Inspired by a true story, Dan Fogelman’s new drama Danny Collins stars Al Pacino as the title role, an aging 1970s rocker who has ridden on the success of a few successful songs, including his chart topper Hey Baby Doll, for years. But when Danny’s manager, Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) uncovers a 40-year-old undelivered letter to Danny from John Lennon, the rocker decides to change course and embarks on the ‘second act’ of his life.
Cancelling all of his tour dates, he books into the Hilton Hotel in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, to go back to song writing and to seek out his 40-year-old son, Tom Donnelley (Bobby Cannavale), whom he has never met, even though he’s known about him since before he was born. Jennifer Garner plays Donnelley’s wife, Samantha.
I spoke with Mr Pacino at a roundtable interview for the movie, which premieres on March 20th.
What do you look for in a script nowadays?
I look for things that mirror some sort of aspect of my life and time. [I liked] this because of the script and the idea that I’d be playing something that you might even say is appropriate for my age.
This is something I wouldn’t do 10 years ago or 20 years ago, but now I feel I’m in a position to do that mentally and physically too, on the screen anyway. So you find things that relate to the cycle you’re in, in life.
Did you base this role on any specific rock star?
I was trying to figure out what image will I have that would feed me in some way, and finally I thought, ‘Feels a little Barry Manilow and a little Rod Stewart.’ And I put that in my head, and I thought if you cross them it would come out looking a little like me.
What did you admire about the character of Danny Collins?
What I enjoyed was this kind of person who is a survivor, who is hailed as the next Bob Dylan after he did one song, you see that [in the movie] when he’s a kid.
Then all of a sudden his next album is a real failure and he’s eviscerated. He’s overcome by it and rather than just collapse when his instinct is telling him to run away and never do this again, he channels that into what can he do? He’s a good dancer, he has a certain look. he’s charming and he uses that and survives.
He starts singing other people’s songs and it got him to be rich and famous, but the part [of him] that is the writer, the source, he’s so far away from that. Then that letter turning up, which really did happen, from John Lennon, changes everything.
It happens at certain points in our life when we can receive something and sometimes we go right by it, but this was that moment. I don’t think he was going to last much longer the way he was going and he sees [the letter] and it speaks to him in a way and he moves out of what he’s doing.
Did you ever meet John Lennon?
I saw John in the park once in passing and it was nice. He smiled, I smiled. Recognition, but no talk, memorable moment.
I saw Ringo, McCartney, of course I know Mick Jagger, like him a lot, and I’ve spent time with Bob Dylan. You run into people as time goes on.
During your career have you found it easy to be true to yourself?
To thine own self be true.I think if you follow that philosophy it seems airtight really.
If you learn enough about yourself. But you’ve got to keep learning. We don’t know that much about anything, anyway. (he laughs) You find that out.
You’ve had such an extraordinary career, I’m sure young actors freeze when they come on a set to work with you. What do you do to ease their fear?
It’s funny, you know that that’s there so what you do is basically try to neutralize it in a way. How do you do that?
By engaging as an actor, you start interfacing just as actors and you realize you’re in that world, and it always goes [away], because we’re doing this thing together, we’re like a trapeze act, or a high wire act.
You become interdependent. I am an actor, that’s what I am.
Are you ever able to sneak away like the character does or does your fame follow you everywhere?
No. There was a time where I could have done it a little bit more than I can now. My kids don’t want to go out with me anymore.
They say, ‘Dad, you can stay home.’ I say, ‘No, I’ll come with you.’ They say, ‘No, Dad, it’s alright, we’re fine. Rest!’
Danny Collins (2015) – Soundbytes
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