According to Al Pacino, Han Solo owes him a thank-you. The Oscar winner opened up about his career during a recent conversation at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, sharing that he was offered the plum role of Han Solo in Star Wars—but decided to pass on it, and ultimately “gave Harrison Ford a career” in the process
“Well, I turned down Star Wars,” Pacino said at the event. “When I first came up, I was the new kid on the block. You know what happens when you first become famous. It’s like, ‘Give it to Al.’ They’d give me Queen Elizabeth to play. They gave me a script called Star Wars… They offered me so much money. I don’t understand it… So I said I couldn’t do it. I gave Harrison Ford a career.”
While Pacino sounded quite confident about the role he played in making Ford a star, he was less confident about his performance in another iconic film: The Godfather. Pacino recounted a conversation he had with director Francis Ford Coppola about his performance as Michael Corleone while they were shooting the film. “You know, I had a lot of faith in you. And you’re failing me,” Pacino recalled Coppola telling him over dinner. “I’m standing there thinking, What the fuck, what did I do?”
Coppola told the young actor to watch some footage from the film, which Pacino did. “I wanted to come out of nowhere, and by the end of the film create some kind of enigma,” said Pacino. “His transition is what interested me, and I thought I was unable to save it. After the first day of shooting, Diane Keaton and I got drunk. We thought, This is it, our careers are over.”
At the event, Pacino said that he believed his role in the film was saved by a single scene. “The Solozzo scene, where Michael shoots the cop,” he said. “Coppola pushed that up, because he thought Paramount was about to fire me. I do the scene, they liked it, and they kept me in because I shot someone.”
As for The Offer, the 2022 Paramount+ series about the making of The Godfather starring Miles Teller, Pacino told the crowd that only “half” of it is true. For those curious about the other half, the actor reportedly sold a memoir to Penguin Press last year; his experience on the Godfather set opens the book.
Pacino also regaled the audience with stories from his other classic films. In Heat, Pacino created a backstory for his character, Lt. Vincent Hanna, that involved the cop having a cocaine problem. “That will explain to you some of my, uh…” he said with a laugh. Speaking of cocaine: Pacino called Scarface his “most gratifying” film, even though he suffered multiple injuries during filming.
“You can’t imagine what it was like to be there,” Pacino said. “The smoke, every day you have to put yourself in a trance. One day we’re shooting, fighting—‘Say hello to my little friend’—I shoot 30 rounds, I get hit, the gun goes down, and I’m supposed to be wounded. I go to pick up the gun, and I put my hand on the barrel. My hand stuck to it, and I had to go to the hospital. I was out for two weeks.”
It turns out that even though Pacino was out of commission, the cameras kept rolling. “I was gone, but they shot the shit out of it. They shot so much while I was away,” he said. “[Steven] Spielberg came down and had a crack at shooting someone. Everyone wanted to do it.”
Before the conversation was over, Pacino imparted the best piece of advice he received from Lee Strasberg, his legendary acting teacher at the Actors Studio. “Do you know what he called acting talent?” Pacino said. “He said, ‘Talent is like a cement block that you walk on on the sidewalk, and there’s a green blade of grass peeking up through the cracks. Ever see that? That’s talent.’”