Al Pacino on Creating a Character and Why He “Usually Defers” to a Director

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Al Pacino in American Traitor

“I take what’s there in the text and try weave a bit more into it.” – Al Pacino

Academy Award-winner Al Pacino‘s latest film, American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally, finds the actor in familiar territory — the courtroom drama. In the movie, Pacino portrays an attorney who is representing an American performer who was on trial for participating in Nazi propaganda in the 1940s. In conversation with ScreenRant, Pacino reveals how he approaches such a role and how much influence a director has on his performances.

When it comes to portraying his character — particularly in a dialogue-heavy role like a legal drama — Pacino says that it is the result of a mix between what is on the page and what he develops in his mind. He explains:

“I try to do the best I can with what I have. Of course, I spend a lot of time just trying to navigate the summary in a courtroom drama. I take what’s there in the text and try weave a bit more into it. I say, ‘What if I were a really a lawyer, what if this was really happening, etc.’ That’s usually in the subtext, but in a courtroom scene you always use your own sense of things and sometimes you also use your own words that just come to you. What I mean by all that is what ends up on screen is not always the words that are written in the script. In today’s world of filmmaking we don’t have much rehearsal time, so what we try to do is work on our own, privately.  I’ve had to do something like this before in other films; take …And Justice for All, for example. I remember back then, having a partner to help put that closing summary together. You get a frame for what you are trying to do in relation to the storytelling, and you try to fulfill that.”

Though Pacino says he will often make his own decisions when it comes to acting, he admits that he will ultimately bow to the director’s vision. He continues, “Pretty much a director provides you with an ambiance and you make do with that. If you get lucky you get a director who enjoys engaging with actors and is open to whatever suggestions you come up with because it always becomes a collaboration, especially when you’re working with each other for the first time. I usually defer to the director because it’s their interpretation of the film that will either make or break it… In the end, it’s a director’s film. Film is a director’s medium and it’s always been that way. When that works, the film works.”

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