Venice: Al Pacino Speaks About Depression

Insomnia Still Robin Williams Al Pacino - H 2014
Warner Bros/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Insomnia Still Robin Williams Al Pacino - H 2014

‘The Humbling’ director Barry Levinson also shares memories of Robin Williams

There’s a trend in Venice films this year of aging men, in particular aging actors, dealing with the depression that comes with trying to find ones’ relevance in life. Al Pacino in Barry Levinson's The Humbling and Michael Keaton in Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman have similar character arcs as suicidal theater men who can’t seem to find the stage. Pacino stars in a second sad role in Manglehorn, as a loner locksmith whose inability to get over a lost love prevents him from getting on with his life.

At a press conference Saturday for The Humbling, Pacino was asked whether he’s ever shared the two characters’ depression shown so vividly in the films. 

“Fortunately, I may be depressed, but I don’t know about it,” the actor said lightheartedly. “I don’t see how I could not be depressed, some of the time, but I don’t know about it.”

“How does it go? You say I’m depressed? Life is sort of like all over us,” he continued. “Things make you sad. Basically you’d like to be a little happier sometimes. But 'depressed' seems so ominous. It’s really in all of us. We all relate to it.”

“I probably have been, and I’m glad that I don’t know about it, but now that you mention it maybe I’ll give it some thought and be depressed,” he joked.

“People go into depressions and it’s very sad and it’s terrifying. I’ve had bouts with that, that comes close to that, but nothing that deep. I feel spared and I’m lucky.”

It is his familiarity with the emotions behind depression that Pacino said allowed him to take on the role. “What you look for are the similarities in character that are similar to you. I understand depression and that’s part of what we do, is to go out and understand the character,” he said.

And Pacino revealed what makes him happy most of all: “I have three children. That’s been a real source of enlightenment for me, plus the friends I’ve had, the people I’ve met over the years, the relationships I’ve had. All of it has contributed to an amazing, shocking journey I’ve had so far. I feel as though I’m doing OK.” 

Levinson  also reflected on Robin Willliams' passing at the press conference: “None of us will understand what really happened. He was brilliant and sensitive in ways that were extraordinary. He could be comedic in ways that I don’t think we can define.”

“If I can go back to Good Morning Vietnam, we had some sequences where we were dealing with the Vietnamese and they couldn’t really do the scene as written,” he continued. “Instead of trying to make it work that way, we did improvs with it. His interest in the people was so fascinating that he was able to pull out their behavior and how they thought and functioned, which really brought a life to Good Morning Vietnam, up and above what the story was. He has an enormous passion for people and a great sense of humanity and was an extraordinary human being.”

Twitter: @Aristonla