Inside the Actors Studio: Leading Men
October 25, 2007
The latest collection of Inside the Actors Studio DVDs feature several acting legends from three consecutive decades: from the 1970s, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, from the 1980s, Sean Penn, and from the 1990s, Russell Crowe. The number of Academy Awards between them is impressive but more importantly, the number of classic films that these men have collectively generated is staggering. They are responsible for uttering some of popular culture’s most quotable dialogue and appearing in some of the most memorable scenes creating iconic characters.
First up is De Niro who we learn had parents that were accomplished artists in their own right – fine art painters. Naturally, host James Lipton, asks the actor how he met Martin Scorsese and several of their collaborations are discussed, including Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and so on. De Niro talks about Scorsese’s love of improvisation and how they work together. The actor covers other milestone performances like The Godfather Part II (1974) but a glaring omission is much of his 1980s output: The King of Comedy (1983), The Untouchables (1987), and Midnight Run (1988), or his most memorable turn in the 1990s, Heat (1995). One gets the feeling that some of these films might have been covered but were edited out. De Niro doesn’t come across as the most verbal guy and, at times, it feels like Lipton is working hard to draw answers out of him.
In contrast, Al Pacino is much more eloquent about his craft and his experiences working on certain films. He also comes across as surprisingly funny and humble which is nice considering what a larger than life figure he is. One fascinating factoid that comes out of this interview is that he got his start as a stand-up comedian and one gets the impression that he’d like to do more comedies but has a reputation for being an intense, dramatic actor. Naturally, they cover the usual career highpoints: The Godfather films, Serpico (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975). With these last two films, he talks about what he learned from working with director Sidney Lumet. Speaking of his turn in Scarface (1983), Pacino praises Oliver Stone’s screenplay and how he spent months preparing for the role. They also touch upon his turn as slick salesman Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and how important listening to your fellow actors is in a given scene because it determines how you react to what they are doing. Naturally, they talk about Heat and what it was like finally getting to work with De Niro and their famous scene together.
With his ever-present lit cigarette, Sean Penn is his usual no-nonsense, opinionated self as he talks about early signature roles like Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and his solid turns in underrated films, Bad Boys (1983) and The Falcon and the Snowman (1985). He and Lipton also discuss one of his best performances in At Close Range (1986) and how he scared Christopher Walken in a pivotal scene where he brandishes a gun. Penn also cites De Niro as an early influence on his approach towards acting and writer Charles Bukowski as an influence on his personal philosophy. Naturally, they talk about his directing efforts and how he was tired of films being just entertainment and he wanted to make ones that mattered, like the motion pictures he admired in the 1970s. The result was The Indian Runner (1991). Of his ‘90s work, I enjoyed his candid comments about making Carlito’s Way (1993) and how he admired Pacino’s unpredictability.
Russell Crowe came into prominence in the 1990s with several blistering performances of great intensity but comes across as quite shy in this interview. He speaks candidly about how he was told not to do Romper Stomper (1992) because it would ruin his career. He also offers his take on Bud White, whom he played so well in L.A. Confidential (1997), and how he put together the character. Crowe stresses the importance of preparation and research. He also talks about his surprise at getting the role of Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider (1999) because he was so much younger than the actual man. Of course, he talks about his iconic role in Gladiator (2000) and how they started filming with only 30-odd pages!
You really can’t go wrong with this fine collection and for fans of any of these actors this is a must-have.
In addition to including an introduction to each episode by Lipton, there are “Great Moments That Didn’t Make the Cut,” a collection of deleted scenes with even more anecdotes by the interview subjects. De Niro talks about making The Deer Hunter (1978) and gaining weight as well as achieving Al Capone’s haircut for The Untouchables.
Pacino tells an amusing story about when he bought his first car and how the same day it was stolen. There’s also a funny clip where Kevin Spacey talks about working with Pacino on Glengarry Glen Ross and does a great impersonation of him.
Penn talks about working with Walken on At Close Range and how the veteran actor would sometimes play Penn’s part in a scene when he couldn’t figure something out. He also talks about how a Bruce Springsteen song inspired The Indian Runner.
Crowe talks about how he abstained from drinking beer while making L.A. Confidential because James Ellroy said that his character didn’t drink it. He also talks about how he adopted the look of Wigand in The Insider and the challenge that it presented.