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PACINO, AL : The Insider

In The Insider, Al Pacino plays Lowell Bergman investigative reporter and segment producer for 60 Minutes, working on a story that brings him into contact with Jeffrey Wigand, tobacco 'insider': his journalistic instincts recognise there is a potent secret behind Wigand's silence. Pacino talks to our European correspondent JORN ROSSING JENSEN.

Al Pacino arrives with the aura of a star and a black outfit that suggests the parading of star power. But he shrugs it off with a smile. "Somehow it always comes out that way - that I wear black. I have to start thinking more about wearing colorful clothes. I could actually have chosen a brighter tie. But my socks are white," he adds with a lift of the leg.

Honoured by a retrospective at the American Film Festival in Deauville, France, the 59-year-old actor-director has just added two controversial features to his credits, Michael Mann's The Insider, which has not won any prizes from the American tobacco industry, and Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, which did not score at all with the American Football League.

Q: Considering your two latest films, are you actually looking for controversy?
A: Anytime you make a movie about a subject, you are liable to stir controversy, and it is always good for the movie, as long as it is a kind of healthy controversy. I remember doing films in the past about real people, and the idea is that you try to capture the essence of the person in this particular situation and make it into a character in a drama. It is a dramatisation, like what (Oliver) Stone did with Nixon.

Drama can never be the real thing - that is the difference between drama and documentary, and even documentary is only a perspective. When the films are about ourselves, or something we are occupied with, we become more sensitive. We have an idea about how we should be expressed, and we think we are entitled to such a presentation. But I guess Mann and Stone are also entitled to their interpretation. They have both been inspired by a story - they do not say that this is what really happened - but they are bringing out the metaphor. You can say that Shakespeare interpreted Richard III in a certain way, because there is a Richard III Society, which claims that he was a nice person. So the controversy is always there.

Q: What sort of roles do you find the most difficult to play?
A: There are two kinds of difficult roles. The first is when the actual conditions of shooting are difficult, with long hours and exhausting locations. In this way every movie has its own 'difficult' personality. The second is when you have trouble connecting to the role, finding the right way to express certain areas of the character.

Sometimes you feel you are able to play a part, and suddenly you realise that it is not working at all. It would be good if you could quit, when that happens, but when the ball is rolling it is obviously impossible, and you just have to try harder. When I was a young actor in repertory, I would go to the theatre hoping to get the good roles. But I often ended up connecting to the characters I did not like, and the others did not work.

Q: You haven't done much comedy in your career - was that a choice?
A: Actually, I started as a comic, as you probably can tell (laughs), but I lost my way, and for the last 30 years I have tried to get back. But I have never - in myself - separated comedy and tragedy, I think there is both in everything, except, of course, in the straight out comedy. Many people are convinced that comics enjoy life and everything much better - I do not know whether that is true - but the comics I know do not seem to be different from us. Still it all depends on the script.

If something funny comes up, I am ready to do it, although I have still a few more tragedies in me. However, sometimes I think I should be more open in terms of joining ideas with directors who are interested in the exploration of cinema. When I did Looking for Richard, about Shakespeare's Richard III, it was - in its spirit - experimental, and it was indeed very fulfilling. However, the older you get, you realise that your time is limited, and there are still so many things you want to do. So at this point I cannot see myself going off to concentrate on a single project which would take my total commitment for a year.

I try to achieve a balance, as I have done over the years, choosing my parts by rather traditional features; from the story, the character and the director, then taking the experiments into my own company. And I do have an
idea for a film similar to Looking for Richard.

Q: Shakespeare is a litreary source; what interest do you have in other literature?
A: The Russian greats turned me on at first….the reading of them inspired my whole life, they were real allies to me, and got me through a difficult period. I will continue to play Chekov, and I have tried to adapt Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, but it is always difficult to pay the right homage to such a work.

Q: What did it mean to you when you finally took home the Oscar itself?
A: I guess it must be like winning the Olympics - people just went on to congratulate me. Just being nominated is an enormous honour, and I have been lucky to feel that a few times. It is another way of being recognised for something you do. Every year many great performances are overlooked, either because they are ... overlooked, or because the picture did not do well. But consider the odds: there are so many films being made every year. So you just have to be grateful.

Q: Are you still contributing your time and efforts to the Actors' Studio?
A: It was a place I went to, when I was very young and struggling, and - as most actors - poor and looking for work. You could go to auditions at the studio with no other qualifications than you just wanted to do it, and if you were accepted, you suddenly had not only the best place for training in New York, but also a home and a family.

If you play the cello, you can always practice at home. But if you are an actor, you have to practice in front of people, and here was not only the opportunity, but also the tradition. Here you could go and approach roles and anything else, all for free. There would be directing sessions with Elia Kazan, acting sessions with Lee Strasberg, dance, fencing, voice training, a whole social life. The studio had - and has - foundations such as the James Dean Memorial Fund, which support actors who cannot pay their rent or are in a financial mess. Obviously, if you become successful, you put back as much as you can.


Born in Bronx, of Italian descent, he learned 'the method' from Lee Strasberg at the Actors' Studio in New York and also trained at a small theatre company in Boston, before his screen debut in 1969 (Me Natalie) - and his first major role the following year (The Panic in the Needle Park). His international break came with the magnificent, Oscar nominated role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather.

Between films with such directors as Sidney Lumet, Sydney Pollack, William Friedkin, Norman Jewison and Francis Ford Coppola, which earned him another seven nominations and finally the statuette itself (for Scent of a Woman [1992]), he found time to perform on stage and be artistic director of the Actors' Studio. His feature directorial debut, Richard III, was selected for the official program at Cannes in 1996.

"Indeed I have played many gangster characters, but the real gangsters know that I am just an actor - at least most of them," he says.

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