Pacino after an article he had written on actor Marlon Brando. Grobel recounted how his editor explained to him: "Pacino says he only wants to do it with the guy who did Brando."

Upon entering the hall Monday night, the New York native, dressed in all black, sat down on a stool and asked, "As a Sicilian actor from the South Bronx, what do you think I am going to play?"

Though typecast as a gangster in his early years as an actor, Pacino said his profound success provided him the opportunity to participate in a variety of theatrical performances and films.

Most commonly recognized for his best supporting actor-nominated role of Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" in 1972, the 1992 Oscar winner expressed his passion for Shakespeare.

Many of the nearly 300 in attendance were film and English students.

"Al Pacino is an unbelievable actor, but in person it becomes clear that it's his character within and his ability to communicate that makes him the powerhouse," said Adam Dimmerman, a second-year graduate student in the producer's program.

The night began with a viewing of the first act of the documentary "Looking for Richard," a film Pacino directed based on Shakespeare's "Richard III." The film alternates between scenes of the actual play and the making of the play.

Frequently, Pacino will be in the middle of one of his lines in the film, then it will switch to a scene of him rehearsing the same lines in a New York church.

"When you actually show what I did in making the documentary – seeing the pieces – it makes the film more interesting," Pacino said.

In other scenes, Pacino and the producer walked through the streets of New York and asked people what they knew about Richard III.

Pacino, who met with students at Harvard, Yale, Rutgers and Brown in similar settings 20 years ago, said he feels most comfortable in a relaxed atmosphere because of "the adventure of not knowing what will happen next."

Pacino also showed a five-minute clip from another small film he directed, "Chinese Coffee," and spoke about a third unreleased film, "Local Stigmatic."

Comedian David Spade, who was in attendance, cited Pacino's work as inspiring.

"Al Pacino is a living legend ... forget about 'The Godfather;' he's got so many great films to choose from when most actors only have one or two," he said.

 

 

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Al Pacino Pays Tribute To Lee Strasberg


On
February 11, 2002, the New York theater community, including Al Pacino, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of acting coach Lee Strasberg.  Included in the celebration was an excerpt from “The Godfather Part II” of Strasberg playing Mafia kingpin Hyman Roth to Pacino's Michael Corleone in the 1974 classic.  Pacino commented that it was "very rewarding that someone like Lee is remembered so vividly” twenty years after his passing.

 

Pacino remembered the times at Strasberg’s summer home on New York's Fire Island when Strasberg would just stand by the water and observe.  "One day,” Pacino said, “he was watching while everybody was in the water and everyone was jumping up and down having a great time. They called out to Lee, 'C'mon! Join us!' And Lee just looked at them and said, 'I don't want to get involved.'

 

*Lee Strasberg died in 1982.

 

* Silverman, Steven M., “Al Pacino Happily Recalls His Coach” People, Feb 12, 2002

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*L to R - Anna Strasberg, Al Pacino and Ellen Burstyn