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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Al Pacino’s rock-star role in Danny Collins

Oscar-winner Pacino, who plays an ageing rock star in Danny Collins, talks about coming to terms with fame and what keeps him going.
Al Pacino in Danny Collins, a film about a rock star who is disappointed in the way his career has played out and ends up re-evaluating his life. Pacino says at this stage of his career he only wants to do roles he can connect to. Courtesy Big Indie Pictures
Al Pacino in Danny Collins, a film about a rock star who is disappointed in the way his career has played out and ends up re-evaluating his life. Pacino says at this stage of his career he only wants to do roles he can connect to. Courtesy Big Indie Pictures

He’s played gangsters, cops, bank robbers, racing-car drivers and even Satan.

Now, at the age of 75, Al Pacino is slipping on the leather trousers of a rock star in Danny Collins, a delightfully comic tale of rock ’n’ roll redemption.

Pacino’s title character is an ageing musician who is still touring, still cranking out the same old hits to keep the fans happy.

“He’s still a rock star,” says Pacino, “[although] not in the same tradition as Mick Jagger.”

For starters, deep down, Collins is disappointed in way his career has played out.

“It’s about how Danny went from being a 22-year-old wunder­kind, as far as music and writing, to this now hackneyed rock ’n’ roller,” says Pacino, who is dressed, aptly, in rock-star black when I talk to him.

“He plays these things and is singing other people’s songs. He’s almost become an MC, from what he was. Now he comes to this point in his life where he is starting to say: ‘What am I doing this for?’”

Written and directed by Dan Fogelman – who also wrote the script for Crazy, Stupid, Love – Danny’s late-life crisis leads him to try to make amends for his prior lifestyle by patching up his relationship with his estranged son (Bobby Cannavale).

With Pacino even singing in the film, it’s a rare but welcome comic outing for an actor who has spent most of his career in drama – either on screen or the stage (where he won two Tony Awards).

Pacino says he empathised with Danny, who started out as a musician of integrity but over the years saw his credibility erode.

“This is a kid who had to find a way to survive and found himself caught up in the world of entertainment, because he had a sort of look, and he was able to communicate with an audience in some way,” he says. “So he used what he could. And that appealed to me – how someone finds a way to survive and how that runs out of gas.”

It is similar to what happened to Pacino when he took time out from film acting after the 1985 flop Revolution. Before that, he had spent 15 years crafting a reputation as one of America’s finest actors, with films such as The Godfather, Scarface and Dog Day Afternoon. Partly, the hiatus was a reaction to fame.

“I didn’t understand it. It was something I tried to avoid,” he says. “As you know, I was something of a – as they say in this business – recluse. Never did interviews. But those days are over.”

After taking four years off, returning with the 1989 erotic thriller Sea of Love, Pacino found a new enthusiasm for acting and went on to win an Oscar for Scent of a Woman. He then added more classics, including Heat and The Insider, to his body of work.

“It’s the material that revives you,” he says. He even came to terms with the idea of constant adoration.

“I just try to accept it [from fans] because it’s what they’re feeling at the time and it’s enthusiasm – and enthusiasm comes in many forms,” he says.

Unlike the soul-searching Danny Collins, however, Pacino is not one to look back and lament.

“I don’t focus on the regrets, which I must have plenty of,” he says. “I wish I hadn’t done things. But I think regretting it is a pointless thing. Out of the things you do that you wish you didn’t do, other things come. But I don’t have regrets. It’s a strange way to live.”

While Pacino has never married, he has three children and says the demands of fatherhood help to keep him inspired.

“When I come home from any outing, whether it’s a movie, or some festival stuff, you open the door and walk in, and it’s not about you any more,” he says. “And there’s a real relief about that. First of all you’re stunned and then you get back to reality.”

Pacino continues to seek out provocative new filmmakers to work with – with enfant terrible Harmony Korine next on the list, with an upcoming film called The Trap.

“At this point – I want to do things that at least I connect to,” he says. “How can I put what I’m thinking about or feeling about into this role, where I could express it in some way? I’m really fortunate that I can have that.”

• Danny Collins opens in cinemas on Thursday, May 21

artslife@thenational.ae