Alfredo James Pacino was born into a family of Italian immigrants in East Harlem, New York City, shortly after his grandparents had emigrated to the States from Sicily.
Pacino's father was called Salvatore, and he worked as an insurance agent in New York; his mother was called Rose. Pacino's parents split up when he was just two years old, and his mother then moved to live with her parents in a very run-down area of New York, in the South Bronx. He saw little of his father whilst he was growing up, as Salvatore went to live in California, and opened a restaurant called Pacino’s in Covina.
He was an only child, and both his mother and his grandparents were so highly protective of him that he was scarcely allowed to leave the house until the age of seven. Money was very tight when Pacino was growing up, but as an occasional treat, his mother would take him to the cinema, and he would act out the storylines for his grandmother when he got home.
Pacino was an extremely shy and introverted little boy, and used to weave stories of a fictional past for his classmates, regaling them with tales of how he’d really been raised in Texas!
Acting didn’t figure highly among Pacino’s priorities when he was a schoolboy. In fact, it wasn’t until he was 14, when he went to see a performance of Chekhov’s 'The Seagull' at the Elsmere Theatre in the South Bronx, that he was bitten by the acting bug. He was offered a place at the renowned High School of the Performing Arts, but flunked nearly all of his classes except English, and he dropped out of school at the age of 17.
Despite his failure to graduate from High School, his ambition to act grew stronger day by day. He worked ceaselessly at a string of low-grade jobs, including messenger boy, busboy, janitor and postal clerk, in order to finance his acting studies. He gained valuable experience by acting in basement plays in New York‘s theatrical underground, and then joined the Herbert Berghof Studio, where he worked with the legendary actor Charles Laughton. Then, when he was only 21 years old, fate struck a cruel blow, and his mother passed away. Pacino was totally devastated by the loss.
In 1966, he enrolled for lessons at the Actor’s Institute under the world-famous coach Lee Strasberg, where he got to grips with the technique known as Method Acting. Strasberg later acted alongside his pupil, appearing as Hyman Roth in 'The Godfather, part II'. But Pacino served a tough apprenticeship in acting on the various stages of New York. He worked at the Children’s Theatre, then made his off-Broadway debut in 'Hello Out There' by William Saroyan, which was directed by Charles Laughton. At times he was both penniless and homeless - but by the end of the 1960s, he had won an Obie award for stage work in 'The Indian Wants The Bronx', and a Tony award for Best Supporting Actor in the Broadway play, 'Does The Tiger Wear A Necktie?'.
Pacino’s TV debut came in 1968, when he landed a part in 'NYPD', playing a racist Southerner. However, it was his ability to portray the gritty realities of street life that won him his first major movie role in 1971, in a movie called 'The Panic In Needle Park'. In this film, Pacino played a heroin addict, and his outstanding performance brought the young actor to the attention of director Francis Ford Coppola, who promptly offered him the part of Michael Corleone in 'The Godfather'. This movie became the blockbuster movie of 1972. Although several well-known actors, including Robert Redford, Warren Beatty and the young Robert de Niro were also competing for the role of Michael Corleone, Coppola insisted that Pacino be given the part, despite the fact that he was relatively unknown, much to the disapproval of the studio producers and bosses. But Coppola’s confidence was fully justified, for Pacino’s performance in 'The Godfather' earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and firmly established him as a leading Hollywood actor.
Pacino’s next film was a movie called 'Serpico'. This was swiftly followed by 'The Godfather Part II', which critics applauded as being every bit as good as the original. Pacino went from strength to strength during the Seventies, and also won rave reviews for his next film, 'Dog Day Afternoon', which told the true story of bank robber John Wojtowicz, a bi-sexual man who instigated a disastrous bank robbery in order to pay for his lover‘s sex-change operation. All told, Pacino received no less than four Academy Award nominations for Best Actor during the 1970s - for Serpico, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon and '..And Justice For All'. It was a far cry from his days as a struggling actor in the South Bronx! Astonishingly, Pacino also found time for his first love, theatre acting, and won his second Tony Award for 'The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel' during this period, as well as performing the title role in 'Richard III'.
Pacino’s movie career then hit something of a plateau during the early Eighties, and he was slated for his roles in the controversial 'Cruising' and 'Author! Author!' But he bounced back in 1983 when Brian DePalma cast him in 'Scarface'. This movie was initially panned by the critics, but fared far better at the box office, taking over $45 million in America alone. When his movie career hit the doldrums again during the mid-Eighties, Pacino returned to stage acting. He appeared in 'Julius Caesar' in 1988, and then mounted a very personal project called 'The Local Stigmatic' with director David Wheeler and the Theatre Company of Boston. He achieved a resounding stage success with David Mamet’s 'American Buffalo', which earned him a Drama Desk award nomination.
Pacino resumed his movie acting career in 1989, with 'Sea of Love', playing opposite Ellen Barkin. He then received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Big Boy Caprice in the high-earning movie, 'Dick Tracy' in 1990. Academy Award success eluded him, however, until 1992, when he finally, and most deservedly won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the depressed, bad-tempered and suicidal blind Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in 'Scent Of A Woman'. The same year, he was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in 'Glengarry Glen Ross'. This astonishing achievement made him the first male actor ever to receive two such nominations for two different films in the same year.
Now firmly established at the pinnacle of Hollywood fame, Pacino became famous as much for the films he turned down as for his performances in the parts he accepted. Indeed, he is renowned for choosing only the most controversial and emotionally intense roles that are offered to him. The films he has turned down include 'Batman', 'Kramer vs. Kramer', 'Born on the 4th of July', 'Pretty Woman', and the role of Han Solo in 'Star Wars'. But his choice of roles is astute, as evidenced by his great performances in films like 'Donnie Brasco' (1997) and the multi-Oscar-nominated 'The Insider' (1999).
Pacino has not received an Oscar since his award for Best Actor in 1992, but he won two Golden Globes since the year 2000: the first was a Cecil B. de Mille award for lifetime acheivement in motion pictures, and the second was awarded for his role in the widely acclaimed HBO mini-series, 'Angels in America'. But he continued to flourish on the New York stage, and was named co-president of the Actor’s Institute in 2000, alongside Harvey Keitel and Ellen Burstyn. Pacino’s more recent stage successes include revivals of Eugene O’Neill’s 'Hughie' and Oscar Wilde’s 'Salome'. He also directed his own film-festival movie called 'Chinese Coffee', a film version of a theatrical production.
This was followed by a role in 'Insomnia', a 2002 psychological thriller directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Robin Williams and Hilary Swank, the film continued Pacino’s habit of choosing haunting and emotional roles and performed well at the box office. The next three years saw him thrill his fans in 'S1m0ne', 'People I Know', 'The Recruit' and 'Gigli'.
A role as Shylock the Jew in 'The Merchant of Venice' (2004) took the talented star to new heights as he delved into the world of English playwright William Shakespeare. The movie, which also featured Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes and Lynn Collins, was praised by critics who were particularly enamoured with the interpretation of the character of Shylock.
Following his appearance in 2005 film 'Two for the Money', alongside Matthew McConaughey and Rene Russo, the movie industry decided to honour the venerable star. On 20 October 2006, the American Film Institute named Al Pacino the recipient of the 35th AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the highest accolades the motion picture industry can offer.
Pacino went on to step into Steven Soderbergh's star studded crime comedy 'Ocean’s Thirteen' in 2007. Coming after the 2001 film 'Ocean's Eleven' and 2004 sequel 'Ocean's Twelve', the movie featured an ensemble cast including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Andy Garcia.
Received with mostly positive reviews, the film paved the way for one of the most eagerly awaited collaborations, that of Pacino and Robert De Niro in 'Righteous Kill' (2008). The film was not well received by critics, but Pacino moved on swiftly from this minor setback to appear in 'You Don't Know Jack', a television film that earned him an Emmy Award. He is due to appear in a number of upcoming movies including 'The Son of No One', 'Jack and Jill' and 'Mary Mother of Christ', all of which are scheduled for release in 2011.
In his private life, Pacino has remained a lifelong bachelor, and is noted for his various high-profile love affairs. He had a long relationship with actress Diane Keaton, a brief liaison with Australian actress Linda Hobbs, and an even briefer one with Penelope Anne Miller, with whom he starred in 'Carlito’s Way'. Then he appeared to settle down for a while with fellow actress Beverly D’Angelo (of National Lampoon fame), and the tabloids buzzed with rumours that maybe Beverly was Ms Right for Pacino. The couple conceived twins via IVF treatment, and Beverly gave birth to a son and a daughter, called Anton and Olivia, in the year 2001. But the next year, the relationship broke down, amid much acrimony (she wanted to move to L.A. with the two children, and Pacino was totally opposed to the idea). The break-up garnered Pacino many, many gossip column inches in the press, and served to underline his unwavering status as a bachelor. For despite the fact that Pacino has fathered three children (he also has a daughter, Julie Marie, whose mother is his former acting coach, Jan Tarrant), he has never married.
Al Pacino’s personal life has had some major ups and downs, but as far as his film and theatre acting is concerned, he continues to be regarded as one of the most outstanding actors of our time and possibly of all time too.
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Al Pacino Box Set
Four-disc DVD collection featuring some of Pacino's finest films, including Scarface and Scent of A Woman.
Learn more about Pacino's rise to fame
Al Pacino: The Authorized Biography
For the first time, Al Pacino offers a deeply personal and revealing window into everything from his growing up in the South Bronx to his fabled studies with Charles Laughton and Lee Strasberg. This is an intensely personal look at a creative genius at the peak of his powers who, after all these years, still longs to learn more about his art. And for now, it's a close to a memoir as we are likely to get.