Al Pacino on craft and character

Al Pacino in Serpico (1973). Image via Criterion

Al Pacino in Serpico (1973). Image via Criterion

In a recent interview with the Village Voice, Al Pacino meditates on his method approach to building out the characters he plays.

"I work relative to what is around me. The role, the amount of time, what I’m doing, who I’m doing it with. I really like to approach roles, if I can, alone. It’s almost like writing about the character. Consuming it. I used to say 'channeling it.' But I require more rehearsal than I usually get, and so I have to figure out how to cope with that."

Pacino approaches the craft from an earnest desire to express himself artistically.

"I didn’t even know what a career was when I was in the Village in the old days. I just didn’t even think about it. I thought, 'Where’s the paint, where’s the canvas?' That was what was in the air, in the streets, in the cafes that we performed in. You do sixteen shows a week, so you’re getting practice. Hopefully by the end of the sixteen, you know a little bit more than you did with the first show. That’s been my mantra: Just keep doing it."

It's a combination of craft, passion, persistence and dedication — to both the art and the specific roles. 

Rehearsal, too, is important for Pacino. Not only for himself, but for the communal nature of actors bringing a story to life. Unfortunately, he laments that this type of depth is not encouraged in today's commercial environment:

"What you finally wind up doing together is forming a world. It’s called the world of the play, and once you have some handle on that, it gets easier to act in those things — you do less acting and more living. I was enamored with this. [...] But every once in a while, you know, you’re talking to a few of your co-actors, and it’s so interesting the way they respond to things. Actors, mainly. Because it gives them something to do other than learn the words."

["That process of working is not feasible in the commercial world."] "It’s a little more difficult in this day and age because as soon as you hit that set, they’re in it; they don’t even rehearse. It’s every man for himself. You’ve got to go in there and figure it out on your own. But Bob De Niro also once told me, 'Don’t rehearse unless you rehearse with people who know how to rehearse.' He makes a good point!"

The interview, with Bilge Ebiri, is worth reading in full, with interesting tidbits and insights into his career.

- JG