But if you know the play, it’s about the crazy, troubled intoxication of the theater world, the communal, almost mafia-family closeness of a theatrical troupe. “I was mesmerized,” he recalls. “I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Who knows what I was hearing except that it was affecting. And I went out and got all Chekhov’s books, short stories, and I was going to school in Manhattan [the High School of Performing Arts made famous by Fame] and I went to the Howard Johnson there [in Times Square] at the time, to have a little lunch. And there serving me was the lead in The Seagull! And I look at this guy, this kid, and I said to him, ‘I saw you! I saw! you! In the play!’”
He’s practically jumping out of his porch chair at the memory.
“And I said, ‘It was great, you were great in it.’ It was such an exchange, I’ll never forget it. And he was sort of nice to me and I said, ‘I’m an actor!’ Aww, it was great. I live for that. That’s what I remember.”
That pure thing—the communal idealism of actors—is at the root of the troublemaking. The radical naked acting ethos of the Living Theatre was a big influence too, he says, almost as much as Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio and the downtown bohemian rebel ethos of the ’60s.
In fact one of Pacino’s main regrets is when he didn’t make trouble. “I read somewhere,” I tell him, that you considered Michael killing [his brother] Fredo at the end of Godfather II a mistake.”
“I do think that was a mistake,” Pacino replies. “I think [that made] the whole idea of Part III, the idea of [Michael] feeling the guilt of it and wanting forgiveness—I don’t think the audience saw Michael that way or wanted him to be that way. And I didn’t quite understand it myself.
“Francis pulled [Godfather III] off, as he always pulls things off, but the original script was different. It was changed primarily because Robert Duvall turned down the part of Tommy [Tom Hagen, the family consigliere and Michael’s stepbrother]. In the original script, Michael went to the Vatican because his stepbrother, Robert Duvall/Tom Hagen was killed there, and he wanted to investigate that murder and find the killers. That was his motivation. Different movie. But when Bob turned it down, Francis went in that other direction.”
What emerges from this is his own analysis of Michael Corleone’s appeal as a character, why he connected so deeply with the audience.