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Interview with Al Pacino

Phil Spector

HBO

What was it like to act in a film written by David Mamet?

Al Pacino

Its a delight for any actor to play Mamet  hes one of the great writers of our time. He writes for actors. He writes with this alacrity and power  he puts this kind of verbal stamp on his work. Then, when you go deeper into it, you see whats underneath and it feeds you.

HBO

He also directed 'Phil Spector.'

Al Pacino

He did, and he did it very well. He created a very interesting style for this movie. It was a special thing that only he could have done. Its great to work with him [as the director] too, because the writers talking to you about the character. You know that you have to take the script in and make it your own language, but its still helpful to know what was going on in his head when he wrote it.

HBO

Was David Mamet seeking to capture the real Spector?

Al Pacino

My feeling is that with a great writer like David Mamet - or Tony Kushner with 'Angels in America'  they are inspired by a real person, and then they fictionalize the character for themselves. The way Shakespeare did with 'Richard III.' It was a sounding board for him - a stepping stone. And I think thats what Phil Spector is  its David Mamet putting forth his reaction to this particular real, live person and turning it into a character.

HBO

He never seems to come out and say Spector was a murderer.

Al Pacino

Its very interesting on that level; Mamet tries to stay away from any kind of, This is the way it was. He was guilty and this is how he dealt with it. He just leaves it open and I think thats going to be very interesting and maybe a frustrating situation for some people.

HBO

There's this idea that Spector is going to be convicted of, I dont like you.

Al Pacino

Yeah. Spector is a genius and brought music to another level with the Wall of Sound. But the fact is, he is this reckless, almost anarchic character who's hard to reach. He doesnt fit in  hes always been different. Weird. When this incident occurred he had been a recluse for a long time and had a reputation already. That eccentricity turns on him and people start to formulate an opinion of who he is.

HBO

Initially, his lawyer Linda, Helen Mirren's character, thinks hes a murderer.

"You want to be faithful to the character, but also, you want to step it up in a sense. You can say many different things about this character metaphorically, which helps give it a certain size.

Al Pacino

Right. Shes completely convinced hes guilty but then her opinion starts turning around. Its like all things with Phil  his insights are not immediately clear, but if you listen long enough, you start to understand. I know people like that. They start talking, you dont know what theyre talking about and you get a little concerned that youre not really getting it&but its just that their delivery is different. Thats what happened with Helens character. She starts to hear him.

HBO

By the end, theres a real relationship between Phil and Linda.

Al Pacino

Its funny, you cant make a relationship. Its either there or its not. You can appreciate someone, admire them or even not like them very muchbut a contact and a connection with somebody  thats just in the cosmos, you know?

HBO

Did Phil Spector do it?

Al Pacino

I have no idea. [LAUGHS] I just dont know what happened. I dont know Phil Spector.

HBO

You didnt meet him in your preparation?

Al Pacino

I dont know how helpful it would have been. Phil Spector is in prison now. I am sure I could have had access to him; I didnt do it because this is about Phil Spector before he was sentenced. The same way "You Don't Know Jack" was about Jack Kevorkian before he went away to prison. Maybe one day Ill be able to ask him questions, but I chose not to this time. You figure theres enough data on the character that maybe its best to go with the glow, so to speak.

HBO

So you werent trying to imitate him.

Al Pacino

Well, I am playing a real life character, in the same way I did with Kevorkian and Roy Cohn. Its always a help to an actor to play a real character. In todays world, theres so much footage and data on these people, that as an actor, you can study him and find a way to actually have the real person feed your imagination.

HBO

Do you look for something about the real person to relate to?

Al Pacino

Yes. Its so interesting to play someone who became so involved in these different aspects of life. Here was this guy who was all music. I mean, his whole thing was music. And yet, he had these diversions that he went into and found pleasure in. For example, he was somewhat of a Lincoln freak. So it was interesting to play someone who aside from having such a genius and ability to make musicwhich is in-and-of itself consuminghe was able to be consumed by a lot of other things. Thats how he became knowledgeable and extended himself. Much like actors who portray characters. Sometimes, we are thrown into an education  we have to find out about who we are playing. I always liked that because for someone like me, a natural lazybones, you are just thrown into things and you have to absorb it.

HBO

So the real Phil Spector is, again, a stepping stone into your take on the character Phil Spector?

Al Pacino

You want to be faithful to the character, but also, you want to step it up in a sense. By fictionalizing the character, sometimes you can make it much more palatable. You can say many different things about this character metaphorically, which helps give it a certain size.

HBO

What are some of your own interests  outside of acting?

Al Pacino

I prefer basket weaving. I could do basket weaving anywhere, you know, when I go in the home. I got something to fall back on, basket weaving.

HBO

What would you say was the most challenging aspect of working on a film?

Al Pacino

Its usually getting up in the morning. Thats the tough one. See on big moviesmajor movies that are full of locations and different things you spend a lot of time in your camper. It gets boring. They said once to Orson Welles, Well, you get paid for acting. He said, No, I dont get paid for acting. I get paid for waiting. That can really get to be a drag. So you try to find a way to get things working in your camper. Cable TV works, you get a variety of channels to choose from. So, you got CNN, you can listen to music, you can&

HBO

Read a book?

Al Pacino

Reading is tough to do when you are working because it's too involving. But TV's just [IMITATING TV HUMMING SOUND] hmmm, hmmm, hmmm& you dont have to use yourself much, so it helps the waiting.

HBO

Do you have favorite scenes that you remember playing?

Al Pacino

My favorite scenes are the ones I get through and nobody says Hey Al, what the hell was that, you know? Its just the best way.

Phil Spector

HBO Films