Nationality: American. Born: Alfredo James Pacino in New York City, 25 April 1940. Education: Attended High School of the Performing Arts, New York; Herbert Berghof Studio under Charles Laughton; Actors Studio, New York, from 1966. Career: Worked as mail boy, in the offices of Commentary magazine, a movie usher, and building superintendent; then actor off-off-Broadway; 1969—Broadway debut in Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie?; film debut in Me, Natalie; 1970—member of the Lincoln Center repertory theater; director of stage play Rats in Boston; 1977—in stage play The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel in Boston, and New York; 1982–84—co-artistic director, Actors Studio; 1984—London stage debut in American Buffalo. Awards: Best Supporting Actor, National Board of Review, Best Actor, National Society of Film Critics, for The Godfather, 1972; Best Actor, National Board of Review, Best Motion Picture Actor—Drama, Golden Globe, for Serpico, 1973; Best Actor, British Academy Award, for The Godfather, Part II, 1974; Best Actor, British Academy Award, Best Actor, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Best Actor, San Sebastian International Film Festival, for Dog Day Afternoon, 1975; Best Actor, Academy Award, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture—Drama, Golden Globe Award, for Scent of a Woman, 1992; Chevalier dans l'Orde des Arts et de Lettres, 1995; Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, Directors Guild of America, Best Actor, Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, for Donnie Brasco, 1997. Agent: c/o CAA 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
Me, Natalie (Coe) (as Tony)
Panic in Needle Park (Schatzberg) (as Bobby)
The Godfather (Coppola) (as Michael Corleone)
Scarecrow (Schatzberg) (as Lion); Serpico (Lumet) (as Frank Serpico)
The Godfather, Part II (Coppola) (as Michael Corleone)
Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet) (as Sonny)
Bobby Deerfield (Pollack) (as Bobby Deerfield)
. . . And Justice for All (Jewison) (as Arthur Kirkland)
Cruising (Friedkin) (as Steve Burns)
Author! Author! (Hiller) (as Travalian)
Scarface (De Palma) (as Tony Montana)
Revolution (Hudson) (as Tom Dobb)
Sea of Love (Becker) (as Frank Keller)
Dick Tracy (Beatty) (as Big Boy Caprice); The Godfather, Part III (Coppola) (as Michael Corleone)
Frankie and Johnny (Garry Marshall) (as Johnny)
Scent of a Woman (Brest) (as Lt. Col. Frank Slade); Glengarry Glen Ross (Foley) (as Ricky Roma)
Carlito's Way (De Palma) (as Carlito Brigante); Jonas in the Desert (as Himself)
Two Bits (A Day to Remember) (James Foley) (as Gitano Sabatoni); Heat (Michael Mann) (as Vincent Hanna)
City Hall (Becker) (as Mayor John Pappas); Donnie Brasco (Newell) (as Lefty Ruggiero)
The Devil's Advocate (Hackford) (as John Milton)
The Insider (Mann) (as Lowell Bergman); Any Given Sunday (Stone) (as Tony D'Amato)
Film as Director:
Looking for Richard (+ ro as Richard III, pr, co-sc)
Chinese Coffee (+ ro as Harry)
By PACINO: articles—
Interview, in Time Out (London), 6 September 1984.
Interview, in Ciné Revue (Paris), 30 January 1986.
Interview with J. Schnabel, in Interview (New York), February 1991.
Interview with Teresa Carpenter, in Guardian (London), 3 Decem-ber 1991.
On PACINO: books—
Zuckerman, Ira, The Godfather Journal, New York, 1972.
Puzo, Mario, The Making of The Godfather, Greenwich, Connecti-cut, 1973.
Yule, Andrew, Life on the Wire: The Life and Art of Al Pacino, New York, 1991.
Schoell, William, The Films of Al Pacino, Secaucus, New Jer-sey, 1995.
On PACINO: articles—
Current Biography 1974, New York, 1974.
Thomson, D., "Two Gentlemen of Corleone," in Take One (Montr-eal), May 1978.
Strasberg, Lee, in Photoplay (New York), April 1980.
Williamson, Bruce, "Al Pacino," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Image et Son (Paris), January 1982.
Chute, David, "Scarface," in Film Comment (New York), Febru-ary 1984.
Stivers, Cyndi, "Sunny-Side Up," in Premiere (New York), Octo-ber 1991.
Richards, David, "Sunday View: Pacino's Star Turn Reflects the Glories of Rep," in New York Times, 5 July 1992.
Minsky, Terri, "Descent of a Man," in Premiere (New York), February 1993.
Dullea, Georgia, "Al Pacino Confronts a Gala, Kudos, Fame and His Own Shyness," in New York Times, 22 February 1993.
Film Dope (Nottingham), April 1994.
Weinraub, Bernard, "De Niro! Pacino! Together Again for First Time," in New York Times, 27 July 1995.
Breslin, Jimmy, "The Oddfather," in Esquire (New York), Febru-ary 1996.
Reed, Rex, "Al's oeuvre," in Esquire (New York), February 1996.
Lemon, B., "Stage Center," in New Yorker, 12 August 1996.
Andrew, Geoff, "To Play the King," in Time Out (London), 15 January 1997.
Bourget, Jean-Loup, Michel Ciment, and Michel Cieutat, "Al Pacino," in Positif (Paris), February 1997.
Norman, Barry, "Why Pacino's Way Is a Winner," in Radio Times (London), 1 February 1997.
Macnab, Geoffrey, and John Wrathall, "The Infiltrator/Donnie Brasco," in Sight and Sound (London), May 1997.
* * *
Al Pacino's career is connected to that of his Italian-American contemporary, Robert De Niro. Both New York City-born, they each became movie stars in the early 1970s, and have more often than not played vividly realized characters who exist (on both sides of the law) within contemporary urban milieus. Pacino's first major role is Michael Corleone in The Godfather; De Niro played Michael's father in the sequel, The Godfather, Part II. Two decades later, they were masterly paired in Heat, with Pacino the cop who obsessively tracks De Niro's hood. Finally, and most importantly, their acting styles clearly derive from the Method school, with Pacino remaining an important force in the continuation and development of New York's famed Actors Studio.
Pacino's acting roots are apparent in his earliest performances, which emphasize spontaneity, improvisation, and a flamboyance of manner and expression to a point where acting threatens to become the films' raison d'être. This is precisely the case in his roles as the young junkie in Panic in Needle Park, the drifter who has abandoned his family in Scarecrow, the honest New York cop singlehandedly fighting a corrupt police department in Serpico, and the would-be bankrobber who desires to finance his lover's sex change operation in Dog Day Afternoon. It is his appearances in these films (as well as The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II) which established Pacino as one of the 1970s' most important stars. His performances in the first four are tours de force of an almost crazed nervous energy combined with a deep intensity and vulnerability. This energy appears at once a positive trait, infectious and irresistible, and a mask, a defense against the constant threat posed by the other characters or forces at work in the story.
But it was his work in the two Godfather films which required Pacino to create a far more complexly psychological characterization. Here, his acting style changes drastically, as he becomes more restrained and understated. His Michael Corleone starts out a young, all-American war hero, a man with decent instincts and the type of guy one would expect to marry, raise a family, and become a pillar of his community. As time passes and Michael finds himself becoming more deeply and inexorably involved in his family's "business," Pacino gradually and ever-so-subtly develops his character into a powerful but nonetheless tragic figure: a man who has allowed himself to be seduced and ultimately corrupted, to the point where he is capable of instigating the most vicious and horribly evil actions (such as ordering the murder of Fredo, his own brother). Unlike his psychotic other brother Sonny, who is primarily ruled by his temper and emotions, Michael is an intelligent man who should know better. So his soul becomes tainted, and he becomes at once emotionally repressed and tragically incapable of altering his fate. He is consumed by a cloak of weariness which haunts him, overriding and defining his character more than any amount of power he has achieved. This aspect of his evolving character plays itself out dramatically in the third Godfather film, made a decade and a half after The Godfather, Part II, in which Michael Corleone suffers through the death of his beloved daughter.
Pacino's career has not been without its share of miscalculations. Chief among them are Cruising, a distasteful, embarrassing thriller in which his character, a New York City cop, goes undercover and enters a gay netherworld in order to seek out a killer; Bobby Deerfield, an awful soaper in which he plays a race car driver romancing a beautiful but seriously ill woman; Revolution, a preposterous Revolutionary War drama in which he is cast as a trapper; and Scarface, by far his worst screen performance, in which he overacts outrageously as a Cuban drug dealer. But Pacino's stardom remained intact, and he has endured into the 1990s and beyond as a major movie personality whose casting in a film makes that film an event.
He ended the 1980s with a solid star turn as another New York cop in Sea of Love, generating sufficient heat in his love scenes with Ellen Barkin and exhibiting the abundant array of emotions experienced by his character. The same is the case in Carlito's Way, in which he plays a weary, streetwise Puerto Rican criminal attempting to go straight. He was never more ingratiating as an ex-con who falls for a reluctant waitress in Frankie and Johnny; he effectively reprised Michael Corleone in the otherwise disappointing The Godfather, Part III; he was fun to watch as the vividly menacing Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy; and he graduated to senior citizen roles, nicely playing a wise old Italian immigrant grandfather in Two Bits, a Depression-era nostalgia piece.
In two of Pacino's most important 1990s films, he plays flamboyant characters who are, in their manner, aging extensions of his roles in The Panic in Needle Park, Scarecrow, Dog Day Afternoon, and Serpico. He earned a long-overdue Academy Award for Scent of a Woman, playing a blind, cantankerous, ultimately suicidal ex-Army colonel. But he is even better in Glengarry Glen Ross, adapted by David Mamet from his stage play about the pressures on, and frustrations of, a group of real estate salesmen. Pacino plays Ricky Roma, a character who is tough, hard, and slick. Roma is a hotshot who lays a psychological-metaphysical line on his clients like a master manipulator. Those who have come to Roma to inquire about purchasing property are not so much his clients as his victims. As Roma, Pacino offers an acting tour de force. To watch him here, spouting Mamet's bristling dialogue—at once vivid and knowing, with brush strokes both subtle and broad—is to see a master actor at the top of his form.
The second half of the decade saw Pacino cast as an old-guard pro football coach/raspy-voiced warhorse (in Any Given Sunday); an aging, tired, low-level wiseguy (in Donnie Brasco, playing a character who, on the gangland food chain, is the antithesis of Michael Corleone); a dedicated television newsmagazine producer who is a Woodward/Bernstein clone, and is Serpico-like in his tenacity (in The Insider); and the devil himself, the charismatic, demonic head of a high-powered law firm (in The Devil's Advocate). Throughout his career, so many of Pacino's characters, whether cop or con man, are New York City-based. So it was appropriate, then, that in City Hall he played the Mayor of New York. In all these films, Pacino is a delight to watch—particularly when his characters are pointing, shouting, and allowing their emotions to flow across the screen.
Throughout his career, Pacino often has returned to the stage, where he has played Shakespearean roles, including Richard III and Julius Caesar. He entered the directorial ranks in 1996 with a film that was personal and special to him: Looking for Richard, an ambitious documentary that is an ode to the Bard and a reflection of Pacino's unending fascinating with the character of Richard III. In Looking for Richard, Pacino illustrates how Shakespeare writes "great words" with "great meaning," and teaches the audience to "feel." He includes man-and-woman-on-the-street interviews that elicit responses to and feelings about Shakespeare, and points out the fallacy that only English actors can play the Bard. Looking for Richard also is an examination of the character of Richard III, with Pacino mounting and casting a production of the play. Primarily, the film works as a welcome reminder of the manner in which the emotions and conflicts of Shakespeare remain ever-relevant to today's world.
—updated by Rob Edelman
Al Pacino (born 1940) has been called one of the best actors in film history. He established himself as a Hollywood icon when he burst onto the scene in The Godfather and followed that critically acclaimed performance with eight Academy Award nominations and more than 20 movies over 30 years. Through it all, Pacino stayed grounded in his first love: theater. But despite three decades of fame and success, the man behind the actor, who cherished his privacy, remained something of a mystery.
The Young Actor
Pacino was born April 25, 1940, in New York City to Salvatore and Rose Pacino. Pacino's father left the family when Al was a baby and although Pacino visited his father in East Harlem, he was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents in a bilingual Italian American three-room household. Rose Pacino was ill throughout his childhood, as well as mentally troubled and poor, and died of a heart attack when Pacino was 22. He was under strict rule at home but had a happy, sheltered childhood. He was bored and unmotivated in school. He found his place in school plays and dreamed of a career in acting.
Pacino's first acting lessons were at the Dover Theater, where he would go with his mother or grandmother to watch movies. After imitating the action on the screen for his grandmother, he was often asked to do the "looking for the bottle scene" from The Lost Weekend. Pacino found he could get positive attention with his acting antics. He won admission into Manhattan's prestigious High School of the Performing Arts but dropped out at age 17. As a teenager, Pacino took acting lessons from Charlie Laughton, who became a friend. Pacino held odd jobs to support the family.
Pacino moved to Greenwich Village and started to audition. Once on the theater scene, Pacino entered a period of depression and poverty. There were days when he could not afford bus fare or even lunch. He lived for awhile off the pay of his soap-opera-actor girlfriend and future movie star, Jill Clayburgh. He found work where he could, in a coffeehouse, a workshop, a mailroom, a theater, and elsewhere.
Finally, in 1966, he entered the prestigious Actors Studio and studied under Lee Strasberg, known for his Method Approach to acting. In 1967, Pacino won an Obie for his performance in The Indian Wants the Bronx, an off-Broadway, one-act play that ran for 204 performances. In 1969, he won the Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for the Broadway play Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie? The play had only a brief run, but Pacino's work in Tiger got him noticed by film director Dominick Dunne.
Hit It Big with Godfather
In 1969 Pacino debuted on screen in Me, Natalie. But he felt awkward away from the stage and had such a bad experience that he did not return to film for a couple of years. He said to Jimmy Breslin of Esquire, "I was used to working on a tightrope onstage. A movie is just a line painted on the floor." In 1971 he played a junkie in Panic in Needle Park, directed by Dunne.
In the early 1970s, such actors as Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Robert De Niro sought the role of Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. But Coppola wanted Pacino, who had given solid performances in Panic in Needle Park and on Broadway. After a series of disastrous screen tests, no one—from the producers to fellow actors—wanted Pacino in the film, except for Coppola. Coppola stuck to his guns, and Pacino earned his first Academy Award nomination.
Pacino decided not to ride a wave of Hollywood success into lightweight blockbusters. Instead, he took a series of difficult, important film roles that highlighted his genuine acting abilities. 1973's Serpico was a crime drama spotlighting the mental struggles of a New York cop. Pacino was nominated for an Oscar for Serpico and for his portrayal of Michael Corleone in The Godfather II in 1974. In 1975, Pacino was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Dog Day Afternoon, the story of a man trying to get money for his gay lover's sex change operation by holding up a bank and taking hostages. In 1977, Bobby Deerfield foreshadowed a downturn in his career, but Pacino received another Oscar nomination for best actor for the hard-hitting legal drama … And Justice for All.
A Decade Without a Blockbuster
Pacino's career turned south with the controversial Cruising, a look at the gay netherworld, in 1980, and Author! Author! in 1982. 1983's Scarface met with some criticism, partially for Pacino's Cuban accent and incessant cursing, but it would later become a cult classic.
Revolution —an epic war movie on the Revolutionary War released in 1985—has been called by some critics the worst film of all time. Pacino was in the starring role. Revolution had a cursed shoot full of rewrites, Pacino became sick with pneumonia, and upon release the film was savagely attacked by critics. They were Pacino's first truly awful reviews, and he was criticized again for his accent. He stayed out of Hollywood for the next several years.
Caught the Limelight Again
Pacino's return to Hollywood came in the film Sea of Love in 1989, an erotic-romantic film that cast him as a hard-drinking cop. In 1990, Pacino reprised his role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, earning praise for his acting amid mixed reviews for the film. Dick Tracy was also released in 1990, and Pacino got rave reviews for his comedic spoof on a gangster, a type of character he usually played seriously. He was nominated for another Oscar for best supporting actor for Dick Tracy.
Pacino teamed up with Michelle Pfieffer for a romantic role in Frankie and Johnny in 1991. Two years later, Pacino was nominated for Oscars for two roles: a shark-like real estate agent in Glengary Glen Ross and a bitter, blind former army colonel in Scent of a Woman. Pacino was awarded a best actor Oscar for Scent of a Woman. In subsequent years, Pacino turned out many films that were box-office successes. Between 1993 and 2003, Pacino appeared in such hits as Carlito's Way, Heat, City Hall, Donnie Brasco, Devil's Advocate, The Insider, Any Given Sunday, Insomnia, and The Recruit. As of 2002, his average salary was $10 million a picture.
Theatre Always His First Love
Even as Pacino's star was rising in Hollywood, he continued to act in the theater. In 1970 he appeared in Camino Real, and in 1972 he began playing the lead in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel in Boston. That story of a Vietnam War recruit began a stint in New York in 1977, with Pacino in the lead, and he won his second Tony.
During his self-imposed exile from film in the 1980s, Pacino immersed himself in theater. According to Breslin, "He stepped back and went to where he always felt at home—three flights up in a drafty place where they can put down enough chairs to call it a theater." He performed in Julius Caesar and gave readings at colleges and small theaters. He directed The Local Stigmatic and filmed it starring himself. It remains unreleased to the public. Stigmatic is a movie adaptation of a Heathcote Williams play that Pacino performed during his early days on the stage in 1968. In the 1990s, Pacino produced, directed, and starred in Looking for Richard, a marriage of theater (William Shakespeare's Richard III ) and film documentary that Pacino devoted himself and his money to for over four years. More than one reporter noted that while Pacino remained characteristically tight-lipped about most of his movies and his private life, he would enthusiastically talk about Looking for Richard.
Pacino often turned down potential hit movies to do theater, he took long breaks between films, and he was constantly involved in independent ventures. Breslin points out, "There is no other recorded case like this in the history of American movie stars. Sure, some big movie actor or actress will occasionally find a spare week or two to throw at Shakespeare… . But no movie star has ever created his own work of artistic obsession, let alone two of them. Only this guy." In 2000, he became involved in the Actors Studio in New York's Oedipus Rex. In 2002, Pacino was off-Broadway with The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and in Oscar Wilde's Salome opposite Marissa Tomei.
The Personal Pacino
Pacino was an enduring bachelor, one of the few Hollywood men never to marry despite romances with Diane Keaton and other high-profile actresses. Despite his aversion to matrimony, Pacino had a daughter, Julie Marie, by acting teacher Jan Tarrant, and a set of twins-Anton and Olivia-with long-time girlfriend Beverly D'Angelo. Breslin wrote, "Pacino is famous mostly because of his extreme, unique, and undeniable talents as an actor and movie star during the past twenty-five of his fifty-five years. But he is also well-known for being hard to figure… . He is reluctant to talk to reporters, for example." Pacino has never been comfortable with fame.
When he attained fame in his early 30s, he was un-equipped to handle it. He started drinking heavily and became reclusive and unstable. But his friends convinced him to join Alcoholics Anonymous, and in two years he quit both drinking and smoking.
Pacino is a living legend. He "can play small as rivetingly as he can play big… . he can implode as well as explode," according to Jeff Giles in Newsweek. Pacino told Bronwen Hruska of Entertainment Weekly, "For me it's always been the character—'the play's the thing'—not my personality. When one overshadows the other, you become more a celebrity than an actor. I hope the perception is that I'm an act."
American Decades, Gale Research, 1998.
Complete Marquis Who's Who, Marquis Who's Who, 2001.
Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, Volume 23, Gale Group, 1999.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, St. James Press, 1996.
Newsmakers 1993, Issue 4, Gale Research, 1993.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press, 2000.
Daily Variety, October 30, 2002; January 8, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, November 12, 1993.
Esquire, February 1996.
Newsweek, June 3, 2002.
Rolling Stone, February 2, 1984.
US Weekly, January 29, 2001.
"Pacino's Biography," http://www.fortunecity.com/lavender/exorcist/665/biography.htm. (February 10, 2003). □