“You didn’t feel Michael really needed redemption or wanted redemption?” I asked.
“I don’t think the audience wanted to see that,” he says. “He didn’t ever think of himself as a gangster. He was torn by something, so he was a person in conflict and had trouble knowing who he was. It was an interesting approach and Francis took it very—” he paused. “But I don’t think audiences wanted to see that.”
What the audiences wanted, Pacino thinks, is Michael’s strength: To see him “become more like the Godfather, that person we all want, sometimes in this harsh world, when we need somebody to help us.”
Channel surfing, he says, he recently watched the first Godfather movie again and he was struck by the power of the opening scene, the one in which the undertaker says to the Godfather, “I believed in America.” He believed, but as Pacino puts it, “Everybody’s failed you, everything’s failed you. There’s only one person who can help you and it’s this guy behind the desk. And the world was hooked! The world was hooked! He’s that figure that’s going to help us all.”
Michael Corleone’s spiritual successor, Tony Soprano, is a terrific character, but perhaps too much like us, too neurotic to offer what Michael Corleone promises. Though in real life, Pacino and Tony Soprano have something in common. Pacino confides to me something I’d never read before: “I’ve been in therapy all my life.” And it makes sense because Pacino gives you the feeling he’s on to his own game, more Tony Soprano than Michael Corleone.
As we discuss The Godfather, the mention of Brando gets Pacino excited. “When you see him in A Streetcar Named Desire, somehow he’s bringing a stage performance to the screen. Something you can touch. It’s so exciting to watch! I’ve never seen anything on film by an actor like Marlon Brando in Streetcar on film. It’s like he cuts through the screen! It’s like he burns right through. And yet it’s got this poetry in it. Madness! Madness!”
I recall a quote from Brando. “He is supposed to have said, ‘In stage acting you have to show people what you’re thinking. But in film acting [because of the close-up] you only have to think it.’”
“Yeah,” says Al. “I think he’s got a point there.”
It’s more than that in fact—the Brando quote goes to the heart of what is Pacino’s dilemma, the conflict he’s desperately been trying to reconcile in his Salome films. The clash between what film gives an actor—the intimacy of close-up, which obviates the need for posturing and overemphatic gesturing needed to reach the balcony in theater—and the electricity, the adrenaline, which Pacino has said, “changes the chemicals in your brain,” of the live-wire act that is stage acting.