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Pacino heaps praise on Mamet, who, in directing his own script, might have been too protective of the words he wrote, but wasn’t.

“He was surprisingly flexible,” says Pacino. “There’s probably things in his writing that he’s partial to: `Play till the lemon chicken comes’” _ a riotous line Spector fires out in a scene in the recording studio _ “you’ve GOT to say that! But all in all, I found him to be flexible, and that relieved me.”

Meanwhile, the jagged on-screen chemistry Pacino shares with Mirren found its roots in their warm working partnership.

“I LOVE her!” he says. “I just can’t tell you the advantage of having someone you can talk with every day, just to get her read on things. Sometimes I thought, `I’m talking too much to her. She’s gonna start getting bored.’ But she was a real mensch!

“And that’s my memory of the film,” he sums up with a laugh: “Her. And me struggling to get through my scenes with those wigs!”

Pacino is now mulling future projects, including a long-rumored Napoleon biopic. “Where am I gonna find HIM?” says the actor as if planning his research, then quips: “A couple of studio heads I know!

“But I don’t think I’m ready to go out there and just do a job,” he adds, growing serious again. “Sometimes I’ve made movies because I was having a tough time in life: You know, go make a movie, get away from THIS world. But I don’t think I have that kind of energy to do that anymore. I only get turned on by something with a challenge, where there’s an opportunity to do something with.

“It’s comforting,” he declares, “to feel like that possibility exists.”

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Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier