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Christopher Nolan and Jessica Chastain Interview Al Pacino About Happiness and Preferring Theater Over Film

Pacino's "Insomnia" director and "Salomé" co-star pick his brain about his legendary career in Hollywood.

Jessica Chastain, Christopher Nolan, and Al Pacino


In celebration of the Al Pacino retrospective at New York City’s Quad Cinema this month, Interview Magazine decided to ask some of the actor’s most notable collaborators to interview him about his legendary acting career. One interviewer is none other than Christopher Nolan, who directed Pacino opposite Robin Williams in the 2002 psychological thriller “Insomnia.”

“How do you achieve a balance between script-based discipline and emotional spontaneity?” Nolan asked Pacino right out of the gate.

“It depends on the script, but you need to rehearse,” Pacino said. “As a matter of fact, the strangest thing, the more you rehearse, the more spontaneous you become. It’s the opposite of what people think. Actors who aren’t used to rehearsal will say, ‘I want to be spontaneous when it comes.’ And that’s the way they make most movies now. There’s no rehearsal time. In rehearsal, you can do different things.”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Rob McEwan/Alcon/Section Eight Ltd/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5881756f)Al Pacino, Robin WilliamsInsomnia - 2002Director: Christopher NolanAlcon Entertainment/Section Eight LtdUSAScene Still


Rob McEwan/Alcon/Section Eight Ltd/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Pacino referenced working with his “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon” director Sidney Lumet as an example. The director always made sure to schedule in a three-week rehearsal period before starting production so that the actors could all get accustomed to the screenplay. Lumet encouraged improvisation at times on set, and Pacino said rehearsing the script beforehand made it easier to be spontaneous because it allowed him to be comfortable with the character.

Nolan also asked Pacino about whether he prefers working on the stage or on the screen, to which the actor replied: “I started in theater, so I’m most comfortable in theater. Theater is live. There’s audience feedback, and usually, the text is somewhat more playable for an actor. In the case of Shakespeare, of course, it’s richer so there’s more to do.”

Jessica Chastain is also one of the interviewers. Pacino cast Chastain in his 2006 Oscar Wilde stage adaptation of “Salomé” when she was a mostly unknown actress. The actor ended up filming both the production and a behind-the-scenes documentary about the production for two separate films, “Salomé” and “Wild Salomé.”

Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain arrive for the Salome and Wild Salome UK Premiere at the BFI southbank in central London, . Salome and Wild Salome, based on Oscar Wilde's play, was presented together followed by a Q&A with Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain hosted by Stephen Fry, and broadcasted live to cinemas around the countryBritain Salome and Wild Salome UK Premiere, London, United Kingdom - 21 Sep 2014

Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain

Joel Ryan/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

When asked by Chastain what his idea of happiness means, Pacino answered: “Engagement, focus, involvement. My idea of happiness is when you don’t know you’re happy or not happy. You’re not thinking about it.” Pacino also told Chastain he would be a basket weaver if he wasn’t an actor.

Head over to Interview Magazine to read Nolan and Chastain’s Pacino interviews in full.

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