"When you get me on the acting trail, I get on that train," he said, punctuating what he calls an improvised "thesis on time" with staccato snaps.
The 72-year-old may be gray-haired and a little worn, but he remains, like a dancer, always on his toes, and still enamored of the "crazy, crazy, crazy thing" that is acting: "You're always looking for what's going to feed you, what's going to feed the spirit and get you going."
And Pacino is still getting going.
Not many know that Pacino started out as a comedian. He jokes that though he did a movie with Robin Williams ("Insomnia"), "he didn't know that I really wanted to be him."
But after a career better known for gangsters, crooks and Shakespearean villains, Pacino has lately been exercising his comedy chops. After finishing a revival run on Broadway of "Glengarry Glen Ross" in which he played up the laughs as the desperate, over-the-hill salesman Shelley, Pacino stars in the crime comedy "Stand Up Guys," which opens today.
In it, he plays a former gangster, Val, released from prison after 28 years and taken around town to celebrate by his old friend, Doc (Christopher Walken), who does it remorsefully knowing that their boss wants Val killed by sunup. Their pal Richard (Alan Arkin) joins in the romp.
As he showed in "Scent of a Woman," Al Pacino is good company for a last-hurrah. Part of his enduring appeal, after all, is his pulsating zest for life. Whether firing a machine gun at the hip ("Scarface"), pursuing a story ("The Insider") or whipping a crowd into an "Attica"-chanting protest ("Dog Day Afternoon"), Pacino is the great agitator of American movies.
Critics will make claims of over-acting, but no one ever slept through an Al Pacino performance.
Pacino and Walken hadn't worked together before (except for separate scenes in -- get ready for it -- the Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez film "Gigli"), but they've been friends for decades, going back to the Actors Studio, where Pacino is currently co-president. Reading through the parts, the two decided to switch roles in "Stand Up Guys."
It's ironic that the greatest accomplishment of an actor so well known for his bigness (despite his 5 foot-7 inch height) was a performance of utter control: Michael Corleone. The strain of that titanic performance -- the maturation of an armchair despot through the "Godfather" films -- left a mark on Pacino, who though nearly 32 at the time, had only two previous movies under his belt.
"That character was so consuming," Pacino said. "Part of the reason why was because of its restraint, because of what is demanded of it in that style. The innards of that character, what his psyche was going through. To portray that probably affected me in some way."
And when the question of whether he'll take up that Shakespearean mountain that signifies the autumn of an actor's career, he says, yes, perhaps in a movie, but not on stage.
"King Lear? Why don't you ask me if I'm going to climb the Empire State Building with a wire?" Pacino said. "King Lear? What have I got to do with King Lear? Isn't that for other kind of people? It's somebody else playing it. It's George C. Scott or Ian McKellen. I don't do that. I'm in 'Stand Up Guys.'"
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