TORONTO – Al Pacino knew early-on that he was going to make it big.
When asked if he considered his fame unlikely, the Oscar-winning actor told a Toronto audience he always expected to be a movie star.
“I always thought I would be, sorry,” he said without batting an eyelid Wednesday night, during a wide-ranging on-stage conversation at the Toronto International Film Festival‘s annual charity gala.
“When your eighth grade teacher comes up to your grandmother, six storeys high in a tenement building, and says to your grandmother, ‘watch this kid and keep him acting,’ you get a little confidence.”
But while the 74-year-old Pacino said he never doubted his desire to act, he’s now reached a point in his career where he’s more picky about his projects.
“I find now I am only interested in doing something that I feel is reflective of how I am, and where I am at in my cycle of life,” he said.
Pacino’s two latest films which will be playing at the festival — The Humbling and Manglehorn — both fit that criteria, he said.
In The Humbling, Pacino plays an aging actor whose life gets a jolt when he starts an affair with a younger woman, while Manglehorn has him portraying a heartbroken man who tries to start his life over with help from a new friend.
“The Humbling was more or less a subject that was close to me, and I felt Manglehorn challenged me to do something different,” he said, adding that both films had him working with excellent filmmakers.
“If you’ve got a script that’s good and you’ve got a great director, you’re going to be OK.”
Pacino — who is known for his explosive roles in Scarface and The Godfather films among many others — said his “big emotions” have stood him in good stead.
“What do they call actors? Emotional athletes? It’s what we do,” he said. “Sometimes we go too high, sometimes we go too low, sometimes we catch the right middle and the explosions come.”
Some of those emotions appeared to be on display Wednesday night when, in a few seemingly unguarded moments, Pacino opened up about his relationship with his often-absent father.
“My dad would every once in a while show up. He was a man I didn’t really know that well. It’s not easy for a kid, it wasn’t easy for him,” he said, before adding, “this is very personal, what are we getting into here?”
Urged on by his interviewer, and a captive audience, Pacino went on to share an anecdote about being at his father’s apartment as a young boy and wanting to go home to his mother after a fright in the middle of the night.
His father drove him home despite the late hour, Pacino said, and told his son “one day you’ll understand what this is.”
“I never forgot that moment and I do understand what it is,” Pacino said. “I’ve never felt great anger towards him.”
In another story, the actor remembered a moment when he simply felt his father was watching out for him.
“I felt him on my back, like he had me covered and I really was stunned by it, it actually stopped me in my tracks,” he said. “I thought, oh that’s what it is to have a dad, you’re covered.”
When the conversation veered back to his career, the actor, who said he first started out as a comic, credited the stage time and again for the performer he became.
“Theatre was my lure,” he said. “Theatre was where I started, so I was always going back there to feel, I think, at home, and feel connected to something.”
While he doesn’t see himself as a “real” director, Pacino, who has made his own films, added that one of his great desires was to bring a play to life on the big screen.
“I want to take a play and make it a film and make you feel the play in the film,” he said emphatically.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sept. 14.
© The Canadian Press, 2014