Is there anything more hypocritical than a judgmental Francis Ford Coppola?
GQ: You’ve personally known Pacino, De Niro, and Nicholson, and watched them work for 30-plus years. Do you think their success has harmed them artistically? Pacino has never been as contained and intense as he was for you; De Niro returns again and again to playing this near-parody of a charming, menacing sociopath; and Nicholson’s often inseparable from stand-up comedians’ impressions of him. What has happened to these guys?
Francis Ford Coppola: I met both Pacino and De Niro when they were really on the come. They were young and insecure. Now Pacino is very rich, maybe because he never spends any money; he just puts it in his mattress. De Niro was deeply inspired by Zoetrope and created an empire and is wealthy and powerful. Nicholson was—when I met him and worked with him, he was always kind of a joker. He’s got a little bit of a mean streak. He’s intelligent, always wired in with the big guys and the big bosses of the studios.
I don’t know what any of them want anymore. I don’t know that they want the same things. Pacino always wanted to do theater. He wanted to do Peer Gynt. He wanted to do Shakespeare. Pacino will say, “Oh, I was raised next to a furnace in New York, and I’m never going to go to L.A.,” but they all live off the fat of the land.
I think if there was a role that De Niro was hungry for, he would come after it. I don’t think Jack would. Jack has money and influence and girls, and I think he’s a little bit like Brando, except Brando went through some tough times. I guess they don’t want to do it anymore.
You know, even in those days, after The Godfather, I didn’t feel that those actors were ready to say, “Let’s do something else really ambitious.” A guy like Javier Bardem is excited to do something good: “Let me do this” or “I’ll put stuff in my mouth, change my appearance.” I don’t feel that kind of passion to do a role and be great coming from those guys, because if it was there, they would do it! I mean, they’re all in a position to do it.
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