Robert De Niro and Al Pacino: A Big, Beautiful 50-Year Friendship

I was in a reading once with Paul Sorvino where Francis was on the phone talking to one of the studio heads, maybe it was Bob Evans, about another actor—I’m not gonna say who it was, but if I said who it was, you’d say, “Jesus.” But they were in a hit movie at the time. And Francis is very open. He’s talking in front of an actor. Saying, “I really don’t think that they’re right for it, blah blah blah.”

Was it Michael that you were reading for?
De Niro: I could have been reading for Michael, or I was reading for Sonny. Because I knew that Francis wanted Al for Michael. But the word was out also that he wanted Jimmy Caan for Sonny. But he was going through the pressure, Francis, unbelievable pressure that they were gonna push you to do things. It’s just the nature of it.

I wonder if you guys are friends in part because so few other people can really relate to your respective life experiences.
Pacino: We get together. And there’s a trust there. There just is. We understand this thing together a little bit better. And you go there sometimes just to get some feedback. We talk about things.

De Niro: Kibitz. I don’t know if you know that word.

I do.
Pacino: We kibitz.

I imagine there are not a lot of people who can understand, really, what it’s like for the two of you —
Pacino: Well…

Maybe not. You’re disagreeing.
Pacino: I mean, it’s just such a different world now. Celebrity is different. And fame is, I think, sought-after more than it ever was in my lifetime. It’s sort of a cart-before-a-horse kind of thing.

Younger actors cite you guys to me, and they’ll say they admire you guys for giving less away. Like, Al, maybe you’ve done a couple of things, like a big Playboy interview, but Bob, you hardly do interviews at all.
Pacino: He used to tell it to me. He’d say, “No, I don’t need to. I’ll go to Al and talk about it.” No, I’m totally joking.

Did you have to learn that, Bob, or was that always your instinct?
De Niro: No, it’s just the way I am. I just feel a little—but I felt that you were that way too.

Pacino: I was that way. I mean, that Playboy interview, that was Larry Grobel, who I got to know. But I’ll tell you the truth, I think I did it because he did Marlon! And he did Barbra Streisand, you know? And I thought, Wow. And he came to me and I said, “Well, Marlon…” See, a lot of my influence, I don’t know about Bob, was Marlon. The way he dealt with things. He was reclusive in a way. And so I thought you don’t give that away, because that is part of what your performance art is.

De Niro: Yeah.

Pacino: It’s keeping the page blank or the canvas blank so it doesn’t affect the performance you’re giving or the character you’re playing. That was my idea of it. And Marty Bregman was a big help to me, my manager at the time. ’Cause he would always say to me, you know, something would happen, and I would say, “Gee, should I go on TV?” And he would just say simply, “Not you, no. You don’t want to do that.” And the truth is some of these people that do do it, the young people, are very good at it. They’re wonderful actors too. And they know how to because they grew up with it. It’s not the same kind of stigma as it used to be when we were younger. It’s changed. Some very prominent young star told me that too. He just said to me straight out, “I know how to do this because it just came out of my upbringing.” And he says, “I know you didn’t. You didn’t have that.” And I thought, Gee, he’s making a good point here. But there’s nothing really against it at this point. It can’t really hurt you. Not us. We’re not young. We’re beyond it now. Now they come to you and they want to write books.