Interview of the week: Al Pacino

By KAREN BUTLER  |  May 16, 2002 at 11:12 AM
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NEW YORK, May 16 (UPI) -- In his exciting new thriller, "Insomnia," Oscar-winning actor Al Pacino plays a veteran cop whose decision-making skills are greatly compromised by sleep deprivation. At the Tribeca Film Festival in New York this week, the star of "The Godfather" and "Scarface" talked to reporters about real-life sleepless nights, what it's like to be 62 and the father of twin infants, why moviegoers love to see him play cops on the edge and what he did when he came face to face with a wolf while on location.

Asked if he has ever experienced insomnia, the actor, who incidentally is now blond, replied: "Yeah. Sure, I have, but sometimes it was purposeful. Being out for a few nights and I didn't want to go to sleep, but I think I can relate to being sleep-deprived because there were periods of my life where I found it difficult to either go to sleep or get up early and have to wander around in the middle of the night."

He then denied a claim that actress Winona Ryder recently made in an interview that she often talks to him on the phone at 2 in the morning.

"I wish. I wish," he laughed. "The thing is when I'm very tired at 2 a.m. you could call the coast, although I don't. I don't know why. There's something about the nighttime and the trying to get back to sleep and trying to do things that are not stimulating ... They say you should get up and walk around or start to read something. Reading is usually -- especially if it is something innocuous -- it helps you fade out. ... A phone call might be too stimulating."

Throughout his 4-decade-long, highly successful career, Pacino has been cast numerous times as police officers, most memorably in the terrific crime dramas, "Serpico," "Heat" and "Sea of Love."

So, why has he become this iconic cop figure?

"I think there are times where you feel that is a part that people seem to want to see me in -- that kind of role," Pacino explained. "So, you want to do them from time to time, and I mainly did this one because of (director) Chris Nolan. I enjoyed so much 'Memento' and his work and his approach to the way he makes movies. That was, I think, the biggest reason I did the movie. But, again, I like the idea of a character who is in conflict. A good/bad guy. I like the good/bad guy."

For Oscar-winning actors Robin Williams ("Good Will Hunting") and Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry"), one of the main draws to signing on to "Insomnia" was the opportunity to work with Pacino, a man they consider to be a legend. In the film, Swank and Pacino play cops trying to track down the brilliant writer who kills a teenage girl. Williams is the writer.

"I definitely remember my first initial feeling of 'I'm about to work with Al Pacino,'" recalled the 27-year-old Swank, "and it was one of ... he leaves me speechless. It's hard to articulate what that feels like. It's really a dream come true for an actor to be able to work with an icon, a legend, the godfather, Al Pacino."

"Al is a dream," Swank continued. "The thing about Al is he loves actors. He loves movies. He loves the process, and he will do anything to make a movie the best it can be, and so he is there every moment for everyone. He's so smart and funny. That's what most people don't know about Al. He's actually funny. Not as funny as Robin, but he's funny."

Williams agreed, remarking: "He's really funny and he's also just a sweet, kind man. The other side of it, you find out the same thing about (Robert) DeNiro, they're tough. They've got this hard-core reputation, but they're also very, very intelligent people, who are really well-read and also very gentle in their own way, and that to me was a great lesson.

The zany comic-turned-thespian went on to admit that sometimes it does seem a little odd when you become friends with someone you've idolized as an actor most of your life.

"When you hang out with these guys like Pacino, for me, I'm in awe. I stand off like everyone else, 'It's Michael Corleone,' (starts humming the theme to 'The Godfather'), and you meet them and then you get to know them. ... I still get shocked when I see people like Henry Kissinger because I realize he had access to the bomb," Williams quipped.

Pacino humbly plays off the legend talk, admitting only that he is very happy with where he is in his life right now.

"I've just made a lot of films that are going to be coming out," he said. "I don't know what happened -- how I did that. I had babies in the meantime."

Asked if this is the best part of his life, so far, he said simply, "Seems to be," adding that his 15-month-old twins by actress Beverly D'Angelo have "certainly given my life a lift."

Filming "Insomnia" meant Pacino had to spend a lot of time in Canada. The film is set in an area of Alaska that experiences 23 hours of daylight a day.

So, what was it like for a Bronx boy to shoot a film in Vancouver and Toronto?

"If they could come to my house, I'd like if they could shoot the picture there, but there is so much to say for going to the location. ... I think it serves the picture so much. ... As far as Canada goes, it's beautiful, and every time I've been to Toronto or Vancouver, it's been swell. Although I was popping down on the weekends all the time to see the babes, so I didn't get much time to spend (there). You know how the days are making movies. You have full days -- 14-hour days. ... Where I was in the world, in Alaska and upper Vancouver probably is the most beautiful," Pacino said.

Pacino, whose name is pretty much synonymous with "urban," said he enjoyed visiting a place where bears roam free.

"We're up there with the bears and the grizzlies. I watched an avalanche," he boasted. "They called me out of the camper and there was an avalanche a few hundred yards away. It was surreal. I was looking at it like: 'Really? What's gonna happen? Shouldn't I go back in my camper?' Then, there were these wolves, which I'm not used to seeing.

"We were on boats because there were no hotels, and this woman on the boat next to me had a wolf. It was a beautiful thing to behold and wolves from all around came down and coo at it," he continued.

The tough-guy actor said that although he greatly admired the animals, he did not pet his neighbor's wolf.

"Did I touch the wolf?" Pacino asked. "I looked at it. We looked at each other and that was it. Anything on a leash, I think twice before I touch."

In addition to the commute to see his family and engaging in wildlife fun, Pacino also found himself faced with the challenge of doing some of his own stunt work at the age of 62.

"You have to get in shape to do it," Pacino advised. "You have to prepare for scenes like (the action sequences in 'Insomnia') as you get older. When I chased Bobby DeNiro in 'Heat,' and I got up, got pulled out of the camper at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning for a chase scene, I didn't warm up sufficiently, and Boom! There goes the hamstring. I did one take. I said, 'Gee, I feel like the old Al.' (But) I am the OLD Al. ... We had to stop... You learn from these experiences."

Pacino went on to confide that he's "not the kind of guy who, when I'm not working, I work out and stuff."

"I'm learning that I better start doing something, stretching, that kind of stuff. Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down. ... That's Oscar Wilde," he said.

For now, Pacino's hectic shooting and promotion schedule should keep him in shape. He is currently making "Gigli," which is scheduled for release next year and co-stars Jennifer Lopez, and he has three more movies due out in 2002 -- "Simone," "The Farm" and "People I Know."

"I'm very lucky," Pacino said. "I'm very fortunate to be making movies, to still be offered films. I really mean it when I say that, but at the same time, I'm just thinking maybe I could just float around for awhile -- just float and see where it goes. I think I've earned that in the last couple of years."

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