INTERVIEW: 'I take refuge in memories' - Al Pacino

Ahram Online , Wednesday 16 Dec 2015

The iconic American actor spoke to Al-Ahram's Nisf El-Donia magazine about his poignant upbringing, his larger-than-life dreams and how he distances himself from the celebrity lifestyle

Al Pacino
American actor Al Pacino (Photo: Reuters)

In a recent interview with Ahram Online’s sister publication Nisf El-Donia magazine (Issue 1348) published by the Al-Ahram Establishment, iconic American film star Al Pacino discussed his difficult childhood, passion for cinema, and his nostalgia for old friends.  

Born in 1940 in New York, Alfredo James Pacino, the iconic American actor with Sicilian roots, struggled through a difficult childhood, during which he lived with his mother Rose and his maternal grandparents.  His father, a sales agent and owner of a little restaurant, had abandoned the family when Pacino was just two.

“This pushed me to depend on myself since an early age. I took on one job after the other, trying to secure an income that could help me make a living no matter how simple the job I undertook was. I suffered much during this period. I can say that I started at the very bottom and worked my way up.”

“I used to spend most of my time in the street, with friends who made life all the more bearable.”

At age 16, when Pacino was living in a New York neighbourhood, he started performing at local nightclubs.

“The city was full of theatres and nightclubs. My friends and I made deals with nightclub owners to allow us to present theatre performances. We weren’t paid, but we would pass by audience members after the performance, holding up our hats to the customers in case they wanted to leave some change, which we would then divide between us.”

Pacino’s larger-than-life passion for cinema and his rare talent inspired him to overcome his desolation and pursue acting.

With a five decade-long career in Hollywood, Pacino participated in a huge array of film, theatre and TV productions. His film repertoire comprises Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Justice for All (1979), Scarface (1983), Dick Tracy (1990), Scent of a Woman (1992),  Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Carlito’s Way (1993), Heat (1995), Donnie Brasco (1997), The Insider (1999), Insomnia (2002), among many other chef d’oeuvres.

 “I was always so busy with work that I did not pay much attention to the particulars of filmmaking and the challenges faced by those in charge of [the field’s] financial and commercial dealings, especially since I never worked in the field of film production.”

However, Pacino went on to assert that “over the past years, and especially after my participation in an array of film festivals, I have noticed that there exists an obvious development in the film industry in general. There is no doubt that this development helped cultivate an environment that nurtures success and creativity. Also, production challenges have ceased to exist, which definitely allows the artist to feel comfortable and confident in his ability to perform his very best."  

Despite having worked in cinema for 50 years, Pacino insists that he enjoys acting now more than ever before, “perhaps because I am more able to concentrate on my work now, and that I do not succumb to the celebrity lifestyle, especially during working on film projects, which I believe helps one blend into the role.”

Pacino had studied extensively throughout his acting career, attending classes to become a professional actor at the Herbert Berghof Studio as well as the New York-based Actors Studio, where he was taught by late American actor and director Lee Strasberg.

“Strasberg had a rare wisdom. I would consult him from time to time to ask for his advice, especially since I always felt he understood my personality and character. I was deeply saddened by his passing.”

While Pacino enjoyed leading a life of lavishness and luxury during his youth, he has freed himself from such distractions. “I’ve grown wiser and more understanding of life."

Not only has Pacino distanced himself from a lavish lifestyle, but he is also nostalgic for a warmer yesterday.

“Even today and after a luxurious life that was made possible by my acting career, I miss the time I spent with old friends who taught me so much.”

“I cannot deny that success has an incredible taste, which I hope every aspiring hard worker can taste. I also consider myself lucky because I have encountered different phases throughout my journey: failure and success, destitution and affluence, chaos and stability. At times I am overwhelmed by the desire to walk in the clamorous streets of New York the way I did with my old friends, to ride public transportation and visit family and friends. But I quickly realise this is no longer possible. As such, I prefer to take refuge in my collection of beautiful memories most of the time.” 

The original interview was conducted by Aida Takla and published in Nisf El-Donia magazine in Arabic

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