Interview

Christina Newland

@christinalefou

Illustration

Tom Humberstone

De Niro and Pacino on The Irishman and the gangsterization of US politics

Face to face with two of the greatest actors of their generation, together in Martin Scorsese’s magisterial mob drama.

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino hopped over to London with Martin Scorsese’s new gangster epic, The Irishman. An audience with two of the most influential actors to ever rise up through the Hollywood ranks covered the pair’s long friendship, their remarkable collaborations in the gangster genre and De Niro’s pungently-worded thoughts on the current commander-in-chief.

LWLies: What do you like most about working with each other?

Pacino: We’ve known each other for a really long time. We met in 1968. And we were both young actors at that time. I think early on in our careers, we connected and we found we had similar things happening to us. That camaraderie, that symbiosis, that got us together. And we’ve been that way ever since. We don’t see each other much, but it’s always been there, and from a very early time we shared certain things. And in a way, I think we helped each other throughout these meetings.

How would you define the relationship between these two characters, Frank Sheeran and Jimmy Hoffa?

Pacino: Well, we had a chance to explore that again; something we’re familiar with. It was a root to a relationship, I think. We’ve played it before: in the film Heat, we were actually on opposite ends, and in Righteous Kill we were close, and in this film we were close in a different way. It came relatively easy to come to that place. I don’t even think we talked about it consciously, but it was in the writing, of course. And in the nature of the two people’s relationship in real life, too.

Scorsese has said that The Irishman is a kind of a summation of previous films. Do you feel the same way, with the cast, and the scale of this movie, that it’s a full-circle moment for you?

De Niro: Yeah, in a lot of ways it is. When I was talking to Joe Pesci about it, he was going back and forth, and I said, ‘Joe, c’mon, you don’t know if we’re going to be able to do this ever again. And for that reason itself we should do this.’ And it was tough enough to get it done, tough enough to get the money to do it. But yeah, it is full circle. I don’t see us doing another movie like this. Hopefully we will do other films together, maybe even something in this genre, you never know. But it’s not likely. So this is it, probably.

Is there a reason, Al, that you’ve never made a film with Scorsese before?

Pacino: I know. Like everything in this business, if you’ve been in it for a while, you realise things get started, and then they go into different places. They don’t always culminate into a film. A couple of times, Marty and I were gonna do something together. One project particularly was the Modigliani film. We had been working on it for almost a year, and then it slipped away. Either the text doesn’t come together or schedules are different… it’s odd how that happens. I’m myself surprised that I haven’t worked with him.

Do you think regret is a key element of this character, one that differentiates Frank from other mobsters you’ve played?

De Niro: The actual situation was that Charlie Brandt, the author [of the book the film was adapted from, ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’] was a prosecutor and a guy who was good at getting confessions out of people. Frank liked him, and he was an adversary in court, but later he hired Brandt to represent him and got to know him. Eventually, he got it out of Frank. So, Frank Sheeran had a lot of Irish-Catholic guilt. That’s just as valid as Jewish guilt and Italian guilt, and all the other guilts.

What is it like working now versus when you first started?

Pacino: It sort of depends on what you’re doing, and sometimes you’re working in a way because it’s – I hate to say it – sometimes it’s between inspirations. I guess you can go 20 years in between inspirations. You’re just working, and the work you’re doing to survive is occupying your ability to find something that you really connect with and really want to do. So sometimes you get back to looking around and seeing what’s out there for you. It’s a lot like any form of expression or creation.

You got the blank page. And hopefully you keep the blank page, that canvas is always empty. Because that character you’ve not explored yet, so that gives you something to work for. Sometimes, I feel – Bob, I don’t know if you feel the same – I know nothing about acting. And then you start, and that’s exciting for me, and interesting. There’s something on the horizon coming. It’s the same thing for me as it always was. You’re still dealing with this new person, this new character, this new story.

Thematically, with The Irishman, although you were trying to make it 10 years ago, it seems very relevant now, with the gangsterization of American politics.

De Niro: The unions have been cleaned up more in recent years, but now, we have an immediate problem. We have a gangster president who thinks that he can do anything he wants. The gall of the people around him to actually defend him, these Republicans, is appalling. And we must do something about it. People must do something about it. They can’t get away with bullying us. They cannot do it. It’s a shame, it’s a shame that people behave so badly.

Do you think Trump will go to jail?

De Niro: Oh, I can’t wait to see him in jail. I don’t want him to die… I want him to go to jail.

The Irishman is released 27 November via Netflix. Read the LWLies Recommends review.

Published 17 Nov 2019

Tags: Al Pacino Martin Scorsese Robert De Niro

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