Is Coppola Right About Al, Jack and Bobby?

In an interview with GQ magazine (November issue out Tuesday), Francis Ford Coppola’s reasons for saying three of the most famous and talented actors around, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, and Robert De Niro, “have become apathetic.” Is he right?

Coppola says, “I met both Pacino and De Niro when they were really on the come. They were young and insecure. Now Pacino is very rich, maybe because he never spends any money; he just puts it in his mattress. De Niro was deeply inspired by Zoetrope and created an empire and is wealthy and powerful. Nicholson was — when I met him and worked with him, he was always kind of a joker. He’s got a little bit of a mean streak. He’s intelligent, always wired in with the big guys and the big bosses of the studios.

“Pacino always wanted to do theater. He wanted to do `Peer Gynt.’ He wanted to do Shakespeare. Pacino will say, `Oh, I was raised next to a furnace in New York, and I’m never going to L.A.,’ but they all live off the fat of the land.” Is he right?

He calls De Niro “wealthy and powerful” and suggests he’s no longer inspired. Is he right?

“I think if there was a role that De Niro was hungry for, he would come after it. I don’t think Jack would,” he says. “Jack has money and influence and girls, and I think he’s a little bit like Brando, except Brando went through some tough times.”

When Coppola calls Nicholson “kind of a joker” and a Hollywood schmooze — is he right?

Adds Coppola: “I don’t know what any of them want anymore.”

At last a Hollywood powerhouse is honest in expressing a public opinion. I suppose Coppola is making a ton of dough from his wine farm and doesn’t care if he works with any of the three again. Since I haven’t worked with any of them, I can be frank, too.

DeNiro has been so sucky in his last bunch of movies — in what he seems to think is comedy but which is just caricature of his former self — that Martin Scorsese appears to have replaced him as his main star, with Leonardo, or so it seems.

And Pacino, well, I have to agree that his great talent seems to be going more toward mental masturbation than audience satisfaction (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The Local Stigmatic, in which his feigned cockney accent is an embarrassment, and Looking for Richard, in which his vision is not quite realized although you have a small idea of what he’s striving for, are two examples.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Pacino (and, unlike other critics, I thought was wonderful in Author, Author), I just hate the waste. I also realize he has as much right to waste his talent and take chances as did Brando. I’d just like to see him do more movies like Dog Day, Scarface, And Justice for All.

While I’m being truthful — Pacino was one of the worst guests ever on Inside the Actors Studio, of which he’s past co-artistic director (he resigned in 1984). You can see it on YouTube.

For one thing, he appears to be brushing his hair with a bicycle pump these days and for another, as a great actor, he should have been able to make the audience believe he was comfortable being interviewed by a fawning Lipton instead of looking like he was being held captive in a cave in Afghanistan. He was nowhere near as good a guest as, say, Chris Walken or Christopher Reeves, the latter having good reason to be uncomfortable but who instead told some hilarious inside Hollywood stories. And Walken, well, he was just the wonderful Walken.

As to Jack Nicholson, I can’t think of anything negative. When he’s in a movie, he’s consistently good and always makes the movie better if only by his appearance in it. I’m just glad he’s still making them.

Coppola ends his historic GQ interview by saying, “You know, even in those days, after The Godfather, I didn’t feel that those actors were ready to say, ‘Let’s do something else really ambitious.’ A guy like Javier Bardem is excited to do something good: ‘Let me do this’ or ‘I’ll put stuff in my mouth, change my appearance,” (as did Brando for The Godfather screen test) “I don’t feel that kind of passion to do a role and be great coming from those guys, because if it was there, they would do it! I mean, they’re all in a position to do it.”

With the looming Writers Guild strike, this may be a good time for FSR readers to send Al, Bobby and Jack those screenplays you’ve written, for it may be lack of good material that makes at least two of them accept the crap they have lately.

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