Al Pacino leans in conspiratorially as he sits in front of me, and starts to tell a story.
“I don’t mean to go on here…” he says. Of course, when Al Pacino is sitting in front of you – dark hair slightly wild, hands gesticulating as he gets into his stride, that much-imitated voice – you’re happy for him to go on forever.
This comes towards the end of the interview and publicists, hurried for time, are trying to wrap things up. However, the star, seemingly unconcerned by the constraints of a jam-packed schedule that no doubt has to be organised down to the second when looking after one of the most famous actors in the world, commands the room without appearing to realise.
“It’s very interesting…” he assures. I’m not going to stop him.
We’re here to talk about his new TV series, Amazon Prime Video’s Hunters, the Hollywood legend’s first big foray into the world of binge TV, at the age of 79.
Set in New York City, 1977, the show focuses on a group of Nazi hunters who discover hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officials are living among us, conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the US.
It’s quite a premise.
Pacino, who plays the group’s leader, Meyer Offerman, is sitting alongside his young co-star, Logan Lerman, whose character Jonah is recruited following his grandmother’s murder.
“I thought, this is unusual and interesting, and I’d like to know more about it,” he says of his initial script reading. “I was kind of stuck with the character, I kinda thought, there’s something here. Sometimes you find the inner voice for something, and I found that.”
Interesting is right. Having seen the first episode, which shows how Jonah discovers the superhero-like Hunters, it’s probably not a stretch to say it’s going to divide opinions. The subject matter is obviously serious, and it is taken seriously, but there is also a lot of comedic relief and a comic book, sometimes Tarantino-esque style.
No spoilers here, but the opening scene is bold and shocking, and gives an idea of how dark the series might get.
Pacino says after reading the script he immediately wanted to meet the show’s creator, David Weil, who came up with the idea based on stories told by his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. (She would have been proud, Weil tells me earlier in the day. And also “like, ‘you have Al Pacino in your show?! What the f***?!'” It’s clear everyone working on the series is excited to have The Godfather star on board.)
“We talked,” says Pacino. “I got a sense of how it was projecting out, what he was trying to say.
“Like always, you take a chance. Because of the way he was, the way he writes, I thought it was worth taking the chance because I think that this kid is going to really come through.”
Lerman, 28, is best known for films including 2012’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and The Percy Jackson series. But starring opposite Pacino, who needs no introduction, will surely be his biggest role to date.
Clearly, he was able to learn a lot from his veteran co-star, one of the greatest of all-time. But what did Pacino learn from the younger actors on set?
“Well, I learned from him all the time,” he says, looking over affectionately at Lerman. “You know, this is a young guy who knows what’s going on. Like, he makes sure that I don’t fall, and he makes sure that I have my breakfast in the morning.”
Pacino laughs. “He’s great. And, uh, you’re learning all the time.”
“I’m always looking after you, I just love this guy,” says Lerman. “I would say more than anything, we both like to work hard. We both like to rehearse and to find as much time as possible to fully realise what we’re doing.”
Turning to his older co-star, he continues. “You’re a hero to me, you’re someone that I love and respect. And I know… every time, I know, I say this in front of you, probably, it makes you cringe…”
Pacino interrupts. “I hope I’m blushing, because if I’m not blushing I gotta problem.”
Lerman’s praise could easily come across as sycophantic, but this is Pacino. You can’t blame him. And it’s clear the love and awe is genuine.
“Just to see that in you, to see that drive as well and to work with you is just a dream for me,” the younger star says.
“Also, you know, we were together for a while, we were together five, six months,” says Pacino. “So we get to work together and know each other and be, uh, on the wire together, so to speak. We were walking the wire together.”
They built a “friendship and trust and understanding” with each other and all the cast and crew, says Pacino. “Because we’re all trying to make this thing happen, make it alive. That’s something we did together. It was fun.”
At a time where he could be forgiven for taking it easy, the past few years have been very busy for the actor, whose career in entertainment now spans six decades.
Hunters comes off the back of the release of The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s mob epic featuring the all-star trio of Pacino, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci; his performance as union leader Jimmy Hoffa earned him best supporting actor nominations at the BAFTAs, Screen Actors Guild awards and the Oscars.
He missed out on all three, with Brad Pitt cleaning up for his portrayal of stuntman Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, but you get the impression Pacino, who has done the awards ceremony conveyor belt many times over – winning the best actor Oscar for Scent Of A Woman in 1993 – doesn’t need the trophies.
“Well, I think they’re fun for people that watch… but being part of it is a little stressful.”
While it’s a “great perk” to have an Oscar nomination, he says “you never quite learn how to handle it“.
“When I was younger, it was a different thing for me than it is now. Now, I try to just look at it for what it is.”
As well as the reunion of Pacino and De Niro, and the famous de-ageing technology used in the film, one of the other talking points about The Irishman is its length; at three-and-a-half hours, you need to make sure you set some time aside for it.
But now he’s delved into the world of streaming, with 10 episodes in the Hunters series, The Irishman must have seemed like easy work in comparison?
It was a “different” experience, says Pacino, who goes on to talk about viewers’ experience, rather than his own.
“I know that the film itself on the big screen, The Irishman, has a different reaction, people have [a different reaction] to it than when they see it [on TV]. It’s slightly different. And it’s got to do with the environment.”
He starts to talk about his theatre work, brushing Lerman’s hand in apology for doing most of the speaking.
“You know, you do plays – I don’t mean to go on here but it’s very interesting, if I could get this across. It’s very interesting because sometimes you’re doing a play – I come from the theatre, really – and… I’ve done plays that didn’t work, mainly because the core around it was not right for the play.
“So the environment you’re in when you’re watching something and what it looks like is, it dictates to you sometimes how you engage in the film you’re looking at, how it affects you.
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“I mean, I did Richard III in Boston in a big theatre, with [an] iron set and stuff, and half the people left. And then we went to a church afterward and did a church, and I came out of the pulpit and it was the biggest success I ever had.
“You have to understand that. It takes a while, it took me a long time to understand that. Now, for instance, if you watch The Irishman on Netflix, you can stop it, and have an intermission on your own… I don’t know. But it is a different experience when you see the big screen.”
We really are being wrapped up now, but Pacino, clearly excited about his new show, still has a point to make about Hunters.
“You have to understand, [Hunters] goes in all different directions, just so you know,” he says. “You got nine more episodes to see.”
As we say our goodbyes, both actors shake my hand.
Pacino laughs as I’m quietly and politely – but firmly – told my time is up. “I talk too much.”
Hunters is out on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 21 February
Source : Sky News