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December 29, 1985|PAUL ROSENFIELD

In the hotel suite everything else took second place to talk. "Do you mind if I smoke?" Al Pacino asked, then never lit up. Similarly, he ordered room service but never bothered with the meal. He poured coffee without drinking it, preferring to concentrate instead. (As he once put it, "There is no such thing as happiness. There is only concentration.")

Al Pacino pointed to the oversized Christmas tree that dominated the living room of his suite at the Beverly Wilshire and said quietly, "Marlon brought me this." The tree was decorated with silver bells and silver strawberries, and Pacino looked like a leprechaun the other morning as he fiddled with the lights. Then, in a flash, he began to pace the room with a drowsy, heavy-footed walk. "Why am I walking this way?" the actor asked himself. "I put on a necktie and suddenly I'm walking like a grandfather." The tie would come off later that morning, and Pacino would appear in a Navy peacoat, then a silk sport jacket, and finally--for a long afternoon of talk--a Brando-torn T-shirt.

Pacino at 45 still wears many hats, and shirts, and identities. As Marthe Keller, a former flame and co-star ("Bobby Deerfield"), put it, "He plays so many parts every day." And not necessarily onscreen, or onstage. The actor hasn't been visible in two years, since "Scarface." Now there's "Revolution," in which he plays a feisty Scottish immigrant during the American Revolution. Hugh Hudson's expensive epic opened Christmas Day to reviews that were less than luminous. ("There may be a smashing movie on the cutting room floor," wrote Newsweek's David Ansen, "but what's onscreen is a shambles.") Pacino had been to London twice in the past month, to loop dialogue, and was only in Los Angeles for a fast 36 hours. He was here to do what he never does: Al Pacino was going to sit still (sort of) for an interview. Then, courtesy of the Warner Bros. jet, he was going to go to Jamaica for Christmas. The tree (not from Brando, it turned out, but from another Marlon) would not go with him.

Pacino has always moved in his own circuitous, complicated way--not unlike a restless chameleon. Playing "Richard III" on Broadway, he was known to walk alone for hours after performances. After "Serpico" was over, he tried arresting people on the streets of New York. After "Scarecrow," he wore the character's prison shoes for months. But the offstage part Pacino seems most often to play is question-and-answer man. Or is that just one of his parts?

"Do you think I'm intense?" he asked, without any apparent guile. "I've been told that." Do people tell me to lighten up? It depends. Lighten up about what? And why and when? You mean at a dinner party? When you are making a movie, you are intent on getting to the other side, and that's your sanity. Period. So when you are working, and walking through a hotel lobby, you're thinking about that. And so people think you are intense. That comes with being in this position and coping with this stimuli."

(The "position" means Pacino, five times nominated for an Oscar, is a million-dollar player. "His salary for 'Revolution' was seven figures," acknowledged producer Irwin Winkler. "But lower seven figures than Sly Stallone or Bob Redford.")

The intensity also reveals itself in quirky ways: "Something happens in the eyes when you connect completely with another person," Pacino said--but there are various personae here. Pacino today still wears a "Revolution" pony tail and speaks with a hint of a British accent. When he talks wistfully about driving in the British countryside, he becomes the brooding self-driven racing driver of "Bobby Deerfield." He can also summon at will the weather-beaten look of Michael Corleone at mid-life.

"I'll tell you a funny story," said Pacino simply. "It illustrates why it's very good not to work too much, and to let go of the work. I was in Boston, playing Pavlo Hummel, and I had this ritual. Every night before going on, I'd go in this bathroom backstage, and do my little preparation. I'd put my fingers to my face, look in the mirror, and say what Pavlo says in the play. 'I'm all right. I do all right.' Well, finally, after eight weeks, there was this closing-night party and I left the party to go in the little room to say goodby to Hummel. I said to the mirror, to myself, 'I'm all right. I do all right.' It was a saying goodby, a departure."

Pacino craned his neck, hoping his point was made. "You bend your psyche if you are an actor, and it really is a relief when it's over. Even after 'Richard III' closed, around 8 at night I'd find myself walking with a limp. The body doesn't know a role is over until the mind tells it." Pacino's body on this particular day was a victim of jet lag, and a nap was suggested.

"Me nap? How do you spell that? K-N-A-P ? I've never napped. Maybe one day. . . ."

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