Prepare to see a new, and rather melodic, side of Al Pacino. The acting legend and Oscar winner — renowned for playing mobsters, detectives or drug lords — shows off his surprisingly adept singing chops as a flamboyant, aging rock star in his new comedy and Bleecker Street Films’ debut feature, “Danny Collins.”
“It’s really Al singing in the film, and he worked hard to make his voice sound like what it needed to be,” writer and director Dan Fogelman told Variety at the film’s New York premiere on Wednesday night at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square. “He sings a stripped-down song that Ryan Adams wrote for the film.” And it wasn’t only while the camera was rolling. “On set he would break out in song all the time and get the crew to sing along with him. He would finish a scene and immediately start singing. His spirit was, and still is, infectious.”
To convert Pacino into Danny Collins — an overly tanned singer who is riding on the hits from his ’70s heyday and is consumed by fame and fortune — Fogelman had the lead actor dress like Rod Stewart, imitate Neil Diamond’s singing style and infuse a touch of Barry Manilow’s campy stage presence.
Fogelman also based the film’s storyline on a real artist and experience. Five years ago, he came across a story on the Internet about a British folk singer named Steve Tilston, who discovered that the Beatles singer John Lennon had written him an encouraging personal letter in 1971, but Tilston had only received the note in 2005. Fogelman reinterpreted the real-life account by having such a letter inspire Danny Collins to be true to himself and to re-evaluate his life choices. In the film, Collins’ manager (Christopher Plummer) delivers to Pacino the Lennon letter, which inspires him to reconcile with his family (Bobby Cannavale and Jennifer Garner) and pursue a blossoming romance with a hotel manager (Annette Bening).
“I found the script to be heartwarming and inspiring,” said Garner. “It reminds you to stop and take stock of your own life, and figure out what’s important to you, and move forward in that direction and only in that direction.”
Pacino admits that he’s also taken a few wrong turns in his life and has succumbed to the temptations of fame and fortune, just like his character did.
“I haven’t, in my life at times, been grounded. I felt what they call ‘the vicissitudes of fame,’ and I have gone through it and the beatitudes, the high and the low,” said Pacino. “You keep looking for the middle. I guess basket weaving helps a lot,” he joked.
For Cannavale, working with Pacino was the best decision of his life. He first worked with the two-time Tony winner in the Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” in 2012, and things took off from there.
“I just finished working with Al, and he’s the one who called me and said, ‘There’s a picture and I’d love for you to play my son.’ What do you say to that? You say yes,” Cannavale relayed. “It’s the thing you dream about when you are walking down the street and start having fantasies. I’ve had quite a few (fantasies) growing up in this business that involve Al,” he confessed. “It’s weird to think we are friends. I still freak out when he sends me a text.”
Pacino has now acted in nearly 50 films and is still going strong. When asked what he wants to accomplish next in his prolific career, he answered, “I guess I’m looking forward to a porch and a rocking chair.” He then added, “But so far, things keep pulling me back.”
Following the screening, guests headed a few blocks south to the swanky Stone Rose Lounge for the after-party, where they munched on sliders and tomato-mozzarella kebabs. Pacino’s daughter Julie, 25, and his 14-year-old twins, Anton and Olivia, came out to support their father at the event, where partygoers enjoyed a birds-eye view of Central Park and panorama of the city skyline.
Actress Katarina Cas, who plays Pacino’s fiancée in the film, snapped a selfie with a jovial Garner and Cannavale. Garner later reunited with her “Alias” co-star Victor Garber, with whom she chatted the night away. Also in attendance were Cannavale’s girlfriend Rose Byrne and Marky Ramone, drummer of punk rock band the Ramones. Jessica Chastain and her boyfriend, Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, attended the screening but skipped out before the starry after-party.
“Danny Collins” opens in theaters on March 20.
In the new movie Danny Collins, Al Pacino plays an aging rock star who receives a letter from John Lennon 40 years after it was sent. Pacino’s eponymous character, whom he said he viewed as the “love child of Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow,” has an epiphany and starts to take stock of his life after reading the letter, which urged Collins to be true to himself. As part of his journey, he goes to New Jersey to try to get to know his grown son (Bobby Cannavale) and his family.
But what about the film’s star-studded cast, including Cannavale and Jennifer Garner, and writer-director Dan Fogelman, making his directorial debut? Have they received any letters that motivated them in their careers?
Garner, who plays Collins’ daughter-in-law and Cannavale’s character’s wife, talked to The Hollywood Reporter about a note that she received from Bill Irwin, who was directing a play at the Roundabout Theater that both she and Kristin Chenoweth auditioned for.
“I was way inexperienced. I had not done anything professionally in New York, and I didn’t get the role. But Bill wrote me a letter and told me how much he enjoyed the process of my audition and that I should keep going,” Garner recalled on the red carpet at Danny Collins’ New York premiere Wednesday night. “I lost the letter in a cab, the night that I got it, because I was taking it somewhere to show someone because I was so thrilled. But the letter itself has always stuck with me, and I’ve always been grateful to him for those words of encouragement.”
Fogelman, meanwhile, received one of his most treasured letters from Pacino after the actor saw Danny Collins for the first time.
“My big thing I cared about was, when Al saw it, what he thought. And Al sees every movie by himself for the first time just in an empty screening room,” the write-director said. “He wrote me a letter, saying it was one of if not the first times he got emotional watching one of his movies. And I kept the letter and it’s literally, like, my house goes on fire, it’s one of the first things I would hypothetically grab.”
Jennifer, Giselle Eisenberg and Bobby Cannavale attended the ‘Danny Collins’ New York Premiere after party at the Stone Rose Lounge on March 18.
Jennifer attended the ‘Danny Collins’ New York premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on March 18 in New York City.
Jennifer visited NBC studios for an appearance on the “Today” show on March 18 in New York City.
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