- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

NEW YORK — Al Pacino acknowledges that his personal appearances tend to grow more scarce as the years go by, so it's something of an event when he agrees to boost the openings of "Simone," a satire about the contemporary movie business, with a news conference at the Regency hotel.
His presence also doubles the movie's representation during a promotional weekend by New Line Cinema. Until Mr. Pacino came aboard, only writer-director Andrew Niccol was on the bill.
Because the subject of "Simone," which opens today, is the creation of a mysterious and instantly popular leading lady through the agency of a computer graphics system, perhaps it was appropriate that the first question waxed impertinent with Mr. Pacino's appearance. Or perhaps it was merely rude.
"Are you wearing a wig?" a member of the press asks. The answer "Moi?" seems to settle the issue for the remainder of the hour.
The actor, who at 62 seems quite comfortable under a head of hair whose fullness and bounciness might rival Hugh Grant's, observes that he has a certain history with comedy, despite being identified with such dramatic landmarks of the early 1970s as "The Godfather," "Serpico," "The Godfather, Part II" and "Dog Day Afternoon." The revelation "I started in comedy" prompts a brief laughing fit.
"That's how bad a comic I was," Mr. Pacino explains. "I crack myself up too easily. But I did have a partner at one time, and we did routines. I wasn't the kind of person who could be funny all the time, though. Only when I felt like it. And that ain't gonna work."
Mr. Pacino also believes that he has retained a trustworthy instinct about injecting humor into predominantly sober roles. "I think that can work in drama," he reflects. "Pull out humor wherever you can."
He cites an example in which he literally pulled something out of a box: an automatic rifle at the start of the bank robbery in "Dog Day Afternoon."
As he recalls, "For a moment, the barrel gets all tangled up in this long cardboard box where it's been concealed. I'm flailing around to get it loose so I can start acting fierce and threatening everyone. And it's kind of embarrassing. From that unexpected clumsiness, everything that happens afterward, everything Sidney Lumet sets up while directing the scenes, acquires this additional element of the oddly funny, the ambivalent. Drama can thrive on that kind of comic relief, I think."
Mr. Pacino has already enjoyed a dramatic triumph this summer, as a sleep-deprived police detective in Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia." His character is faced with potential disgrace and blackmail while on loan to investigate a murder case in Alaska.
The protagonist of "Simone" is desperate and obsessive in other respects. A struggling middle-aged filmmaker named Viktor Taransky, he is left in the lurch by the irresponsible actress hired for his latest feature.
A sudden gift from a dying computer genius tempts him to substitute a digital phantom, designated Simulation One, or Simone for short. Kept under wraps by Taransky during a secluded production, she emerges as a Nordic dream girl who dazzles the public in an enigmatic sleeper, "Eternity Forever."
"Andrew had written something very different and amusing and interesting," Mr. Pacino says. "I was taken with that, and with his other work. I knew he had written 'The Truman Show,' of course. But mainly, since he wanted me in the part of Taransky, I believed he saw something that I needed to share."
Asked about the creation of movie stars, authentic or synthetic, Mr. Pacino says, "There are all kinds of reasons we have for watching people perform. It seems as though we prefer to identify with that lead character at the movies. Either we want to be that person or find it appealing to fantasize about it.
"That creates a viable interchange between audience and actor. We also seem to want to know a lot about the actor's personality and lifestyle and opinions."

Mr. Pacino doubts that similar attachments can be contrived around computer-generated simulations of human beings. "Of course, now I speak for my brother and sister actors," he says. "Anything can happen. Do you notice the difference? I think I do, at least at this point in the technology.
"I want performers to be there in a picture. I don't know if I have the eye to distinguish infallibly between the real and a digital fake. I think I can feel it. We all know that the tricks movies can play are limitless. I can't think of any objection to digitizing crowds to make it look as if more people are in the background of a scene. One real location substitutes for another all the time, which is cheating in a strict sense, but still, you're in the open and moving around in real places."
Despite his loyalty to the acting profession, Mr. Pacino admits that he has witnessed indefensible behavior and found himself opposite unsympathetic partners.
"The feedback, the give and take, is such a major part of acting," he says, "and it's the way I prefer to work. But the misbehavior exists. You cannot believe it when it happens. It's stunning, and scary, because you're all out there on a tightrope, to borrow the circus metaphor.
"You know you have to get from one side to the other, and if someone is acting up, how do you do that safely? When the work is approached responsibly, it's all about trust and being familial. We're all instruments in the orchestra in a way. When someone is out of sync, wow."
When a reporter suggests that stars tend to overwhelm movies, Mr. Pacino quickly replies, "If that's true, I quit. I don't think so. It's always the character and the story.
"The play's the thing, as Shakespeare said. I'm always concerned that my personality, whatever that is, would somehow get in there and obscure the character I'm playing. I try to ride shotgun on that. I always look to the script and ask, can I be in this? I'm not saying will it be a great picture or a turkey. What I mean is, can I function in this project?
"Come to work every day and do the thing we do in movies, which is sit around and wait 10 hours a day to expose a few minutes of film. Orson Welles once said, 'You're paid for waiting.' To do that, you have to care about the work and what can be accomplished if you do it properly. It's a real mistake, at least for me, to do something I don't really care about. You need to find a light around the movie, or within it."

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