Simone | EW.com

Movies

Al Pacino, Rachel Roberts, ...

(Simone: D. Michaels)

”I play, well, hmmm,” says Keener, pausing for a full five seconds. ”Jeez! Let me think if I can remember….” Keener isn’t being a flake; it’s been a while since the actress wrapped Niccol’s first behind-the-camera effort since 1997’s ”Gattaca.” In fact, a year and a half has passed since the New Zealand-bred writer-director (an Oscar nominee for his ”Truman Show” script) – finished his comedy about a washed-up filmmaker (Pacino) who catapults back onto the front page of Variety when the star of his new movie, the digitally created Simone, becomes an overnight sensation. But when New Line started to focus on its go-for-broke franchise ”The Lord of the Rings” last year, much of the rest of its slate received scant attention. ”There are a few New Line films that suffered the same fate,” explains Niccol. ”It should have been released a while ago.”

But give Keener another second and it all comes flooding back. ”Right! I play the head of the studio releasing the movie. She’s sort of a screwball, someone who has clawed and slept her way to the top. She’s the ex-wife of Pacino’s character.” Pacino, meanwhile, seems an unlikely choice for the straight comedy – which peaks when publicists and agents start clamoring to meet the (nonexistent) young starlet – but Niccol thrilled to the idea of working with the revered actor. ”He’s an icon. At times I still go, Omigod! He’s in the movie!” the filmmaker says. ”There was one moment where we were rehearsing with a young actor and she went to the rest room [because] she was nervous and Al said, ‘My God, why is she so nervous?’ And I said, ‘Because you’re Al f—ing Pacino.’ And he says, ‘That’s right. I am, aren’t I?”’