“I think there are similarities – not many, but there are,” said Al Pacino during our recent audio podcast (listen below), comparing himself to his character in the dark comedy “The Humbling.” He plays Simon Axler, a legendary actor who struggles to separate reality from fantasy after a nervous breakdown. “It’s a fiction, and all fiction is translatable … Any part you’re playing, you’re trying to translate it into terms that are close to you. I can relate to what it must be like.”
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“The Humbling” is based on a novel by Philip Roth, which Pacino bought the rights to. “I think doing a movie is not the easiest thing, going from a novel to screenwriters and putting it on and making it a movie, so I always thought that if I were ever going to do that, I would need something that at least I’m close to and have some knowledge of,” he said of his decision to bring the book to the screen. “I read the book and thought, I think that I can adapt this and I’m ready to go with it.”
From there, he brought on board director Barry Levinson, who previously produced Pacino’s films “Phil Spector” and “Donnie Brasco” and directed him to an Emmy win in “You Don’t Know Jack.” Having a prior working relationship with the filmmaker was invaluable to Pacino. “I couldn’t do this movie without the knowledge of Barry and how he works,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have been able to last.”
Their easy working relationship was especially helpful given the constraints of the production. Both Pacino and Levinson wanted to make the film “in a kind of real independent filmmaking style, which is basically no money … It was stimulating because we had to do it. We were on the line, so to speak. We didn’t have rehearsal or anything, so we had to think on our feet.”
The film’s all-star supporting cast includes Dianne Wiest, Kyra Sedgwick, and Nina Arianda, but Pacino was especially impressed by Greta Gerwig, who plays his mercurial young love interest Pegeen: “I loved [Gerwig] right from the get-go … She’s got everything you’d want for that part and then some … It was so interesting the way she sees things, that kind of eccentricity that she had naturally too.”
Simon’s “dalliance” with Pegeen, much of which may just be in his imagination, gives the struggling actor a new lease on life for a time, but Pacino looks at the character plaintively, saying, “I think it’s over for him in a way. I hate to say it, but I think it may be over for him.”
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