Venice: Al Pacino’s Not Afraid of Getting Older
The 74-year-old 'Humbling' actor has no intentions of slowing down
This year’s biggest star at the Venice Film Festival was 74-year-old Al Pacino, who made headlines as the star of two premieres: The Humbling and Manglehorn. The films will both make their North American debuts in Toronto.
The Humbling was a pet project for the actor, who optioned the Philip Roth novel and recruited Barry Levinson to direct. Pacino plays Simon Axler, an aging stage actor who takes a nosedive off the stage after faltering with his lines. He goes for a stint in rehab and then retires to his country home to try to attempt a normal life, but is instantly sidelined by a tumultuous relationship with the much younger Pegeen, played by Greta Gerwig.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Pacino in Venice about his attraction toward lonely roles, his embracing getting older, and just what it was like to adapt a Philip Roth novel.
You seem to be a generally happy guy. What drew you to play such a sad role?
Seem? You should have seen me in my room this morning! Well, I don’t think of happiness. I’m happy in that I’m not over happy. ‘On fortunes cap, [I’m] not the very button.’ Shakespeare.
I started as a comedian and I loved it, but I think sometimes the texts in the dramatic roles are more interesting in general. What appealed to me in The Humbling was I saw it as a tragic comedy.
Do you relate to the loneliness in the role?
What can I relate to basically, is the idea that an actor, who has been around as long as this actor has, is losing his desire and his appetite. And I think in what we do, desire and appetite has a profound effect. Also as he gets older, he starts to lose and shed some of his tools, which is tantamount to an athlete losing his reflexes.
And it’s almost unbearable to him to when he forgets his words onstage. It’s humiliating and he starts to lose it and he wants to go back to peace and to a life, which he’s never had. Now for some reason there’s something we find funny about that, an actor wanting to be a real person.
What was Philip Roth’s reaction when you optioned the book?
I don’t know. Philip Roth is his own person and when I met him, he seemed uh, how do I say it? We are different mediums. A book is not a movie. And the wonderful thing that Barry [Levinson] and Buck [Henry] did is they turned the book into a movie. I would imagine it would be unthinkable to Philip Roth to have comedy in this.
The Humbling explores at the fear of getting older. Do you share that fear?
No. But, I’m age appropriate. That’s what you go by. I’m not playing a guy who’s 50. But I do think of myself as 40. That’s when the clock stops. If I’m going to choose the happiest time to be, it’s 40. It’s a great age.
Your character Simon Axler has so many things thrown at him at once. What was the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome in life?
The death of my mother and my grandfather within the same year. So like everybody, we have literally almost hundreds of things that have come in life for all of us.
I don’t want to talk about the movie or what it says, because I don’t want to give it away. But there are wonderful things in that struggle that we can relate to, especially when one realizes the kind of prejudice about ageism or stereotypical stuff, which I just can’t take up with that. I don’t know why, but it’s fine.
Although if somebody said to me what do I want for Christmas, I’d say a rocking chair. Sometimes I feel like I could use a walker. But other than that, I’m fine.
What’s been your most physically demanding role?
I don’t know. I’d have to think about it. But, I would think the Manglehorn movie I just made is one of them, being in a strange place. I’m not used to making movies in places I’m not familiar with, sleeping in a bed that isn’t mine.
I did another movie, Danny Collins, that’s coming out next year about a rock star, with Annette Bening, Bobby Cannavale and Chris Plummer. And that was a little strange, but it’s a fun movie — it’s funny. It’s about a singer, a rock star, which is not my first language, but it was fun to do.
Some of the early ones in my life were difficult, because of my association with film, my getting used to movies. And doing movies only really fascinated me when I got a little older and made my own movies. And my discovery of that, and what went into it, changed the way I feel about film.
When I was young, I hardly ever did movies, like people think about the 70s, which I don’t remember by the way. Some of the movies I made then, I would make one every couple of years. Everything that was happening at the time, I was in this place that was like a merry ground of some sorts. So, my memory of the 70s is that a lot was happening that I wasn’t aware of.
Do you desire to direct again?
No, I have no desire to direct. I like to make movies, Salome with Jessica Chastain, and the documentaries. You know, my reasons for doing things sometimes can be a little obscure to me.
But, I don’t consider myself a filmmaker. I consider myself an actor and occasionally, I have a lot of fun in making a movie. I’ve learned a little bit about making movies, but I don’t feel qualified. In all honestly with you, being a director I’ve tried it, and I never felt my work had that thing that real directors with gifts do. So I’ve shied away from it. I’m a bit of a dilettante when it comes to making a movie.