Reprising some familiar stories but filling in plenty of fond nuance, the lead actors and director of Scarface marked the film’s 35th anniversary with a crowd-pleasing Q&A session at the Tribeca Film Festival.
After a screening of the 1983 film, di…
Reprising some familiar stories but filling in plenty of fond nuance, the lead actors and director of Scarface marked the film’s 35th anniversary with a crowd-pleasing Q&A session at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The controversial CG technique will be tested next year, when younger versions of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face off and Will Smith gets stalked by his younger clone.
Digital de-aging is Hollywood’s latest tech toy. (Think Sean Young’s Rachael replicant in the VFX Oscar-winning “Blade Runner 2049” or Kurt Russell in the Oscar-nominated “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.”) The controversial CG process faces a major test next year with Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man.”
Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face off as real life mob hitman Frank Sheeran and labor union boss Jimmy Hoffa in Scorsese’s gangster biopic, as Industrial Light & Magic digitally removes decades from their appearances for a series of flashbacks. And elite 50-year-old assassin Will Smith gets stalked by his 23-year-old clone (created by Weta Digital) in Lee’s cutting edge sci-fi thriller.
Obviously, there’s more at stake here than the successful de-aging of Sean Young and Kurt Russell, or Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” Robert Downey Jr. in “Captain America: Civil War,” and Michael Douglas in “Ant Man.” Any misstep into the Uncanny Valley could prove fatal. Then again, there’s no way Scorsese and Lee would take such risks if they weren’t confident that ILM and Weta could pull them off.
Scorsese’s Latest Gangster Gambit
“The time is definitely ripe to make de-aging or an older actor playing a younger one quite possible and almost undetectable to the audience,” said Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato (“The Jungle Book, “Hugo”). “As with most things, while the technique and technology have come of age, the taste factor and choosing the right method of acquiring the underlying performance (and the performance itself) separates its believability and effectiveness.”
In “The Irishman,” Sheeran, who was allegedly involved in the death of Hoffa, looks back at his life during key moments throughout the decades. The budget has reportedly soared past $140 million, as ILM begins VFX work, with Netflix releasing the movie next year.
However, it should mark a definite improvement on ILM’s controversial de-aging of the late Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) in “Rogue One.” The circumstances here are very different, though, in which De Niro and Pacino are more actively involved in their face-mapping and ILM can better match their iconic performances from, say, “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II.” ILM can also push its evolved Oscar-winning facial performance-capture solving system more effectively in optimal lighting conditions before de-aging more believably with state-of-the-art animation tools, mixing and matching with younger body doubles.
Why not just cast younger actors? To better maintain the strong emotional connections that we have to these legendary actors. “Some of the pitfalls include trying too hard to slavishly match the look of the actor themselves to their younger version from previous films or appearances,” added Legato.
“Too many factors are at hand at any given time, including lighting, weight, health, and camera lenses etc. that determine how we look. Trying to match all new material to one look causes some unnatural alterations to the new mask, which also alters the performance. It’s hard to tell what is wrong, but we detect something is. The exciting part is a great actor can play a multitude of characters of any age or body type with the same success of Gary Oldman’s [Oscar-winning] portrayal [of Winston Churchill] in ‘The Darkest Hour.'”
Trying to Deliver the Most Convincing Digital Human
“Gemini Man,” which started out as a Disney project in the early 2000s, is analogous to the VFX Oscar winner, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” It required technology to catch up to its experiments in digital humans and fluctuations in aging. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Lee plans to shoot at 120fps/4k/stereo (minus the 3D of “Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk”).
“The clone (created through motion capture) is a major character in the film, and is present for 400-plus scenes in over half the movie, delivering full ‘in your face’ emotional performances,” said Oscar-winning production VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer (“Life of Pi”). “Our full methodology involves a combination of scenes where Will plays his younger self wearing appropriate costumes for his body and a motion capture head rig. These scenes are done ‘on set’ and cover all of the action where young and old versions are not on screen together.
“For scenes where both are playing against each other, we have a body double for the young character. Both he and Will are filmed together on set. The geometry of the set is recreated later in a motion capture volume where Will performs the young character over again. Given the tight coupling with head and body action, we will often need to fully replace the body double with a digital version, though there will be times when we can salvage some of him and just replace the head.”
Because of the magnified, large-format scrutiny of its digital humans, “Gemini Man” requires a more complex de-aging technique than what Lola achieves with its revered 2D skin smothing and shape warping on the Marvel movies. “That’s why we are pushing the envelope as hard as we possibly can to potentially be the first to deliver a fully convincing digital human,” Westenhofer added.
It’s no fluke that one of the greatest living screen actors is finding his best roles — and doing his best work — on television.
A cinematic tragedy in three sentences:
- Al Pacino hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since 1993.
- Al Pacino hasn’t appeared in a “fresh” feature film that’s grossed more than $5 million in over 10 years. (“Ocean’s Thirteen”)
- Al Pacino hasn’t starred in a “fresh” feature film that’s grossed more than $5 million in over 15 years. (“Insomnia”)
But don’t worry. This tragedy has a happy twist: In that same time, the iconic star of stage and screen has been delivering impeccable performances filled with nuance and depth to the masses; performances, it could be argued, that are far more focused, affecting, and intricate than the bombastic turn in “Scent of Woman” that won him an Oscar.
Pacino has been absolutely killing it on television.
Yes, television. The medium once thought far inferior to its big screen brother has been embraced by one of its favored sons for decades. From the start of the peak TV era, Pacino has been on board. He went where the best work was, sure, but he didn’t phone it in for an easy trophy or two. He delivered some of his best work — ever.
You can almost see Hollywood’s priorities shift in Pacino’s resume. In 1995, he was in “Heat,” two years later, he had “Donnie Brasco,” two years after that he was back with Michael Mann for “The Insider,” and in 2002 he boosted Christopher Nolan’s budding profile by starring in “Insomnia.”
Then the bottom dropped out of the mid-budget movie business. While the big screen offered him such dismissible pap as “The Recruit,” “88 Minutes,” “Righteous Kill,” “Jack and Jill” and let’s not forget “Gigli,” Pacino found stimulating scenes to dig into via HBO. First came “Angels in America,” which won him the SAG Award, Golden Globe, and the Emmy. He swept all three awards again with “You Don’t Know Jack” in 2010, and snagged nominations in each for “Phil Spector” in 2013.
To be fair, plenty of voters are swayed by a big name on the ballot, and TV Academy, HFPA, and SAG members aren’t immune. Plenty of movie stars who made the move to television saw more than their fair share of praise simply because the attention their names brought to the medium. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a contingent of viewers who wouldn’t stack up Pacino’s turn as Roy Cohn with any performance that year — big screen or small. He saw nearly unanimous support for his take on Jack Kerouac, and even when “Phil Spector” disappointed, his portrayal of Phil Spector did not.
Now, Pacino is back with another HBO film, another real-life figure, and another transformative performance. “Paterno” tracks a hellish week in the life of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Directed by Barry Levinson (his second film with Pacino, after “You Don’t Know Jack”), the fast and furious feature captures the rising tumult on campus as sexual allegations against Jerry Sandusky surface and a cover-up is carefully revealed. How involved was JoePa? How much did he know? And what did he choose to do about it?
There’s no trial in “Paterno,” but a case is methodically built, and Pacino is an essential part of the resulting conviction. Most of what you see is an old man lost to time. Early on, before the shit really hits the fan, Pacino instills a short-fused irritability in Paterno. He’s trying to watch the football game; he doesn’t have time to read the report. Even when it starts to dawn on Paterno just how serious the situation is, that disregard becomes a defense. He’s not the same cranky old man. There’s motivation to his immobility.
At first, he’s dismissive because he feels he can be. There’s a superiority in Paterno that vanishes by the time he’s fired. Those early scenes showcase how he’s been behaving for decades, before the scandal, and why his blinders approach to coaching was part of the problem: He can’t ignore the ramifications of his past like he did the kids’ complaints. Both mistakes have fused together into a full-blown fiasco, and when it hits Paterno that he’s in the middle of it, Pacino then shifts. He’s not contemptuous, but coming around — and not just to the situation, but also the mistakes of his past. His son pushing him to read the indictment (filled with specifics about Sandusky’s history of child abuse) and his daughter asking him, “Did you ask about the kid, and they just never followed up?” — these pleas affect him more than he acknowledges in the moment. Pacino builds it into the character as he progresses.
From time to time, his righteous side creeps out, but it’s all under the guise of a forgetful old man who only wanted to coach a game. Though the script never confirms it, Pacino makes it clear Paterno knows what he did. He remembers more than he lets on, and his behavior is more calculated than it appears. The film moves as quickly as Pacino doesn’t, and herein lies at least one secret to the thespian’s small screen success.
There are a number of commonalities between Pacino’s TV performances that all circle around the same point: This is a restrained, laser-focused, and altogether quieter Al Pacino. He finds nuance in small moments and simple lines. He’s got confidence that his gaze can tell us everything we need to know about the character, and he’s right. In other words, he’s back in Michael Corleone territory instead of wandering the halls with Lt. Col. Frank Slade.
Why? Aside from doing right by his characters — as he’s both directed to do and experienced enough to understand on his own (obviously) — television requires more close-ups. The transition to widescreen, HDTVs has expanded framings overall, but it’s still a medium that likes to work up close. Some of the most groundbreaking cinematography in modern TV has come from directors and DPs trying to get closer to what’s in frame. (Think about “Breaking Bad’s” many clever GoPro shots.)
Pacino, whether he knows the reasons why or is told the width of his frames, recognizes how to convey incredible meaning within his limited windows. He glances away, as if embarrassed by us watching, or he allows his entire face to sag in defeat at the utterance of a few damning words.
On television, Pacino as Paterno is playing to a more intimate setting. He’s not shouting to the far corners of the auditorium or trying to fill a four-story screen with his presence. His performances are for our living rooms and laptops. They can benefit from subtitles because he’s whispering or trailing off with his dialogue, and both are purposeful choices to inform the character. (Again, Paterno does not want conflict. He wants to coach, sans interference.)
In “Paterno,” “Angels,” “Jack,” and “Phil,” Pacino is playing to his strengths. Perhaps the best roles for a man his age have migrated to television. Maybe he’s inspired by the material more than the medium. Or hell, it could simply be that HBO knows how to properly develop a project around one of Hollywood’s elite actors. No matter what, it bodes well for the future.
Next on Pacino’s docket: another return to the small screen, this time via Netflix. His hotly anticipated reunion with Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro has people in a frenzy over the paparazzi shots (and budget) alone. It looks like a hit, even if we’ll never know the numbers.
Watching HBO Films’ latest snatched-from-the-headlines project, “Paterno,” one can’t help but wonder how different it might have been had Brian De Palma directed it. He’s had an advantageous working relationship with star Al Pacino on both “Scarface” and “Carlito’s Way.” In his hands, the film could have been a “King Lear”-level tragedy about a sports […]
Pacino and Levinson, who premiere “Paterno” this Saturday, are still finding ways to make character films in the age of blockbusters.
Now, they’re behind this Saturday’s “Paterno,” with Pacino once again playing a controversial, and much maligned, real-life figure. Pacino and Levinson said they frequently end up at HBO because, in all honestly, the movie studios aren’t making the kind of character films that are their specialty.
“We’re able to do certain kinds of films that you might not be able to do otherwise,” Levinson said. “The theatrical world is much more adventure action type of things, and these are much more personal, more intimate stories.”
Levinson also noted that thanks to the reach of a network like HBO, “you get a real audience. If you were to take the amount of people that saw [‘You Don’t Know Jack’] and added $10, you’d end up with a movie that made $140 million, which would have been a gigantic hit. But theatrical doesn’t do that kind of story. It’s as if people suddenly don’t want to have stories about people. Oh are these human beings, so we’re not interested in human beings.”
Added Pacino: “HBO, the projects they have, if it’s like Kevorkian or Spector or this, they have these subjects that are in some ways not immediate, people aren’t jumping on them and yet they’re dramatic, they’re interesting.”
The two of them recently sat down with IndieWire’s TURN IT ON to discuss their new HBO movie, but also the difficulty of getting character films made in the era of the blockbuster, Pacino’s passion for 35 mm film, and why he’s excited to be working with Netflix on his next project. Listen below!
Within the course of two weeks, Joe Paterno went from celebrating his achievement scoring the most wins for a football coach in collegiate history, to losing his job at Penn State, and then finding out he had cancer. “Paterno” explores that short period of time, and the scandal that rocked a campus, a state, and the entire nation.
Paterno was let go in disgrace in November 2011 after a full-blown scandal revealed that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had sexually assaulted countless children over the years. In “Paterno,” Al Pacino plays the coach as he faces his downfall — and it’s not quite clear how complicit he was, or if he understood the nature of the situation.
“It’s the highest high and the lowest low,” Levinson said of focusing on that short timeframe.
Pacino said he appreciated working on projects for HBO and Netflix, where he’s working on Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Ray Romano and Joe Pesci.
“It reminds me of the good old days, it’s a film,” he said. “You can film for months and months. It’s been years since I’ve been in a film where you could go on shooting. Usually your rehearsal time is limited and your shooting window is limited, because they only make films in five or six weeks. But now you have five or six months to make a movie, which is an actual luxury. It was a good vibe.”
Pacino admitted he’s getting used to the idea of audiences watching his films on a phone. But he’s still a big proponent of seeing movies in 35mm, the way they’re intended.
“That is essential to the life of a film, in a movie house, that you’re seeing it with film,” he said. “The only way you really know this is you show them side-by-side. I was screening a film of mine and wanted to show the kids, and it was on 35 but the sound wasn’t so good… I don’t care if it’s bad sound. It’s better on the 35 by so much. It’s much more alive and present and vibrating that there’s no contest.”
Meanwhile, don’t expect Pacino and Levinson to join in the current reboot and remake mania. Although both are behind some of the most iconic characters and films in pop culture history, neither are eager to revisit them. Quipped Pacino: “They were all some painful experiences!”
“Paterno” premieres Sunday, April 7, at 8 p.m. on HBO.
IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.
Barry Levinson’s HBO film is a propulsive blend of speed and restraint, moving quickly through a week in Happy Valley while methodically building a damning case.
In the final act of “Paterno,” HBO’s crackling examination of the Penn State football coach’s legacy-defining final days, there’s a pivotal scene that draws you in only to smack you in the face for your misplaced compassion. Delivered a letter with a phone number inside, Joe Paterno (Al Pacino) shuffles down the hallway toward his bedroom and dials his portable landline. He lifts the receiver to his ear, says his name, listens briefly and then hangs up. “They fired me,” he says to his wife, Sue (Kathy Baker).
Joe, wearing his blue pajama bottoms, keeps walking, but Sue stops him in the bedroom and takes the phone. His hand dangles, unmoved from when it was still holding the receiver, as she redials the number and says, “After 61 years, he deserved better.” Paterno in this moment is a pathetic figure so far removed from the legend he built himself into that his wife is the only one fighting back. He walks to the bed, sits down, and sighs. It’s not a deep sigh; more like a thoughtful “huh.”
And yet despite all of this — his frozen hand, droopy pajamas, and defeated exhalation — the question that immediately pops to mind isn’t an angry rebuke in defense of a respected coach ousted like some data entry temp. It’s, “Did he deserve better?”
That doubt sneaks up on you, much like the rest of the film. No matter your opinions coming in, “Paterno” is designed to engage the school’s most ardent supporters before breaking down why there’s no rationalization for what this coach did. What begins as an immediate rejection of any blame put upon Paterno for the decades-long child sex abuse scandal — carried out by his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky — slowly but surely shifts perspective as the facts are revealed. Levinson’s film isn’t merely a condemnation of complicit inaction, but also of our instinctual reactions to fallen heroes. That makes it timely, while the filmmaking makes it intense.
“Paterno” starts as a football story and ends as a human rights story. At first, it’s easy to side with the coach who’s just trying to win a football game. The opening segment throws us into a fall battle for Paterno’s record-breaking 409th win — a victory that would eventually be erased by the NCAA, after the investigation. But in the moment, it’s exciting. The fans are loud, the teams are evenly matched, and above it all, calling plays from the booth due to a recent hip injury, is Paterno; a god overseeing his domain.
Levinson introduces the fervor in its designated arena (the football stadium) early in order to contrast where that same passion doesn’t belong later on — the campus streets. Much of “Paterno” is told in contrasts, a film that moves quickly while holding back key revelations far longer than knowledgeable viewers might expect. There’s also the quiet simplicity of Paterno’s home, which is modestly decorated and sparsely populated compared to the lavish halls of Penn State’s athletic facilities or the crowds chanting support on “JoePa’s” front lawn. The townhouse sees its fair share of heated discussions, but none that can’t be silenced by the beckoning of its owner (or just him getting up to change seats).
Then there’s the infuriating lack of response to Sara Ganim’s (Riley Keough) story. A number of times during the film, someone remarks how no one noticed Ganim’s initial report, six months before the indictment, that a grand jury was investigating Sandusky. Her arc builds to a surreal scene where she wanders through the rioting crowds, chanting and tipping cars in protest of their beloved coach’s ouster. After spending so much time talking to victims, wrapping her mind around what happened to them and focusing on the appalling facts of the case, Ganim can only stare in stunned defiance as her school’s current student body ignores the fate of abused children in favor of football. It’s a disparity in human response as profound as it is upsetting.
And, of course, there’s Paterno himself, studiously embodied by Al Pacino. The transformative thespian captures the look of his subject to a T, but it’s worth noting Paterno’s head is slightly taller, his eyes a touch bigger, than the former coach’s. Even with all the makeup (and those thick, tinted glasses), Pacino is a better-looking version of JoePa and that matters because he’s a more empathetic figure. No matter how you felt about the real Paterno, aesthetically he was trollish; a tiny head with squinty eyes that looked like it was ready to recede into his collared jacket at any moment.
Pacino uses his looks to his advantage. During the opening act, it’s easier to take JoePa’s side because he’s a cute old man trapped in an uncomfortable situation. Viewers can buy into his ignorance as a valid excuse because come on — it’s Joe! That’s exactly how many fans felt from the onset (hence the rioting), and Pacino evokes similar acquiescence before purposefully throwing it out the window as he continues.
Much like Robert De Niro did in Levinson’s HBO film from 2017, the Bernie Madoff biopic “The Wizard of Lies,” Pacino plays Paterno without a wink of hidden understanding. It never feels like Paterno’s purposefully hiding something. He fully believes what he’s saying, even when he’s too flummoxed by all the non-football talk to give a proper response. Yet Pacino tells us everything we need to know by doing less; this isn’t the fiery “Scent of a Woman” Al, shouting down his accusers. This is the “Angels in America” Al — savvy and precise while hiding behind his age, as he remembers events from inside an MRI machine.
Pacino’s Paterno is at once wracked with guilt and oblivious to any misdeeds. He’s a figure of sympathy and disgust. Pacino constructs the man along with the movie, both timing his subtle tips to critical scenes (like the part in the trailer where Sue asks Paterno about the pool) and adeptly downshifting as his stature dips from a myth to a man.
But the peculiarities stack up. Despite his place at the center of the football program, Paterno doesn’t read Sandusky’s indictment — featuring all the details of his alleged assaults — until days after it’s issued. There’s his laser focus on the upcoming Nebraska game — a game he’ll never coach. There’s the questions about how and why he told who he told, when, and why, that don’t have good answers.
In the end, “Paterno” lays out its case clearly and definitively. If anything, it could’ve been twice as long, ceding more time to Ganim, the students, and the players in the program, past and present. (One could argue Sandusky deserves more screen time, too, as he’s barely in the film, and yet he’s certainly not missed.) For what the film does with the subject under scrutiny, “Paterno” deserves all the praise revoked from the disgraced coach. It speaks to viewers with disparate reactions, but it also speaks to anyone who didn’t dig into the scandal at the time by outlining what happens when we are too quick to defend the famous faces instead of those claiming to be victimized by them.
Did Paterno deserve better? No, the film contends, but those kids sure did. He wasn’t the assaulter; he was a man who turned a deaf ear to victims in need. In the Me Too era, this message matters all the more.
“Paterno” airs Saturday, April 7 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.
Pacino’s “Insomnia” director and “Salomé” co-star pick his brain about his legendary career in Hollywood.
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.”
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.”
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.