Al Pacino is playing legendary music producer — and convicted murderer — Phil Spector in a movie for HBO, but he doesn’t claim to have much insight into who Spector really is.
That’s because, according to him, he’s not playing a strictly biographical version of Spector, but rather a character as conceived by “Phil Spector” writer and director David Mamet.
“I wouldn’t put myself in a position to talk about who he was, since I played him as what I believe David Mamet wrote and how I believed to interpret him,” Pacino said Friday (Jan. 4) at the TV Critics Association press tour. “It’s hard to make that kind of statement about a person you don’t know and who has been fictionalized.”
The movie focuses on the relationship between Spector and his defense lawyer, Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren), in his first trial for killing Lana Clarkson. Pacino was asked if he had any insight into Spector, and he gave a very, very long answer about his approach. Here it is:
“I can’t speak to that. I know with great playwrights — they take a kernel of something and then imagine it with their own ideas and fill it with their own interpretations and their own way of expressing the metaphor. … So in a sense it’s — a documentary on Phil Spector will tell you a lot with people who had known him and could express who he was. I think that is the appropriate place for that kind of understanding.
“Because when a writer takes something — when I did Roy Cohn [in HBO’s ‘Angels in America’], I don’t think Tony Kushner was writing about Roy Cohn. I think he was writing about this idea of the mythical Roy Cohn, the same way Shakespeare wrote about Richard III. … In a way it’s a model for the writer who then expresses him- or herself using that character as a taking-off point. So who the real Spector is — I played him, and I can’t tell you that much more about … I wouldn’t put myself in a position to talk about who he was, since I played him as what I believe David Mamet wrote and how I believed to interpret him. It’s hard to make that kind of statement about a person you don’t know and who has been fictionalized.
“What the writer does is fictionalize the real character, so there’s a kind of revisionism going on. You really don’t know. I’ve talked to people about Phil. I didn’t particularly seek out who he was, but people [approached me] all the time who knew Phil. As a matter of fact, on the Internet there’s a picture of me and Phil about 20 years ago. We’re standing next to each other, and someone’s taking our picture, and we’re both looking into the lens of the camera. And I don’t even know him. Later on, someone showed it to me … and I said, ‘You mean I met him?’ I said, ‘I never met the guy.’
“I didn’t know anything about him except that he was someone who was responsible for an awful lot of great music, and then this strange case. … But it was what I read from Mamet about this particular character. So that’s the extent of my knowledge about him. I didn’t visit him, I didn’t meet him, because he’s in prison. He’s already been convicted. This person I’m playing is the guy who was there before he was convicted. He hadn’t gone to the first trial yet. So in this movie, Spector is participating in the first trial. …
“I didn’t try simply because I thought it’s a different Phil Spector now. What I could get from him in the amount of time usually we have to do these things, I don’t know that it would have — I wanted to follow another route. … It didn’t matter so much, because what was there was written. That was the truth of the drama, not necessarily of the reality.”
“Phil Spector” is scheduled to air in the spring on HBO.