It doesn’t take much for Al Pacino to erupt into some deeply felt state of being. Right now, it’s agony mixed with a dash of confusion. He’s trying to explain how he stays creatively fired up about acting after 40 years in front of the camera.
Suddenly he’s scrunching up his brow like an accordion and working his fingers through his thick tufts of salt-and-pepper hair. He pauses at length as he searches for the right words. ”I wish I could help you with this,” says the actor, hunched over the back booth of a red-and-white-tablecloth Italian joint in West Hollywood. He struggles equally to wax nostalgic for the halcyon days of ’70s moviemaking, when his emotive performing style made him muse to visionary filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet, and recently yielded a Life Achievement Award from the AFI. ”There was a fervent thing going on with that group of directors,” says Pacino. ”I was about as much a part of it as you were. I was just an actor trying to get a job, have my pint, and stay happy.”
After eight Oscar nominations (from The Godfather to Glengarry Glen Ross) and one Best Actor win (Scent of a Woman), if anyone’s earned the right to marinate in past accomplishments, it’s Pacino. But the 67-year-old Bronx-raised star remains defiantly forward-looking, approaching each role with the fiery gusto of a man who hopes his best work is still ahead of him. Essentially, he’s a guy who happens to love his job and wants to do it as much as possible, even if every role doesn’t land him on the stage of the Kodak Theatre. For example, he took on the lead role in the serial-killer thriller 88 Minutes (out April 18) mainly because it was a chance to throw himself into the unfamiliar terrain of pulpy genre flicks. ”I had never done a movie like this, and I thought, ‘Can I be floating around this thing?”’ he says, explaining the appeal of playing a forensic psychiatrist targeted by a psychopath he helped put behind bars and told he has just, yes, 88 minutes to live. ”I liked the idea that this character was unflappable. That kind of person is very interesting to me. I’m not that way myself.” But Pacino does bring a similar dogged determination to his work. ”Al is just tireless,” says the film’s director, Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes). ”If genius is the capacity to take infinite pains, Al is like that. He just keeps going and going.”
There was a time, however, when Pacino decided to stop going to work altogether. In 1985, after the release of his first major critical and commercial flop, the period war picture Revolution, Pacino went missing in action for four years. ”I needed to lay low and not feel like I had to deliver something,” says the stage-trained actor, who kept busy with the theater — and went broke in the process. ”It turned out to be the best thing I’d ever done.”
In the years since, Pacino has been toiling nonstop, both on screen and off. He’s directed three vété movies about the creative process — The Local Stigmatic, Looking for Richard, Chinese Coffee — and even racked up a few classic performances in Heat, Donnie Brasco, and The Insider. He’s already shot a second movie with Avnet, Righteous Kill, slated for fall release. In it, he and Robert De Niro star as veteran NYPD detectives who resume the hunt for a mass murderer after 30 years off the case. Another serial-killer movie? Really? ”I did it to work with Bob again,” says Pacino of his third collaboration with the other Italian acting legend. ”They’re very different in their approaches,” insists Avnet. ”But their timing and what they do with each other is quite good. As a director, you think, ‘I’ll do this and then I can retire.”’
But not Pacino. He’s already plotting his next move. ”There’s talk of me playing Salvador Dalí, which is something I have an appetite to do,” he says, his hooded eyes widening in excitement. ”I’m at an age where something like that can come along and stir me. That’s what gives me my raison d’être.”