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Phil Spector: Al Pacino discusses playing the controversial music producer

Actor Al Pacino will portray music producer Phil Spector in an HBO film. 'Phil Spector' is written and directed by David Mamet.

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For Mamet, this was perfect. For these storytelling purposes, the truth is what he makes of it.

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"What great writers do is to take an idea from a character who really exists, and revise it, and make a character out of it who can express what they're going for," says Pacino over lunch recently at a Manhattan hotel. "And the character becomes an extension of him."

And also an extension of the actor in the role. So Pacino (whose rich history with Mamet includes starring onstage in his "American Buffalo" decades ago and in a Broadway revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross" last year, besides appearing in its celebrated 1992 film version) signed to build on Mamet's imagining of Spector.

Unlike a film such as Pacino's 1973 crime drama "Serpico," where the real-life undercover cop Frank Serpico was readily available for Pacino to spend time with, he never tried to visit Spector in prison. It would have served no purpose, he reasoned. The incarcerated Spector was a different man from the Spector who had once been facing trial.

Instead, Pacino read all about Spector and screened hours of archival footage.

But his goal was the same as for any role.

"I try to get that thing that's inside of someone and connect it to myself," he explains. "I like to allow it to get into my unconscious. How, is a mystery to me. But as Jackson Pollock said, 'When I see what a painting is that I'm painting, I move on or I destroy it, because I'm no longer in my own unconsciousness.' I approach characters that way."

Al Pacino loves to talk acting. Not in ac-tor-ly, it's-all-about-me mode, but as a curious man on a lifelong quest for what it means to be an actor who clearly loves the chase.

Thinking and talking about acting makes him happy, he says as he digs into his crabcake. He makes this get-together less an interview than zesty shop talk, and it invigorates him, a veteran actor who, at 72, looks a decade or more younger, natty in his blue pinstriped suit and vest, with a white silk tie knotted rakishly down near his breastbone.

Pacino heaps praise on Mamet, who, in directing his own script, might have been too protective of the words he wrote, but wasn't.

"He was surprisingly flexible," says Pacino. "There's probably things in his writing that he's partial to: 'Play till the lemon chicken comes'" – a riotous line Spector fires out in a scene in the recording studio – "you've GOT to say that! But all in all, I found him to be flexible, and that relieved me."

Meanwhile, the jagged on-screen chemistry Pacino shares with Mirren found its roots in their warm working partnership.

"I LOVE her!" he says. "I just can't tell you the advantage of having someone you can talk with every day, just to get her read on things. Sometimes I thought, 'I'm talking too much to her. She's gonna start getting bored.' But she was a real mensch!

"And that's my memory of the film," he sums up with a laugh: "Her. And me struggling to get through my scenes with those wigs!"

Pacino is now mulling future projects, including a long-rumored Napoleon biopic. "Where am I gonna find HIM?" says the actor as if planning his research, then quips: "A couple of studio heads I know!"

"But I don't think I'm ready to go out there and just do a job," he adds, growing serious again. "Sometimes I've made movies because I was having a tough time in life: You know, go make a movie, get away from THIS world. But I don't think I have that kind of energy to do that anymore. I only get turned on by something with a challenge, where there's an opportunity to do something with.

"It's comforting," he declares, "to feel like that possibility exists."

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