Al Pacino on Elliot Norton: A Mafioso Richard III?

by Jessica Green

As an intern at WGBH, watching Elliot Norton Reviews and writing summaries of them for the FileMaker database every Friday afternoon never gets boring. Just last week, I came across a massive ¾ inch tape with a title that caught my attention immediately: Al Pacino [!].

In this episode, which aired on February 16, 1973, Elliot Norton interviewed a young Al Pacino about his role as King Richard III at the Church of the Covenant on Newbury St by the Theater Company of Boston. Alongside actor Paul Benedict (Duke of Buckingham), and director David Wheeler, Pacino talks about his love of language.

In response to Norton’s question about why he chose to play Richard III, Pacino explains that he used to do soliloquies from Hamlet and Macbeth alone in his room and chose to perform Shakespeare scenes for acting classes. He is inspired by the language and feels that as an actor, “language serves you,” as opposed to the other way around. Pacino believes that today people are lazy and do not open their mouths to speak, so this is an opportunity to really use language. Although this is his first professional Shakespeare production, he talks about performing the first half hour of Richard III at the Actor’s Studio three or four years prior. In this production, he did not use a director, which he claims is the “best way to do it,” casting sheepish look at director David Wheeler.

Norton commends Pacino’s ability to balance playing the demon that kills his way to the crown and the comic that enjoys himself while opening up to the audience. He likes the way Pacino addresses the audience and sets it up as a ‘game’ in which he is enjoying himself and encourages the audience to do the same. Pacino feels that he connects so strongly with the audience that when he tells them about the crimes he committed, he starts to wonder about what they will do to him.

This production drew national attention because of Al Pacino, who had made his breakthrough the year before with The Godfather. Norton notes that Pacino started out opening night with a slight accent and he was nervous that the actor had “gone Mafia.” Pacino blames this on nerves, claiming that when he is nervous, he inadvertently slips into accents.

What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and watch Al Pacino play a Mafioso Richard III…

by Jessica Green

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