Al Pacino

Active - 1958 - 2021  |   Born - Apr 25, 1940 in New York, New York, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Thriller, Film, TV & Radio, Language & Literature

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Biography by Jason Ankeny

Brooding and intense, Al Pacino has remained one of Hollywood's premier actors throughout his lengthy career, a popular and critical favorite whose list of credits includes many of the finest films of his era. Pacino was born April 25, 1940, in East Harlem, NY. Raised in the Bronx, he attended the legendary High School for Performing Arts, but dropped out at the age of 17. He spent the next several years drifting from job to job, continuing to study acting and occasionally appearing in off-off-Broadway productions. In 1966, Pacino was accepted to train at the Actors' Studio, and after working with James Earl Jones in The Peace Creeps, he starred as a brutal street youth in the off-Broadway social drama The Indian Wants the Bronx, earning an Obie Award as Best Actor for the 1967-1968 theatrical season. A year later, he made his Broadway debut in Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie? Although the play itself closed after less than 40 performances, Pacino was universally praised for his potent portrayal of a sociopathic drug addict, and he won a Tony Award for his performance.

Pacino made his film debut in the 1969 flop Me, Natalie. After making his theatrical directorial debut with 1970's Rats, he returned to the screen a year later in Panic in Needle Park, again appearing as a junkie. (To prepare for the role, he and co-star Kitty Winn conducted extensive research in known drug-dealer haunts as well as methadone clinics.) While the picture was not a success, Pacino again earned critical raves. Next came Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 Mafia epic The Godfather. As Michael Corleone, the son of an infamous crime lord reluctantly thrust into the family business, Pacino shot to stardom, earning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his soulful performance. While the follow-up, 1973's Scarecrow, was received far less warmly, the police drama Serpico was a smash, as was 1974's The Godfather Part II for which he earned his third Academy Award nomination. The 1975 fact-based Dog Day Afternoon, in which Pacino starred as a robber attempting to stick up a bank in order to finance his gay lover's sex-change operation, was yet another staggering success.

The 1977 auto-racing drama Bobby Deerfield, on the other hand, was a disaster. Pacino then retreated to Broadway, winning a second Tony for his performance in the title role in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel. Upon returning to Hollywood, he starred in ...And Justice for All, which did not appease reviewers but restored him to moviegoers' good graces. Pacino next starred in William Friedkin's controversial Cruising, portraying a New York City cop on the trail of a serial killer targeting homosexuals; it was not a hit, nor was the 1982 comedy Author! Author! Brian DePalma's violent 1983 remake of Scarface followed; while moderately successful during its initial release, the movie later became a major cult favorite. Still, its lukewarm initial reception further tarnished Pacino's star. However, no one was fully prepared for the fate which befell 1985's historical epic Revolution; made for over $28 million, the film failed to gross even $1 million dollars at the box office. Pacino subsequently vanished from the public eye, directing his own film, The Local Stigmatic, which outside of a handful of 1990 showings at the Museum of Modern Art was never screened publicly. While his name was attached to a number of projects during this time period, none came to fruition, and he disappeared from cinema for over four years.

Finally, in 1989, Pacino returned with the stylish thriller Sea of Love; the picture was a hit, and suddenly he was a star all over again. A virtually unrecognizable turn as a garish gangster in 1990's Dick Tracy earned him a sixth Oscar nomination, but The Godfather Part III was not the financial blockbuster many anticipated it to be. The 1991 romantic comedy Frankie and Johnny was a success, however, and a year later Pacino starred in the highly regarded Glengarry Glen Ross as well as Scent of a Woman, at last earning an Oscar for his performance in the latter film. He reunited with DePalma for 1993's stylish crime drama Carlito's Way, to which he'd first been slated to star in several years prior. Remaining in the underworld, he starred as a cop opposite master thief Robert De Niro in 1995's superb Heat, written and directed by Michael Mann. Pacino next starred in the 1996 political drama City Hall, but earned more notice that year for writing, directing, producing, and starring in Looking for Richard, a documentary exploration of Shakespeare's Richard III shot with an all-star cast. In 1997, he appeared with two of Hollywood's most notable young stars, first shooting Donnie Brasco opposite Johnny Depp, and then acting alongside Keanu Reeves in The Devil's Advocate. Following roles in The Insider and Any Given Sunday two-years later, Pacino would appear in the film version of the stage play Chinese Coffee (2000) before a two-year periods in which the actor was curiously absent from the screen.

Any speculation on the workhorse actor's slowing down ended when in 2002 Pacino returned with the quadruple-threat of Insomnia, Simone, People I Know and The Recruit. With roles ranging from that of a troubled detective investigating a murder in the land of the midnight sun, to a film producer who builds the worlds first virtual actress, Pacino reenforced his image as a versatile, energetic and adventurous an actor. The films struck uneven chords, however; Insomnia hit a zenith, critically and commercially, while Pacino scraped bottom with Simone.

Pacino fared better at the box and in the press with Michael Radford's December 2004 Merchant of Venice but dodged critical bullets with the D.J. Caruso-helmed 2005 gambling drama Two for the Money. Circa 2006, Pacino starred as Jack Gramm in 88 Minutes, the gripping tale of a college prof who moonlights as a forensics expert for the feds. He also announced plans, that year, to join the cast of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Thirteen and a remake of Jules Dassin's seminal Rififi, to reunite him with City Hall helmer Harold Becker.

Movie Highlights

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  • Dropped out of high school at 17 to study acting in New York City at the HB Studio and the Actors Studio.
  • Early jobs included usher at Carnegie Hall and stand-up comic.
  • Breakthrough role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972) was originally offered to Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty and Ryan O'Neal.
  • Turned down starring roles in Pretty Woman (1990), Apocalypse Now (1979) and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).
  • First love is theater, especially Shakespeare; directed a feature-length documentary in 1996 called Looking for Richard, about his staging of Richard III.
  • Received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.
  • Lost weight to portray Jack Kevorkian in the 2010 HBO movie You Don't Know Jack; didn't meet Kevorkian until the night before the premiere of the film.