These days, the received wisdom is that Al Pacino is a bit of a scenery chewer, revelling in portraying loud, self-possessed, over the top characters that eat up every inch of screen space. Turn your mind to his Cuban drug lord, Tony Montana, in Brian De Palma’s Scarface; his embittered, blind army veteran, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, in Martin Brest’s Scent of a Woman; his driven, incendiary cop, Vincent Hanna, in Michael Mann’s Heat. Even when called upon to embody the antichrist in Taylor Hackford’s Devil’s Advocate, Pacino made Satan a shouter, bellowing to Keanu Reeves that God is an absentee landlord.
But this stands in stark contrast to Pacino’s early work. Having trained at the Actor’s Studio under Lee Strasberg and found success on the stage – his Broadway debut was the 1969 production of Don Petersen’s Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, for which he won a Tony – Pacino’s early film roles were marked by a quiet, introverted intensity. Jerry Schatzberg, who directed Pacino in his first leading role as a heroin addict and dealer in 1971’s The Panic in Needle Park, recalls how he beat out fellow legend Robert De Niro for the role, while Francis Ford Coppola had to fight to cast him as Michael Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather, studio bosses fearing that the stage actor couldn’t carry the film.