‘‘What happened to me is in life, I started to get used to other things besides myself doing something funny or coming up with jokes, and I started to get into what is the playwright and what the playwrights say and that the play is the thing, like Hamlet says,’’ says Pacino. ‘‘That’s the reason I stayed in the profession because I fell in love with drama, whether it’s comedy or tragedy. ... I became more or less sort of serious about things.’’
It’s ironic that the greatest accomplishment of an actor so well known for his bigness (despite his 5 foot-7 inch height) was a performance of utter control: Michael Corleone. The strain of that titanic performance — the maturation of an armchair despot through the ‘‘Godfather’’ films — left a mark on Pacino, who though nearly 32 at the time, had only two previous movies under his belt.
‘‘That character was so consuming,’’ says Pacino. ‘‘Part of the reason why was because of its restraint, because of what is demanded of it in that style. The innards of that character, what his psyche was going through. To portray that probably affected me in some way.’’
Since then, the knock on Pacino has always been that he sometimes chews scenery, or rather, swallows it whole. That’s somewhat unfair, says Stevens, who notes that Pacino tries many degrees of a character, leaving it to the director to calibrate.
But if Pacino sometimes veers into cartoon, it makes him all the more suited to comedy. In conversation, he’s every bit as lively, erratic and funny as you'd expect. ‘‘I'm throwing images at you!’’ he bursts between reflections. He grins mischievously when he brags that he got Stevens to open up his collar. And when the question of whether he'll take up that Shakespearean mountain that signifies the autumn of an actor’s career, he says, yes, perhaps in a movie, but not on stage.
‘‘King Lear? Why don’t you ask me if I'm going to climb the Empire State Building with a wire?’’ Pacino exclaims. ‘‘King Lear? What have I got to do with King Lear? Isn’t that for other kind of people? It’s somebody else playing it. It’s George C. Scott or Ian McKellen. I don’t do that. I'm in ‘Stand Up Guys.'’’
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle