Yippee Kai Yay, Mother Fuzzball: Al Pacino Recalls the Roles That Got Away

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

"I'm not a very good judge of what's good!"

That seems like an odd confession coming from Al Pacino, the man who starred in such enduring favorites as "The Godfather," "Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Donnie Brasco," and "Scent of a Woman." But the legendary actor said it with a chuckle Sunday night while talking about a number of movies he turned down over the years, including one of the very biggest box office hits of all time.

Pacino took part in "An Evening With Pacino," a public interview in London where he spoke at length about his career as an actor. During the conversation, he was asked about a few plum roles that got away from him, among them Han Solo in the original 1977 "Star Wars."

"'Star Wars" was mine for the taking but I didn’t understand the script," Pacino said.

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Of course, Pacino's wasn't the only one with reservations about the "Star Wars" screenplay. During the shooting of the 1977 classic; Harrison Ford famously snapped at director and screenwriter George Lucas, "George, you can type this s---, but you sure has hell can't say it."

Pacino was asked about another role he turned down – John McClane in "Die Hard," which transformed Bruce Willis from a promising comic actor on television to a bankable action star. Speaking of Willis, Pacino chuckled, "I gave that boy a career!"

Pacino also admitted that he unwittingly gave Dustin Hoffman's career a boost when he turned down the chance to play troubled comedian Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse's "Lenny," which earned Hoffman an Oscar nomination.

And though Pacino had the good sense not to turn down the breakthrough role of Michael Corleone in "The Godfather," he admitted he didn't think much of the material, confessing he found the "Godfather" trilogy to be "a long, awful, tiring story."

While Pacino is hardly the only actor of note to turn down some blockbuster roles, his list is more impressive than most. Francis Ford Coppola offered Pacino his choice of roles in "Apocalypse Now," Capt. Willard (eventually played by Martin Sheen) or Col. Kurtz (which went to Marlon Brando). When Pacino passed on both, Coppola was so furious that he tossed his Oscars out his office window.

Pacino was offered the male lead in "Pretty Woman" and even shot a test with Julia Roberts, but decided the part wasn't for him, and Richard Gere ended up in the smash rom-com.

[Related: Al Pacino's Biography]

And Pacino was considered for the role of Reg Dunlop in "Slap Shot," but grew miffed when director George Roy Hill asked him if he could skate. Dunlop became one of the most memorable roles of Paul Newman's career.

And yet somehow Pacino accepted the offer to appear as himself in Adam Sandler's clunker "Jack and Jill." Someone should really talk to Pacino's agent, right?

One moment where Pacino is sure he didn't make a mistake in casting was when he and producer Robert Fox chose Jessica Chastain to play the female lead in a 2006 stage production of Oscar Wilde's "Salome," in which Pacino served as both director and star.

"It was as if we had both seen something we had never seen in our life before," Pacino said. "It was stunning. It was like looking at a prodigy."

Since then, Chastain has become a star in hit movies like "The Help," Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Tree Of Life," and she repeated the role of Salome in a film Pacino made about the play, "Wilde Salome." So Pacino clearly does know what's good … at least when it comes to picking parts for other gifted actors.

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