Al Pacino

Al Pacino (born 25.04.1940) - American actor.

Al Pacino

It's those coal-black eyes, glistening with absolute conviction and (probably) malicious intent. Glaring out from millions of film-posters on millions of bedroom walls, they have at some point given us all the shivers. Because, cinematically speaking, we all know what those eyes have seen, we all know what terrors their owner has perpetrated. With just two of his many roles, Al Pacino has lodged himself in solidly our imaginations. As Michael Corleone in The Godfather trilogy, we watched him evolve from a hopeful student innocent into an all-powerful, all-controlling tyrant. And in Scarface, we saw him grow from a sassy street-kid into a paranoid, murderous despot ("Say hello to my leedle friend!"). These characters were the ultimate anti-social anti-heroes, genuine threats to our way of life - genuine because Pacino, the consummate professional, made them so very real. Add to these roles his other classic performances, in Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and The Insider, and you realise why the man is an undeniable and deserved screen icon.

Getting there wasn't easy. Alfredo James Pacino was born to a family of Italian immigrants in East Harlem, New York, on the 25th of April, 1940, his grandparents having crossed the Atlantic from Sicily. His father, Salvatore, was an insurance agent who split from Alfredo's mother Rose when the boy was just two - mother and child moving in with her parents in a dirt-poor area near the Bronx zoo. As an only child, he was zealously protected by his grandparents, hardly leaving the house till the age of seven. When he was older, his mother would take him to the cinema (he was terribly hurt when she died young in 1962) and he'd act out the plotlines to his grandma on his return. Shy and insular, he'd impress his school-mates with a fictional past he'd invented for himself, claiming for instance that he'd been raised in Texas.

Thankfully, his teachers spotted his talent, cast him in school plays and asked him to read from the Bible at assembly. He enjoyed this but did not consider acting as a profession till, at age 14, he saw Chekov's The Seagull performed at the Elsmere Theatre in the South Bronx. This led to him enrolling at the prestigious High School of the Performing Arts but, flunking everything but English, he eventually, at 17, dropped out.

Yet Pacino, like many of the characters he'd later play, was remorseless in his ambition. He worked his ass off to finance his further studies, toiling as a messenger-boy, a movie-usher, an apartment superintendant and as a mail-deliverer at Commentary magazine. He attended acting classes and gained experience in basement plays before joining the Herbert Berghof Studio, under the tutelage of the legendary Charles Laughton. No elitist wimp - in January 1961 he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon - he threw himself into the theatrical underground. Off-Broadway, he wrote, directed and acted, kept moving, and finally and crucially, in 1966, he came to the Actor's Studio to study the Method under Lee Strasberg (later to play Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part 2).

Pacino's stage career was a tough grind. In 1962, he'd done Jack And The Beanstalk at the Children's Theatre, then honed his craft in many a production, including The Creditors, Hello Out There and The Peace Creeps, playing in the latter alongside James Earl Jones. He spent a season at the Charles Playhouse in Boston, performing in Awake And Sing and America, Hurrah, then returned to New York for The Indian Wants the Bronx, a role that won him an Obie award as Best Actor of the 1967-68 season - as expected of Strasberg's star pupil.

Now, at last, he was on Broadway. 1969 was the breakthrough year, seeing him pick up a Tony award for his role as a psychotic junkie in Does The Tiger Wear A Necktie? Indeed, it was his ability to convincingly portray addiction - he'd spent much time researching in methadone centres - that brought him into movies. First came Me, Natalie, then the mortally depressing Panic In Needle Park where he was drug-driven to destruction along with Kitty Winn (soon to be seen as Ellen Burstyn's PA in The Exorcist). And then it really took off. With his very Italian combination of menacing contemplation and terrifyingly focused rage (well, HOLLYWOOD Italian, anyway), he was chosen above Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson to play Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. Thoughtful, dignified, self-righteous and utterly ruthless, he was superb as Marlon Brando's initially reluctant heir, charged with the task of legitimising an ugly business.

Pacino found himself rightly Oscar-nominated for his efforts ands, aside from 1973's The Scarecrow, wherein he crosses the existential emptiness of America along with Gene Hackman, he would be nominated for his next three roles too. First, he was the incorruptible cop in Sidney Lumet's gritty Serpico: then Corleone once more, even whacking his own brother in Godfather Part 2 (poor, silly Fredo!): and finally there was 1975's Dog Day Afternoon, again with Lumet, where he played a bi-sexual, horribly botching a bank robbery he'd hoped would pay for his lover's sex-change operation.

Following this incredible spate of success, Pacino returned to his first love - the stage. He would only make eight movies in the next 15 years. In 1977, he won his second Tony for The Basic Training Of Pavlo Hummel, then played Mark Anthony, Hamlet and Othello, before taking on the part of Walter Cole in David Mamet's American Buffalo, which he would perform on and off between 1980 and 1984. Over the years he would return to Shakespeare many times, challenging himself to perfect his Richard III, as well as delving into Brecht and the powerful role of King Herod in Oscar Wilde's Salome.

When he did venture back into the movies, he usually chose only the most intense and controversial parts. He was Oscar-nominated again in 1979, as the battling attorney in Norman Jewison's And Justice For All, then played an undercover cop in a relentlessly sleazy gay underground in William Friedkin's Cruising. In 1983, he was a blistering Tony Montana in Brian De Palma's lurid drug-drama, Scarface. Then came his one generally accepted failure (with the possible exception of Godfather 3), 1985's Revolution. As an early-American epic, directed by Hugh Hudson (then on a role after Chariots Of Fire and Greystoke), it should have worked. But it was too long and too slow, and critics were merciless in their mockery of Pacino's inappropriate New York accent. Badly stung, he would not return to the Silver Screen for four years, concentrating instead on his stage-work and also acting in and producing a pet project - a short independent movie of Heathcote Williams' The Local Stigmatic. Indeed, this tiny movie would become something of an obsession. In it, Pacino plays a crazed English gangster bent on absolute power - the play being concerned both with the nature of wickedness and the ways in which all of us are actors. For years, he would show it to small groups of friends and colleagues, tirelessly fascinated by their reaction.

When Pacino went back to the movies, it was with a bang. First, there was 1989's Sea Of Love, a superior thriller with Ellen Barkin, then he was a hilariously evil Big Boy Caprice in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. Next came Frankie And Johnny, a hugely popular romance, despite the critics' disbelief at Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer slaving in a greasy spoon. Then, finally, came the Oscar, for his performance as the romantic, predatory, abrasive and blind Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in Scent Of A Woman, a remake of a 1975 Italian movie. He would be nominated for the eighth time the very next year, as a pushy real-estate salesman in Mamet's excellent Glengarry Glen Ross.

More excellence followed. Pacino was tremendous as the street-wise players in De Palma's Carlito's Way (alongside a fantastically coke-addled Sean Penn) and Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco ("Fugg-ED about it!"). But it also seemed that his close-to-overblown portrayal of Frank Slade had left its mark. In Michael Mann's Heat, he almost became a parody of himself as the explosive cop hunting down the ultra-cool Robert De Niro, and he carried the same over-expansive qualities into The Devil's Advocate (though, to be fair, he WAS the Devil - we're not SUPPOSED to like him).

In the meantime, Pacino had taken up directing with Looking For Richard. This was another project close to his heart, a documentary following the staging of a performance of Richard III. In it, he espouses the beauty and power of theatre, in particular attacking the notion that it's solely a middle-class pursuit. As a dyed-in-the-wool Harlem boy who's gained a lifetime of thrills from performance, he intended to take his message back to the people. From 1996 to 1999, he was once more to be found treading the boards, performing several runs of Eugene O'Neil's Hughie.

Having, in 1997, been honoured with a star on Hollywood's Walk Of Fame (in 1994 he'd received a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and later took the Cecil B. De Mille award at the 2001 Golden Globes), Pacino justified the award with an intense but gratifyingly subdued portrayal of Sixty Minutes journalist Lowell Bergman, alongside Russell Crowe in Mann's The Insider. Then came Oliver Stone and Any Given Sunday, where Pacino somehow kept his cool as the desperate American Football coach, harassed by owner Cameron Diaz. Chinese Coffee saw him once more in the director's chair.

The list of movies Pacino has turned down is nearly as impressive as his filmography. There was Kramer Vs Kramer, Born On The 4th Of July, Apocalypse Now, Pretty Woman, Crimson Tide, even the part of Han Solo in Star Wars. But, in general, his choices have been good. Offscreen, he's had a harder time. He was once quoted as saying "The actor becomes an emotional athlete. The process is painful - my personal life suffers", and this does seem to have been the way for much of his life. He has a daughter, Julie Marie, from a relationship with acting coach Jan Tarrant but has remained true to bachelorhood. He had a long affair with actress Diane Keaton, a shorter one with Australian actress Linda Hobbs, and a brief fling with Penelope Ann Miller (his co-star in Carlito's Way and many years his junior). Now though, he seems settled with long-time girlfriend Beverly D'Angelo, another actress (she appeared in National Lampoon's Vacation movies, as well as Every Which Way But Loose, and as Patsy Cline in The Coal Miner's Daughter). The couple recently had twins - Anton and Olivia.

Given Pacino's leanings and his introduction to theatre back in the South Bronx, it would be very surprising if their son was not so-named after Chekov. With theatre in his blood, Pacino - without doubt one of the greatest actors of his generation - now has it in his blood-line. Perhaps a new dynasty is beginning. Better show some respect, eh?