One of the greatest actors in all of film history, Al Pacino established himself during one of film’s greatest decades, the 1970s, and has become an enduring and iconic figure in the world of movies. Alfredo James Pacino was born on April 25, 1940, in the Bronx, New York, to an Italian-American family. His parents, Rose (Gerardi) and Sal Pacino, divorced when he was young. His mother moved them into his grandparents’ house. Pacino found himself often repeating the plots and voices of characters he had seen in the movies, one of his favorite activities.
Bored and unmotivated in school, the young Al Pacino found a haven in school plays, and his interest soon blossomed into a full-time career. Starting on the stage, he went through a lengthy period of depression and poverty, sometimes having to borrow bus fare to succeed to auditions. He made it into the prestigious Actors Studio in 1966, studying under legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg, creator of the Method Approach that would become the trademark of many 1970s-era actors. After appearing in a string of plays in supporting roles, Pacino finally succeeded with Israel Horovitz’s “The Indian Wants the Bronx”, winning an Obie Award for the 1966-67 season. That was followed by a Tony Award for “Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie?”. His first feature films made little departure from the gritty realistic stage performances that earned him respect: he played a drug addict in The Panic in Needle Park (1971) after his film debut in Me, Natalie (1969). What came next would change his life forever.
The role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972) was one of the most sought-after of the time: Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Ryan O’Neal, Robert De Niro and a host of others either wanted it or were mentioned for it, but director Francis Ford Coppola had his heart set on the unknown Italian Pacino for the role, although pretty much everyone else–from the studio to the producers to some of the cast members–did not want him. Though Coppola won out through slick persuasion, Pacino was in constant fear of being fired during the hellish shoot. Much to his (and Coppola’s) relief, the film was a monster hit that did wonders for everyone’s career, including Pacino’s, and earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. However, instead of taking on easier projects for the big money he could now command, Pacino threw his support behind what he considered tough but important films, such as the true-life crime drama Serpico (1973) and the tragic real-life bank robbery film Dog Day Afternoon (1975).
He opened eyes around the film world for his brave choice of roles, and he was nominated three consecutive years for the “Best Actor” Academy Award. He faltered slightly with Bobby Deerfield (1977), but regained his stride with …and justice for all. (1979), for which he received another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Unfortunately, this would signal the beginning of a decline in his career, which produced such critical and commercial flops as Cruising (1980) and Author! Author! (1982). Pacino took on another vicious gangster role and cemented his legendary status in the ultra-violent cult film Scarface (1983), but a monumental mistake was about to follow. Revolution (1985) endured an endless and seemingly cursed shoot in which equipment was destroyed, weather was terrible, and Pacino became terribly sick with pneumonia.
Constant changes in the script also further derailed a project that seemed doomed from the start anyway. The Revolutionary War film is considered one of the worst films ever, not to mention one of the worst of his career, resulted in his first truly awful reviews and kept him off the screen for the next four years. Returning to the stage, Pacino has done much to give back and contribute to the theatre, which he considers his first love. He directed a film, The Local Stigmatic (1990), but it remains unreleased. He lifted his self-imposed exile with the striking Sea of Love (1989) as a hard-drinking policeman. This marked the second phase of Pacino’s career, being the first to feature his now famous dark, owl eyes and hoarse, gravelly voice.
Returning to the Corleones, Pacino made The Godfather: Part III (1990) and earned raves for his first comedic role in the colorful adaptation Dick Tracy (1990). This earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and two years later he was nominated for Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). He went into romantic mode for Frankie and Johnny (1991). In 1992, he finally won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his amazing performance in Scent of a Woman (1992).
A mixture of technical perfection (he plays a blind man) and charisma, the role was tailor-made for him, and remains a classic. The next few years would see Pacino becoming more comfortable with acting and movies as a business, turning out great roles in great films with more frequency and less of the demanding personal involvement of his wilder days. Carlito’s Way (1993) proved another gangster classic, as did the epic crime drama Heat (1995) directed by Michael Mann and co-starring Robert De Niro, although they only had a few scenes together. He returned to the director’s chair for the highly acclaimed and quirky Shakespeare adaptation Looking for Richard (1996). City Hall (1996), Donnie Brasco (1997) and The Devil’s Advocate (1997) all came out in this period. Reteaming with Mann and then Oliver Stone, he gave two commanding performances in The Insider (1999) and Any Given Sunday (1999). In the 2000s, Pacino starred in a number of theatrical blockbusters, including Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), but his choice in television roles (the vicious Roy Cohn in the HBO miniseries Angels in America (2003) and his sensitive portrayal of Jack Kevorkian, in the television movie.
His romantic history includes a long-time romance with “Godfather” co-star Diane Keaton. With his intense and gritty performances, Pacino was an original in the acting profession. His Method approach would become the process of many actors throughout time, and his unbeatable number of classic roles has already made him a legend among film buffs and all aspiring actors and directors. His commitment to acting as a profession and his constant screen dominance has established him as one of the movies’ true legends. Pacino has never abandoned his love for the theater, and Shakespeare in particular, having directed the Shakespeare adaptation Looking for Richard (1996) and played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (2004).