'I’m a little worried ahead of meeting Al Pacino how crazy he’s going to be. On the evidence of his latest film: very crazy. The film is actually two films. One is a production of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome. The other is a documentary about the making of the first in the style of his previous Looking for Richard, a marvelous mosie around the highways and byway of Shakespeare’s Richard III that set up a marvellous consonance with Pacino’s early roles, with Shakespeare’s anti-hero emerging as a kind of prototype gangster: Corleone with a crown.As Herod in Salome, he holds court in the declamatory, reach-for the-rafters style of his work after Scent of a Woman. Jessica Chastain plays the Biblical temptress who has John the Baptist beheaded — her first film role. Or so Pacino could claim in 2006 when he started filming. By the time he was done, in 2011, another five filmmakers had beaten him to the punch and cast Chastain in their films. One of his collaborators even had time to write and publish a book about Pacino’s travails with the project, which finally, after losing American distribution, premieres at the South Bank Centre on the 7th, where Pacino will also appear in person, alongside Chastain, to talk about the project. You half expect to look up and seem him personally threading the film through the projector.
“It has plagued me,” Pacino tells me when I meet him at his house in Beverly Hills, a large mansion house hidden from the street by carefully groomed shrubbery and trees. In the sitting room, CNN plays on a large plasma TV. Above the fireplace, a poem written by Pacino to his 14-year-old daughter Olivia. Next door, a room with some gym equipment and a painted portrait of Pacino, of whom there is no sign until, from upstairs sounds a loud yelp, followed by a faintly recognizable “Oooooh…” Pacino has just stepped on his daughter’s pet dog. “My children are all over the place,” he explains, leading me to the large, white verandah deck out front, where a chess set sits by one of the windows. The house is a rental. He’s been here about ten years now. “I've always expected to go home to New York, and I’m still expecting to go,” he says. He is wearing a black v-neck t-shirt and gym pants, a leather necklace and bracelet, his goatee trim and dark; his hair tousled and bed-headish. Talking, he runs his hand through it, as if to check it’s still there, or untangle it. He doesn’t seem crazy — or anything like the kohl-eyed wild man who drags his production of Salome through hell, high water, and bad reviews in his behind-the-scenes doc, a fascinating collision of Wilde’s Salome and Pacino’s celebrity in which nobody quite emerges the winner. Pacino is seen arguing with his producers over whether it should be two films or one (“fuck em”). He frays the nerves of his editor with hundreds of miles of footage. “Al doesn't know what he’d doing,” confides one of his collaborators who retitled the project Salomaybe. It’s by far the more compelling performance — not Pacino as Herod, but Pacino as Pacino, brooding and wild-eyed, the emperor calling his own bluff, wondering aloud if he can make the centre hold, or if he isjust high on his own powers of bamboozlement.
You know what it is, is you get a little moody, and you just take the mood and enlarge it because you know the cameras are rolling,” he says. “You know it may be good for the film, but I’m glad you felt it because there was some stuff going on. To be honest, I didn’t know where I was going. I thought, why am I doing this? Many times. I still do. I could feel the ‘why’ as I watched it. I could feel, what's Al on about? What is he doing? I know what I was trying to do. I think I was trying to bring an obsession to light. There's something about it that it just takes you over, because it’s about that thing, that passion, that unrequited passion that drives us sometimes and destroys us. I love that. It just ruins your life.”
— from my Sunday Times interview