- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

NEW YORK — He sounds like Al Pacino; the voice is raspy, with all of its cadences and varying volume. He looks like Al Pacino, even though his spiky haircut is dyed blond. But Al Pacino says this isn't him.
He's not himself in interviews. In this regard, he maintains, he's like his character in the new movie "Insomnia," a Los Angeles police detective haunted by a lapse in judgment.
"I love what he says: 'There's things that you can feel when you're doing 'em: It's not just you.' Somebody else could get away with it. But if you do it it's going to catch up to you. It doesn't fit. And I like the idea of this character doing something that he knew [was wrong] but he had some high moral reason for doing it," Mr. Pacino says, "and he pays for it."
Without going into detail, Mr. Pacino says he has had the same experience, professionally and personally.
He has done things and thought: "'I'm doing something that I'm either supposed to do or what's expected of me. But it's not me.' And it always gets me in trouble."
If it doesn't, he feels as if he has gotten away with something.
"Like this interview, for instance. I hope. I hope."
The intensely private actor may or may not be joking and adds: "As a friend of mine says, 'What anybody says about me is none of my business.'"
Mr. Pacino, 62, typically strikes the old straight-arm Heisman trophy pose in response to personal inquiries. (Never married, he has an adolescent daughter, and he and actress Beverly D'Angelo had twins in January 2001.)
When it comes to talking about acting, great writing and his love for both, however, he's gracious and forthright so, just when you think you're out, he pulls you back in.
Mr. Pacino says he took his latest role for two reasons: The movie was directed by Christopher Nolan, whom he admired for "his momentous 'Memento'," and he got to play someone with a good and bad side and a conscience.
"I felt there was something there to act," he says.
Long before he became an eight-time Academy Award nominee and winner of the best-actor award for his bitter, blind retired Army colonel in 1992's "Scent of a Woman," Mr. Pacino worked as a mover and thought that was the hardest job he had ever had.
"But I think making movies tops that," he says. "You really have to love what you're doing to do it. As a matter of fact, I more than enjoy it. I think I need to do it. I just think I need to do it. When I don't need to do it, I won't."

Growing up in the Bronx with his mother and grandparents his parents split up when he was 2 little Alfredo Pacino was always acting.
"I didn't even know what I was doing. I just found that I was doing it," Mr. Pacino says, recalling that he mimicked Al Jolson records and re-enacted all the parts in the movies he saw with his mother.
He kept on doing it. Even though he grew up poor and had to quit the noted High School of Performing Arts to work, he took acting classes and began to get theater parts.
In 1966, the Actors Studio accepted him; two years later, he won an Off-Broadway Obie. He won the first of two Tonys in 1969, when he also made his screen debut, in "Me, Natalie." His first lead film role came in 1971's "The Panic in Needle Park" a year before he exploded into the American pop-culture consciousness as Michael Corleone in "The Godfather," for which he received a supporting-actor Oscar nomination.
He got four more Oscar nods in the '70s for "Serpico," "The Godfather: Part II," "Dog Day Afternoon" and " And Justice for All."
While continuing to work on the stage, he had no hit films during the 1980s until 1989's "Sea of Love," co-starring Ellen Barkin. Since then, he has starred in such movies as "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Heat" and "The Insider."
In "Insomnia," Mr. Pacino's Will Dormer is sent to Alaska to investigate a 17-year-old girl's murder. He can't sleep because it's always daylight. The lack of sleep and an Internal Affairs investigation back in Los Angeles start to catch up to him.
The film co-stars two other Oscar winners, Robin Williams as the murder suspect and Hilary Swank as a policewoman who admires Dormer. He mentors his protege by advising, "Small things, remember?"
That's advice Mr. Pacino has followed throughout his career. His minimalist transformation from a heroic, clean-cut young soldier to a ruthless Mafia don helps make "The Godfather" one of the great movies.
"With just the slightest nuance just a look or a small gesture he conveys the most complex human struggle," says Mr. Nolan, the "Insomnia" director.
Because most of Mr. Pacino's movie roles have been darkly dramatic (his hammy turn in 1990's "Dick Tracy" being a notable exception), it's funny to hear him recall an early affinity for comedy. A couple of things got in the way, however:
"I didn't want to be funny on cue. I didn't know how to be funny on cue. Then I found a kind of solace and joy in playing in great material and being involved in great writing, whether I was reading it or acting it, or being a part of it in some way. And I think that changed my life. And that was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me."
It's like musicians who get gratification from playing the great composers, he says. "The greater the material, the more interesting and fun and heartfelt is the experience."
Improvisation is fine "if it works and hits the celluloid." It rarely does, he thinks. "To me when I see an improvised scene on-screen, that's what it looks like."
Generally, nothing beats knowing the material, he says. "There is nothing like repeats, repeats, repeats until you finally find a way."
Just look at the sports world, he suggests. He's "stunned" by how little great athletes actually do on the field or on the court, but that's the thing: "the economy." Actors similarly strive to "get to the point when we do a scene and take the acting out of it," he says.
It's what familiarity with the material accomplishes.
"You can't be economic unless you know what you're doing," he says. "It's called 'being in the zone.'"
His next film will be the adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Angels in America."


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