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Scarface fans didn’t need mounds of cocaine to pump themselves up to see Al Pacino; Michelle Pfeiffer; director Brian De Palma; and co-star Steven Bauer, who played Pacino’s character’s gangster sidekick Manny, at a 35th anniversary screening of the beloved drug kingpin drama at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The packed, sold-out audience at New York’s Beacon Theatre cheered throughout a postscreening discussion with the cast (and booed at one poorly worded question from the moderator, writer Jesse Kornbluth) and even gave Pacino a standing ovation as he took the stage.
Though the film was released in 1983, viewers watching the movie now might be reminded of some present-day public figures, including perhaps one in the White House, with echoes of lead character Tony Montana’s bravado and ego. At one point in the film, Montana proclaims, “Who put this thing together? Me, that’s who! Who do I trust? Me.”
Kornbluth brought up that quote, saying that it possibly “suggests what life is like this year.” But the actor wouldn’t take the bait, saying simply, “I didn’t think we would get political. … George Washington?”
But DePalma mused about Montana’s modern-day contemporaries as he revealed what attracted him to the story. “I’ve always been interested about making movies about people who start rather humbly and then acquire a great deal of power and then ultimately isolate themselves and live in their own world,” he said, wondering aloud, “Could that be anything we’re experiencing now?”
A remake of the Pacino starrer, which itself was a remake, has been in the works for a couple of years and was initially set to be released this year, but is now unscheduled after studio Universal parted ways with director David Ayer.
Pacino previously told The Hollywood Reporter of the new remake, “Oh, it’s fine,” calling the plans “interesting.”
He went on to explain how he understands that’s the way things work in Hollywood.
“It’s part of what we do. We remake things,” he added.
On Thursday night, picking up on the trend of gender-bending reboots, Kornbluth asked the cast if the new Montana should be a woman, to which they all — even Pfeiffer — replied “no.”
Gender issues also came into play during the talk as Kornbluth chose an unfortunate way of asking Pfeiffer about losing weight to play a character who’s a cocaine addict. “As the father of a daughter, I’m concerned with body image,” he said. “[During] the preparation for this film, what did you weigh?” he asked, as the audience turned on him, booing and murmuring “bad question.” Kornbluth tried to backtrack, saying, “This is not the question you think it is.”
And Pfeiffer gracefully sidestepped it. “Well, OK. I don’t know,” she said after the audience died down. “But I was playing a cocaine addict, which was part of the physicality of the part, which you have to consider.”
But she did talk about how an extended shoot led to her wind up “starving” by the end of it as she had planned to be at her thinnest for her character’s last scene, which kept getting delayed.
“The movie was only supposed to be a three-month, four-month shoot,” Pfeiffer continued. “Of course I tried to time it so that as the movie went on, I became thinner and thinner and more emaciated. The problem was the movie went six months. I was starving by the end of it because the one scene, which was the end of the film, where I needed to be my thinnest, it was next week and then it was next week and then it was next week. I literally had members of the crew bringing me bagels because they were all worried about me and how thin I was getting. I think I was living on tomato soup and Marlboros.”
Kornbluth’s question continued to make waves as it was shared on social media early Friday. The writer released the following statement to IndieWire explaining his inquiry: “It is true that a gentleman should never ask a woman about her weight. But that was not my question. It is a comment on the knee-jerk political correctness of our time that no one would be shocked if you asked Robert De Niro about the weight gain required for his role in Raging Bull but you get booed — not by many, but by a vocal few — for asking Michelle Pfeiffer about the physical two-dimensionality required for her to play a cocaine freak in Scarface.”
Although Pfeiffer’s Elvira is the beautiful girlfriend to two drug kingpins, she stands up for herself throughout the film. While the actress said she didn’t think much about whether her character was subservient when she was filming the movie in her early 20s, she shared some insight Thursday night into the importance of playing such a role.
“I felt that by allowing people to observe who this character is and the sacrifices that she’s made said more than getting up on any soap box and preaching to people,” she explained.
Pfeiffer added of working opposite Pacino, “One of the things that hit me the strongest from the beginning was watching him fiercely protect his character and really at all costs and without any sort of apology. And I have always tried to emulate that. And I try to be polite about it. But I think that’s what really makes great acting.”
Bauer frequently chimed in during the panel, sharing his memories of working on the film. He also addressed the backlash the film received from Cuban immigrants. “A lot of the old-school Cubans were concerned with me almost to the point that they weren’t really sure that my participation in a Hollywood movie was worth me downgrading or degrading or tainting the image of their accomplishments in the new society,” the Cuban-born actor said. “What I tried to convey to them was: Relax, man. It’s a movie.”
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