Inside TIFF 2014: Al Pacino

The Oscar-winning actor talks game-changing roles, fatherhood, and moving violations at the 3rd Annual TIFF Gala.

The 39th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) began with an evening of art imitating life imitating art. The inimitable Al Pacino hit the red carpet at the 3rd Annual TIFF Gala to benefit the festival’s vital community outreach programs. The eight-time Oscar-nominated star was the subject of a career retrospective, taking part in an onstage conversation with interviewer George Stroumboulopoulos.

Pacino, who appears in Manglehorn and The Humbling at this year’s festival, seemed game to talk about anything—from working with “Francis and Marty” to the folly of aging to finally feeling good in his own skin. The scene at TIFF Bell Lightbox was ebullient, with feel-good endorphins flowing as Pacino conspired with the crowd, making everyone feel in on it. He’s the rare kind of screen legend that circles the wagons, who inspires a kind of filial piety in a whole generation of film lovers.

In The Humbling, Pacino plays an actor facing the final curtain of his career. Director Barry Levinson has created a liberal adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel, about a star of stage and screen beginning to lose his acumen and possibly his grasp on himself. Pacino gives a vibrant, deeply committed performance, which reaches interesting peaks with surprising chemistry with co-star Greta Gerwig.

The 74-year-old Hollywood veteran sported a golden glow, having just come from Venice, joined by his girlfriend Lucila Solá, 35. The Godfather actor proudly introduced the Argentinian stunner to key executives, positively beaming as he arrived donning his signature look—a charcoal suit, dark shirt, and scarf draped loosely around his neck. (Solá met Pacino when he directed her in the film Wilde Salomé and they have been dating since 2010.)

Three famous directors turned out to support TIFF and pay homage to Pacino: Levinson, Norman Jewison, and Brian De Palma. Clips from The Godfather and Scarface drew the most vocal cheers, but Stroumboulopoulos pointed out that “this only scratches the surface,” as we watched clips from Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Heat, Donnie Brasco, Scent of a Woman, The Devil’s Advocate, The Insider, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Dick Tracy. Pacino then recounted how he almost lost his role in The Godfather because the studio heads couldn’t see how this small, unassuming no-name actor was going to pull off evolving Michael Corleone from stoic veteran to pathological killer.

In one of the more unexpected moments of the evening, Stroumboulopoulos took a characteristically tender approach to probing the absence of a father figure in Pacino’s life. “My grandfather was the one, we were very close,” said Pacino. “My father came around once, and he came behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. It was so primal, and I thought this is what having a father means, being encircled.” He reflects on the melancholy of loss in his early life, which led to a lifetime penchant for wearing black.

He also mused on marriage: “My father was married five times, and so I never managed it once.” While he resisted making it official, he shares custody of his twins Anton and Olivia with ex-partner Beverly D’Angelo.

Pacino ended the night with a plucky anecdote, “A few years ago, I took a turn too quickly and completely ripped off this guy’s side mirror,” he recalls. The motorist apparently scrambled out of the car in a fury, but as he approached the actor’s car, he was so starstruck he apologized. “I’ll take it,” Pacino grins. Ah, the upsides of international stardom.

Daytime highlights:

Stylist Box (TIFF’s celebrity style suite) was founded by fashion veterans Gail McInnes and Christian Dare, two highly committed industry supporters bent on bringing attention to Canada’s most deserving emerging and Internationally established fashion and accessory brands. The showroom kicked things into high gear as actors and on-air personalities buzzed over designer treasures and items hanging from multiple rolling racks on multiple floors. The Stylist Suite also offers screen stars a session with leading impresario Greg May, founder of Greg May Hair Architects.

Watch this space for more from the Toronto International Film Festival.