Pacino plays a clueless Joe Paterno in Penn State biopic

Pacino plays a clueless Joe Paterno in Penn State biopic

Al Pacino has played several prominent-yet-enigmatic men in his TV career: Roy Cohn (“Angels in America”), Jack Kevorkian (“You Don’t Know Jack”) and Phil Spector (“Phil Spector”).

But Penn State coach Joe Paterno, Pacino’s latest real-life subject, may be the most inscrutable.

“Paterno” is the story of how the “winningest” coach (409 games) in college football history fell from grace as a result of the 2011 Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. Nicknamed “JoePa” by the devoted Penn State student body, Paterno worked long past retirement age because of his skill on the field.

That was all swept aside when the school’s Board of Trustees determined that Paterno concealed information pertaining to Sandusky’s abuse of young boys. Even though he announced his retirement at the end of the 2011 season, Paterno was fired that November and died two months later at the age of 85.

“What happened was terrible. It was such a phenomenon that happened and one needed to express it,” says Pacino. “The character interested me, but it’s all about how you put the story together. It was a long process. The [writers] went through various drafts.”

Pacino, 77, was reassured that the project was in good hands when Barry Levinson — his director on “You Don’t Know Jack” — signed on. There was the challenge of playing a real person, but not one Pacino had met or could meet to get a feel for the man. “When I did Roy Cohn, I knew him a little bit. But it was really the great script that Tony Kushner wrote,” Pacino says. “I was going with Barry Levinson, who I really feel connected to when we work. I used that as my guide.”

The Joe Paterno we see in the HBO movie keeps his distance from the firestorm erupting around him, seeking refuge with his wife, Sue (Kathy Baker), and adult children, while various university personnel try to get their stories straight.

“I’ve played coaches before. It’s a very daunting job, overwhelming,” Pacino says. “It was a real focus for Joe. He was a kind of savant who does things with this crazy focus. It’s a way of dealing with things in general. That’s the way he lived.”

What was good for scoring touchdowns had its drawbacks when it came to the world outside the stadium. In one trenchant scene, Paterno finally reads a newspaper account of the extent of Sandusky’s crimes and asks his wife, “What’s sodomy?”

Says Pacino, “This is a guy who graduated from Brown University and he doesn’t know what the word sodomy means?

“There are questions I would ask Joe,” he says. “What did you think when [graduate assistant Mike McQueary] said he had seen Sandusky in the shower with that kid? What went through your mind? He tells his son, ‘Some of the things I didn’t see.’ You have to see it? I think it’s how he thought.”

Despite his approaching 78th birthday, Pacino never stops working. “Acting keeps the home fires burning. I ask myself, ‘Am I really as nuts as that?’ But there’s obviously something going on that I continue doing it,” he says.

Next up in his gallery of infamous Americans is Jimmy Hoffa in Martin Scorsese’s film “The Irishman,” scheduled to be released by Netflix. “He invents as he goes along,” Pacino says of Scorsese. “You know you’re with a great conductor or whatever. You’re going with the flow and he’s going to take you there. You feel that confidence. And Bob De Niro [is in it]. I wish I did every movie with him. He’s so THERE.”

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https://nypost.com/2018/04/05/pacino-plays-a-clueless-joe-paterno-in-penn-state-biopic/

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