Cinema’s most revered mobster, Al Pacino, will share his passion for Oscar Wilde in a BBC Radio 4 documentary to be aired next month.
In Oscar and Al Pacino, the actor-turned-director tells the story behind his film Wilde Salome, which premiered at the Venice film festival this September.
Pacino describes how he was powerfully affected when he first saw Oscar Wilde’s one-act play Salome but it was some time before he recognised its potential as a film: “It took me years to find out what the hell I was doing and why. The truth of it is that I was bitten by ‘the rub of love’ when I first saw Salome and I pursued it. I kept trying to get people to feel the same way I did and they just wouldn’t. So I thought I’ll try it one more time and make a movie of it.”
Wilde’s 1891 version of the Biblical story was initially banned in England but made it to the stage in Paris in 1896. The drama shows how Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome, demands the head of John the Baptist on a plate.
Pacino originally starred opposite Marisa Tomei in a modern-dress “concert” reading of Salome on Broadway in 2003. Then, in 2006, he took the play into rehearsal in Los Angeles with Jessica Chastain in the title role.
A film crew recorded the cast on and off stage and this finally became the basis for Pacino’s film. Additional perspective on Wilde comes from interviews with Gore Vidal, Tom Stoppard and Bono, which Pacino added later.
With his reputation for playing hardmen, it’s no surprise Pacino was more than happy to cast himself according to type as Herod, “because crazy emperors work for me”.
Jessica Chastain was a newcomer when she played Salome at the time the film was shot, but went on to win the Breakthrough Actress Award at the Hollywood Film Festival this year for her roles in The Tree of Life, The Help, The Debt, Take Shelter and Coriolanus.
Pacino has made three films to date and is modest in his assessment of his efforts, although it’s clearly a role he intends to develop in the future: “I don’t think of myself as a director but I’m making a film. I’ve found a taste for making movies I can wallow in and figure it out as I go. I’ve always tried to mix it up a little bit and that’s what’s kept me going.”
Oscar and Al Pacino will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 14 November at 4pm.