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Al Pacino on ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ Broadway revival and the challenges of David Mamet

pacinoAl061512_optBY PAULA SCHWARTZ
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

A press conference Wednesday, with the ensemble of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” turned into a love fest for lead actor Al Pacino. The revival, which begins performances on Broadway Oct. 16 and opens Nov. 11 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, also features Bobby Cannavale (“Nurse Jackie”), David Harbour (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), “Murphy Guyer (“Women on the Verge”) Jeremy Shamos (“Clybourne Park), Richard Schiff (“The West Wing”), John C. McGinley (“Scrubs”). It is directed by Daniel Sullivan, who also directed Mr. Pacino in the 2010 production of “The Merchant of Venice.” Producer Jeffrey Richards, who also produced a revival of “Glengarry Glen Ross” in 2005 starring Liev Schreiber and Alan Alda, opened the session.

For everyone who is used to seeing Mr. Pacino rant and rave in his film roles – and on the stage – it might be surprising to see how quiet and humble and funny he is in person.

In the 1992 film version of “Glengarry,” Mr. Pacino played hotshot real estate salesman Rickie Roma, for which he received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Mr. Sullivan said the reason he wanted to direct this current stage revival was because Mr. Pacino wanted “to take a look at Shelly Levene,” a washed up sales hack who is clawing his way back to his glory days, a part that was played by Jack Lemmon in the film version. Mr. Sullivan said he also wanted to direct the play because it’s “also one of the best plays that I know - if not the best play - about business and certainly American business, and it’s a play that continues to change, as all great plays do, with the times.”

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The last revival of the play was “during the real estate bubble, and we know what happened to that, so though the action of the play remains the same, we see it through a different prism,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Then Mr. Pacino spoke about the challenge and joy of performing David Mamet’s plays. “What we do when we work on David Mamet, or even Shakespeare” is “you take the time in the rehearsal period to improvise, to try to find your way into the syntax of the words through your own acting process,” he said, “to make it come alive and that’s what we do in rehearsals.” Mr. Pacino has been associated with the works of David Mamet for about 30 years, beginning with his star turn in “American Buffalo” in 1983.

This reporter was lucky enough to see Mr. Pacino’s dazzling performance in that production on Broadway. Mr. Pacino went on to play the lead in the play for four years, “all over the world,” he noted, adding of Mr. Mamet’s language, “He has a very specific style of writing. You can’t say it’s naturalism. It has it’s own pentameter, like Shakespeare, and it’s just a joy!”

Mr. Cannavale starred in “Hurlyburly” Off Broadway in 2005, at the same time as the last Broadway revival of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” As far as working on this current production, he said, “It’s like a dream come true,” adding of Mr. Pacino, “I have this guy’s posters all over my walls.” Along with everyone else in the press conference, Mr. Pacino laughed as though he heard this for the first time.

When Mr. Cannavale starred in “Hurlyburly,” he said “everybody and their mother came to see that show, and it was never good enough, you know. We came out and we always knew who was out there.” One night the cast was excited Chris Walken was in the audience, but Mr. Cannavale kept asking, “Well, what about Al? Did he come?” Mr. Cannavale said it became a running joke, so every day, the production people would tell him, “Pacino’s coming tonight.” He finally asked Mr. Pacino personally to come and he did.

“It’s been a letdown for him ever since,” Mr. Pacino quipped.

Mr. Pacino talked at length about his love of the theater. “I’m an actor, and I started on the stage. And I think that being on the stage is a form of therapy and my way of getting through my life,” adding, “the idea of going on stage in live theater, where you start and you go til it’s over, is a special thing,” he said. “What it does is it works on your adrenaline, those endorphins in your body that you get used to so in a way it’s habit forming.” Mr. Pacino added, “It’s habitual. There’s something in it that satisfies certain needs I have, and that’s why I think I continue to do it. It’s just a joy to be on Broadway. It’s a joy to be on any stage, anywhere, but Broadway in particular because, you know, it’s my home. It’s where I started, and it’s where I had my debut, where my life changed, when I did a play called ‘Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie’ many years ago and everything sort of happened. I’ll never forget it.”

Mr. Cannavale was asked if he saw the 1992 film of “Glengarry” and if he felt any pressure in playing the role that Mr. Pacino originated? “Of course I saw that movie. I was 22 years old when that movie came out. Every actor in the world saw that movie many times,” he said. “I was kinda hoping they were calling to say ‘American Buffalo.’ Al wanted to do ‘American Buffalo,’” he joked. Then he said about feeling pressure, especially taking on the signature Al Pacino role of Ricky Roma role he hadn’t thought about it. “He’s very generous in the room,” Mr. Cannavale said of Mr. Pacino. As for feeling pressure, “the answer is no,” he said.

At one point Mr. Pacino was asked what went through his mind when he was continuously described as an icon. “Absolutely nothing,” Mr. Pacino said. “I just don’t take it seriously. I think it’s fine. Why not? Somebody’s got to be me.”

 

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