It is difficult even to consider that an actor as distinguished and acclaimed as the great Al Pacino could look back on his career with something resembling regret. Yet, Pacino too (believe it or not), is only human and, as such, will have no doubt made what, in his eyes, are considered mistakes — roles that should not have been taken on, or those rejected that should have been.
The list of cinematic masterpieces involving Pacino is seemingly endless, from his breakthrough role as Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972), through to Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Scarface (1983), Scent of a Woman (1992), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and Heat (1995). We really could go on; merely a list of Pacino’s cinematic achievements alone would be a fascinating read in its own right.
Alfredo James Pacino was born in Upper Manhattan in New York City on April 25th, 1940, and had youthful ambitions to become a baseball player. However, these soon shifted to dreams of acting. After an initial rejection by the Actors Studio as a teenager, he joined the HB Studio and studied under Charlie Laughton, who soon became his mentor and best friend. Pacino was eventually admitted to the Actors Studio four years later, where he learned method acting under Lee Strasberg. After starting his career on stage, Pacino’s film debut came at 29 years of age in 1969’s Me, Natalie.
The silver screen is where Pacino would ultimately make a name for himself, with his role as Michael Corleone coming through just a few years later. On his long wait for a breakthrough, Pacino had said in an interview with The Talks: “Before The Godfather, the first Godfather, nobody else wanted me. But Francis wanted me! He just wanted me, and I didn’t understand it… The studios didn’t want me, nobody wanted me – nobody knew me. I think when a director is interested, I have a tendency to lean forward instead of backing off. You’re looking for a risk you can take, a challenge, the fact that you fall down and get up and go on.”
Despite his glittering career, Pacino also opened up on some of his regrets and mistakes of the past, and named a surprising film that he turned down. It was George Lucas’ Star Wars. When asked whether he regretted any of his movies, he said: “I don’t regret anything. I feel that I’ve made what I would call mistakes. I picked the wrong movie, or I didn’t pursue a character or I played somebody and made some choices… But everything you do is a part of you. And you get something from it. And I mean, the idea and excitement of being in these situations and places – they are more than just memories, they inform your life. So I don’t regret anything.”
However, he then adds, “Star Wars. Yeah, that was my first big mistake, […] one of my many mistakes. They’re in the museum of mistakes! All the scripts I rejected!”
Pacino has further opened up on Lucas’ offer to star in the film, later telling LA Weekly: “I didn’t get it. I didn’t know why I’d do it. [Han Solo] was mine for the taking but I didn’t understand the script. So I gave Harrison Ford his career! He owes me so big! I’m gonna have him pay me back. I’m gonna have him build my house.”
Looking back, it is challenging to imagine Pacino strolling around the Millennium Falcon, armed with a blaster pistol. How would Ford’s infamous banter with Chewbacca have played out if performed by Pacino instead? Would George Lucas have allowed Pacino’s Solo to smoke a Cuban cigar whilst piloting the Falcon through a storm of asteroids?
While Pacino names Star Wars as his first big mistake, perhaps it was simply better for audiences that Harrison Ford got his big shot instead. The alternative could have just been downright jarring.