My previous literary agent, now deceased, was a dreadful experience. More on that another time. However, he did give me one thing and one thing only: a great Al Pacino story.
He and I met for lunch one afternoon in my favorite city in the world, Los Angeles, and he told me this story at a restaurant on Sunset Drive over sashimi and Brazilian ice tea.
Apparently, he was involved in the production of Dog Day Afternoon. That isn't a huge surprise because DS had previously been a producer on Breakfast at Tiffany's-- at the time, he was a big player in Hollywood.
Al Pacino was/is well known as a method actor. We don't hear so much about that particular process anymore, but the idea is that the actor becomes that role. That is, they live, breath and eat as their character. It's likely a little unnerving to their fellow actors, especially when that performer is playing an extremely troubling character (serial killer, coke fiend, James Joyce, etc.).
So, DS says one day he was hurriedly flown to Japan during an emergency situation: Al Pacino was thinking about dropping out as the lead in Dog Day Afternoon.
Chaos, pandemonium, anemic box office receipts... for a big production like that, this could mean the entire film would be scrapped.
The job of my agent, all those years earlier, was to convince Al Pacino to not back out of the project. The problem was: no one knew why Al wanted to quit.
So, DS flies to Japan on the red-eye. He arrives and he's taken to Pacino and the two of them chat briefly and then enjoy a traditional relaxing, Japanese message. Think sliding bamboo doors, thin mattresses close to the floor and subservient girls who never look you directly in the eyes.
Yeah, my agent thinks, as you would: dude, I'm totally getting some.
Not only doesn't he get to talk at length with the jittery film star, but the young lady who gives him a relaxing massage gets up, slips out of the tiny room with bamboo door, and never returns. DS lays there for a good hour, uh, turgidly... but realizes he's down for the night, alone.
The next day, Al tells him the problem. The actor explains why he wants to back out of being the lead in Dog Day Afternoon: he's been method-acting the role, getting a feel for the character, and comes to a horrifying (in his mind) conclusion.
He tells DS: "I think I may be a little bit of a fag".
If you aren't familiar with the movie, the basic gist is that two guys are robbing the bank. They're lovers and Pacino's character is in it to get enough dough to pay for a gender-reassignment operation for his partner.
Apparently, Pacino got into the character a bit and realized he might have a tendency to also get into a little bit of ass, if he were so inclined. This, it seems, freaked his macho-manly self out.
Al tells this to DS and the agent-producer considers it for a moment. He then looks at the actor and says, "Don't worry about it. I got this. I'll give them a story, you don't have to worry about it, you're out, man."
Pacino's relived, nearly in tears he's so happy, and tells my former agent he's indebted to him.
However, like a good producer (alas, not a terribly good agent), he knows Al's weak spot. So he waits for the right moment and gives it a push.
"Yep, don't worry about it. I already got someone lined up (he hadn't) to take over, Al, this is no longer your problem. Wash your hands of it."
"Ah, DS, you're the greatest," he says, then insecurity rattles his nerves a little. He asks: "Who you got to take over?"
"It's nothing, man. That kid Dustin Hoffman is gonna step in. You're golden. He's your ticket out."
Al Pacino stiffens, looks away, then looks back at DS. He then says: "Fuck that, I'm doin' the picture."
Me, I choked on my raw fish and laughed like hell.
I have no idea if that story was true. But after more than a decade as a television producer, I've dealt with the massive ego/cancerous insecurity of “stars” big and small.
It certainly rings true to me.