Al Pacino likes to make trouble for himself. “Everything’s going along just fine and I go and f--- it up,” he’s telling me. We’re sitting on the front porch of his longtime Beverly Hills home in the low-key section known as “the flats.” Nice house, not a mansion, but beautiful colonnades of towering palms lining the street.
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You’d think Pacino would be at peace by now, on this perfect cloudless California day. But dressed head to toe in New York black, a stark contrast to the pale palette of the landscape, he speaks darkly of his troubling dilemma: How is he going to present to the public his strange two-film version of the wild Oscar Wilde play called Salome? Is he finally ready to risk releasing the newest versions of his six-year-long “passion project,” as the Hollywood cynics tend to call such risky business?
“I do it all the time,” he says of the way he makes trouble for himself. “There’s something about that discovery, taking that chance. You have to endure the other side of the risk.”
“The other side of the risk?”
“They said Dog Day [Afternoon] was a risk,” he recalls. “When I did it, it was like ‘What are you doing? You just did The Godfather. You’re going to play this gay bank robber who wants to pay for a sex change? This is so weird, Al.’ I said, ‘I know. But it’s good.’”
Most of the time the risk has turned out well, but he still experiences “the other side of the risk.” The recent baffling controversy over his behavior during the Broadway run of Glengarry Glen Ross, for instance, which he describes as “like a Civil War battlefield and things were going off, shrapnel... and I was going forward.” Bullets over Broadway!
It suggests that, despite all he’s achieved in four decades of stardom, Al Pacino (at 73) is still a little crazy after all these years. Charmingly crazy; comically crazy, able to laugh at his own obsessiveness; sometimes, crazy like a fox—at least to those who don’t share whatever mission he’s on.
Actually, maybe “troubled” is a better word. He likes to play troubled characters on the edge of crazy, or going over it. Brooding, troubled Michael Corleone; brooding troublemaker cop Frank Serpico; the troubled gay bank robber in Dog Day Afternoon; a crazy, operatic tragicomic gangster hero, Tony Montana, in Scarface, now a much-quoted figure in hip-hop culture. He’s done troubled genius Phil Spector, he’s done Dr. Kevorkian (“I loved Jack Kevorkian,” he says of “Dr. Death,” the pioneer of assisted suicide. “Loved him,” he repeats). And one of his best roles, one with much contemporary relevance, a troublemaking reporter dealing with a whistle-blower in The Insider.
It has earned him eight Academy Award nominations and one Oscar (Best Actor for the troubled blind colonel in Scent of a Woman). He’s got accolades and honors galore.