At the Oceans Thirteen premiere in Cannes, the movie’s arch-villain, Al Pacino, was noticeably absent. The actor was back in L.A., producer Jerry Weintraub told the Cannes press corps, because he was prepping for his AFI Life Achievement Award. On the beach in Cannes, the Oceans gang taped a video tribute (in Cantonese) which played at the AFI ceremony on June 7, because most of them went to Vegas to promote the film. Andy Garcia did show up, however, and gave the best and most revealing tribute to his The Godfather: Part III costar of the long night at Hollywood & Highland’s Kodak Theatre. (The show will air June 19th on USA Network.)
After having dinner with Pacino almost every night for 17 weeks, Garcia realized that he was socking away tiny details to use in his performance: “You were Van Gogh, Modigliani, that’s your gift. Simultanously at any moment you are a great poet, and a clown. You should be institutionalized immediately,” Garcia said. “What greater institution than the AFI, every time you try to get out, you’re pulled back in.” Then Garcia did a priceless and lengthy imitation of Pacino shrugging, shaking his head, and getting ready for a take, which was to be repeated many times, for a scene in which he had no dialogue! “You have to stop Al from acting,” said Garcia. “He could be there all night long.”
Indeed, the 67-year-old Pacino’s improvised speech, after accepting the 35th AFI award from Sean Penn, did go on. “I don’t have a character tonight,” he said. “I see my life in movies. I have one question. Why aren’t I in rehab?”
He thanked his acting mentors Charlie Laughton and Lee Strasberg and producer Marty Bregman, who literally staked his trip to L.A. to audition for The Godfather. And he thanked Francis Ford Coppola (who sent a perfunctory videotape). “I hardly ever see him anymore,” he said. “Francis didn’t just put me in the Godfather. He fought for me. Even when I no longer wanted to be in it. I wouldn’t be here without him.” As he rambled on, Pacino thanked one more thing that mattered in his career, one that should always be remembered when thinking of every movie star: “Luck.”
Pacino’s Angels in America costar Meryl Streep delivered a sincere video tribute to how exciting it was to watch Pacino’s attention to small detail. He makes acting “count, like it’s something important,” she said.
Streep and Pacino’s co-star Jeffrey Wright added that what happened in front of the camera was less important to Pacino than the off-camera journey getting there.
Jamie Foxx told the crowd that a little of Pacino’s spit flew into his mouth during a close-up scene in Any Given Sunday: “I tasted it. I took that DNA and the next thing you know I won an Oscar. Thank you for your juiciness.”
Any Given Sunday’s writer-director Oliver Stone, who also wrote Brian DePalma’s Scarface, a movie that has grown in stature as a DVD classic over the years, told Pacino: “You have a great and misunderstood heart, as did Tony Montana. We like to see you acting out the complexity and intensity of your characters.”
Michael Mann, who paired Pacino with Robert DeNiro in Heat and also coaxed a brilliant performance from Pacino in The Insider, said the actor “doesn’t fear. He’s willing to go out on a live wire without a net.”
Kirk Douglas, age 90, recalled going backstage to meet this young actor in The Indian Wants the Bronx: “He was magic. I said, ‘Mr. Pacino, you’re going to be a star.’ That was 45 years ago. What took you so long, Al?”
Ed Harris, who co-starred with Pacino in the film version of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, said, “He prods you, asks questions…He pays attention. There’s nothing like it. It’s a marvel to watch.”
While the incredible clips reminded us all of what a great actor Pacino is–The Panic in Needle Park, Donnie Brasco, Carlito’s Way, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, The Godfather trilogy, Dick Tracy, Carlito’s Way, Sea of Love, …And Justice for All, Insomnia–on the set of Oceans Thirteen, according to the screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien, Pacino wasn‚Äôt so formidable at playing poker. Pacino lost a few hundred when he joined the screenwriters‚Äô game (once) with the movie‚Äôs gambling advisors. ‚ÄúHe was upright and paid right away,‚Äù said Koppelman.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]