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Al Pacino

American actorin full Alfredo James Pacino

born April 25, 1940, New York, N.Y., U.S.

Main

Al Pacino in The Insider (1999).
[Credits : Touchstone/The Kobal Collection]

American actor best known for his intense, explosive acting style.

After growing up in East Harlem and the Bronx, Pacino moved at age 19 to Greenwich Village, where he studied acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio and appeared in many Off-Broadway and out-of-town productions, including Hello, Out There (1963) and Why Is a Crooked Letter (1966). He took further acting lessons from Lee Strasberg and played a small part in the film Me, Natalie in 1969. The same year, he made his Broadway debut and won a Tony Award for his performance in the play Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie? Pacino’s first leading role in a film came with The Panic in Needle Park (1971), a grim tale of heroin addiction that became something of a cult classic.

Director Francis Ford Coppola cast the unknown Pacino in the film that would make him a star, The Godfather (1972). The saga of a family of gangsters and their fight to maintain power in changing times, The Godfather was a wildly popular film that won the Oscar for best picture and earned Pacino numerous accolades for his intense performance as Michael Corleone, a gangster’s son who reluctantly takes over the “family business.” Pacino solidified his standing as one of Hollywood’s most dynamic stars in his next few films. In Scarecrow (1973), he teamed with Gene Hackman in a bittersweet story about two transients, and his roles in Serpico (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) displayed Pacino’s characteristic screen qualities of brooding seriousness and explosive rage. He also repeated the role of Michael Corleone for Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II (1974), a film that, like its predecessor, won the best picture Oscar.

Pacino’s next few films did not fare as well. Bobby Deerfield (1977) was notable as his first box-office failure since he had become a star. The dark comedy …And Justice for All (1979) featured some of Pacino’s most memorable scenes, but Cruising (1980) and the light comedy Author! Author! (1982) were critical and popular disasters.

In Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983), Pacino returned to the kind of combustible, high-intensity role that had made him famous. As gangster Tony Montana, Pacino gave a highly charged, unrestrained performance that, although loved by some and deplored by others, ranks among his most unforgettable. His next film, Revolution (1985), was an expensive flop, and Pacino did not appear in another film for four years.

Sea of Love (1989), his biggest hit in years, reestablished Pacino as a major film star. He reprised the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part III (1990), but it was his hilarious portrayal of grotesque gangster Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy (1990) that won him a supporting actor Oscar nomination. Frankie and Johnny (1991) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) continued his string of well-received films, and he won a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of a bitter blind man in Scent of a Woman (1992). Pacino’s other notable films of the 1990s include Carlito’s Way (1993); Heat (1995), a crime drama in which he played a detective hunting a thief (Robert De Niro); Donnie Brasco (1997), in which he starred as a low-level mobster who unknowingly befriends an FBI agent (Johnny Depp); and Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday (1999). Also in 1999 Pacino appeared opposite Russell Crowe in The Insider. Based on real-life events, it examines tobacco companies and their efforts to conceal the dangerous side effects of cigarettes.

Pacino’s prolific acting career continued into the 21st century. In 2002 he starred with Robin Williams in the thriller Insomnia, and he later appeared in Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), the final installment of a popular comedy trilogy that featured George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Pacino earned an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award for his role as homophobic lawyer Roy Cohn in Angels in America (2003), an HBO miniseries about AIDS in the 1980s; it also starred Emma Thompson and Meryl Streep.

Pacino frequently returned to the stage throughout his career. He won a Tony Award for his leading role in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1977) and also starred in such plays as Richard III (1973, 1979), American Buffalo (1980, 1981, 1983), and Julius Caesar (1988). In 1996 he directed Looking for Richard, a documentary film about his own production of Richard III. Four years later, he directed and starred in Chinese Coffee, in which he played the role of Harry Levine, a washed-up writer who is depressed about his lack of success.

Additional Reading

William Schoell, The Films of Al Pacino (1995).

Related Articles

Aspects of this topic are discussed in the following places at Britannica.

Assorted References
  • association with De Niro ( in Robert De Niro (American actor) )

    De Niro’s later notable films include the crime thriller Heat (1995), which pitted him against actor Al Pacino, and the popular comedies Wag the Dog (1997), Analyze This (1999), and Meet the Parents (2000) and its sequel, Meet the Fockers (2004). In 2008 De Niro reteamed with Pacino in the…

 

1992: Best Actor

Al Pacino as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman

    Other Nominees
  • Robert Downey, Jr., as Charles Chaplin in Chaplin
  • Clint Eastwood as Bill Munny in Unforgiven
  • Stephen Rea as Fergus in The Crying Game
  • Denzel Washington as Malcolm X in Malcolm X

Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar in Scent of a Woman.
[Credits : Universal Pictures Inc.]

Nominated six times previously (1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1979, 1990), Pacino won his Oscar as Frank Slade, an embittered and blind ex-army officer who persuades young prep student Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell) to take him to New York City for a weekend. There the irascible Slade finds a reason to live, while the student comes of age. Although Pacino had starred in several modern film classics, including the Godfather series, he won for this mediocre, rather predictable melodrama. Pacino’s strong performance dominated the film, but his win was due in part to his impressive career. Also, the role was a departure from his usual true-to-life portrayals of urban toughs, and it represented the much-discussed tendency of Academy members to grant awards for portrayals of handicapped characters (e.g., Dustin Hoffman for Rain Man, 1988, and Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot, 1989). Pacino was also nominated in 1992 as best supporting actor for Glengarry Glen Ross—a more complex performance in a better film.

Al Pacino, in full ALFREDO JAMES PACINO (b. April 25, 1940, New York, N.Y., U.S.)

Citations

MLA Style:

"Al Pacino." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 25 Apr. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/714685/Al-Pacino>.

APA Style:

Al Pacino. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/714685/Al-Pacino

Britannica Student Edition

Pacino, Al

(born 1940). Best known for The Godfather movie trilogy, U.S. actor Al Pacino enjoyed a distinguished career in motion pictures. He usually portrayed intense, explosive characters.

More Student Britannica results…

For a definition of "Al Pacino (American actor)", visit  Merriam-Webster.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Al Pacino in The Insider (1999).
[Touchstone/The Kobal Collection]

  • Al Pacino in The Insider (1999).[Credits : Touchstone/The Kobal Collection]

Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar in Scent of a Woman.
[Universal Pictures Inc.]

  • Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar in Scent of a Woman.[Credits : Universal Pictures Inc.]

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