On Sunday, March 26, 2006, as we sat eating lunch in his Beverly Hills backyard Al Pacino started talking about how he was about to start filming Salome, not just Oscar Wilde’s play, which he’d done on and off-Broadway over the years, but the making of the play, and his attempt at getting to understand it. Similar to his 1996 film Looking for Richard, about coming to grips with Shakespeare’s Richard III, which garnered him a Director’s Guild Award.
“What made you decide to do this?”
“I’m tired of waiting around for scripts to be developed,” he said.
He was waiting on rewrites of Napoleon, of Salvador Dali, of a boxing story, and of a remake of a gangster movie. It was difficult for him to find stories that excited him.
He’d go to a party peppered with agents, producers, studio executives, other stars—formidable, influential people–and discover that no one had seen Looking for Richard or even knew that he did it. “How can that be?” he wondered. “People in this industry don’t even know?” It wasn’t so much an ego thing as honest disillusion and disappointment. Richard was named by the New York Times one of the ten best films of 1996, but a movie about a Shakespearean play didn’t get the attention that movies like Dusk till Dawn, Mars Attack, or Scream received in the same year Richard was released. If for no other reason, one would think that the film community might be interested in seeing what the star of The Godfather, Scarface, and Scent of a Woman was up to making his directorial debut in a film about the greatest writer in the English language. But in Hollywood, art and commerce rarely mix.
I remembered something Roger Ebert wrote about Richard, that it was a film about how to act and produce Shakespeare, and also a documentary about a few days in the life of an actor who loved his craft and brimmed with curiosity and good humor. I assumed that if you substituted Oscar Wilde for Shakespeare, Al had the same intent about Salome. But with Pacino, you never knew…because when it came to doing his private projects he often went in blind. If he could find a way to shine enough light on the subject, he might see his way into an actual movie. If he couldn’t, it really didn’t matter to him, because the energy, the joy, the love was in the process. If I learned anything from all the years I’ve known the man, Pacino was all about process.
Then, casually, between bites of salad, he said, “I want you to be a character in this. You can wear a hat, you know. Get a look. But I want you to challenge me, to come at me, to interrupt me…you know….”
“To be the obnoxious reporter,” I added.
“Yeah. Just do whatever you want. And if you’re not comfortable, just be who you are.”
I laughed. I wondered if he thought there was any difference.