Al Pacino and Harold Becker Talk About Sea of Love

I went to Sea of Love and Malice just to see director Harold Becker, and see the films on 35mm. Al Pacino made a surprise appearance, so the Q&A mainly became about Sea of Love.

Sea of Love stars Pacino as NYPD Det. Frank Keller. When two men who placed personal ads are found murdered, Keller and Det. Sherman (John Goodman) place their own personal ad to collect fingerprints of potential suspects. Keller begins an affair with Helen Cruger (Ellen Barkin’s starmaking role) but is he sleeping with the killer?

The conversation with Becker and Pacino is below. Spoiler alert for Sea of Love, because the audience had just watched the film.

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Q: How do you bring the subtext to the character drama?

HB: In this movie, Al and I realized as we were doing it, it’s a love story. If it just followed through as a crime movie, I don’t think it would have had an emotional impact. So we understood that from the beginning. And the chemistry between Ellen and Al was just incredible, so alive.

AP: I think Richard Price had a lot of that in his novel.

HB: Al and I worked on it. We would shoot during the day and meet in a motel room at night and work on the script.

AP: Yes, and then we did the thing that I think is classic in movies that you do. If I can just impart that, when the actors feel like they know who they are in the film, what they’re doing and feel connected to it, it’s not the worst idea to have them improvise and tape record it. Several improvisations, Harold would read the transcripts and from the transcripts we wrote a scene. It was very effective. You can’t write a whole film like that but I did that one other time in a film called Dog Day Afternoon. The scene with Chris Sarandon, who played the guy who was going to change, we did several improvisations. Out of that came the phone call in the film. Sometimes when you’re trying to find your way through something, as we were a couple of times in Sea of Love, trying to figure out how we get to the next hurdle through this transition, that’s what we did.

HB: All of them knew their characters. They became the authors of the characters. It’s not acting. It’s being. It all started with Al. He set such a high standard, everyone rises to meet it.

Q: But you have to create that atmosphere so they feel comfortable.

AP: He takes over and you know you’re in the hands of someone who really understands film in that way too. He sort of exudes that security. You know you’re a real filmmaker. Once you know that, this kind of confidence that comes from it, the actors have because you know things. You see that it’ll be taken care of. If you don’t have it, it’s like anonymity. It’s great. You don’t know you have it until you lose it.

Q: Talk about the final fight with Michael Rooker.

AP: For one thing, it was a preview and it was one kind of scene. The audience told us in the preview it’s not real enough. The guy just jumped out the window at one point, committed suicide.

HB: In an original way, rather than have a fight that you win, Rooker’s character, when he realizes you had the drop on him, we had a rather interesting situations. What do you do? A guy won’t listen to you. The guy’s basically saying, “Hear me.” Frank is trying to stop him and he just goes out the window. So they preview it. We had the audience up to that moment. Then the air came out. We went back and we shot it all over and gave them what they wanted.

Q: How did you feel watching yourself 30 years later?

AP: I guess I don’t – I haven’t seen this film in many a year. I had to have seen it on the big screen. I saw it on the big screen once but wow, seeing it on a big screen, I recommend it. When you see the movie, on 35mm and to see it on the big screen, wow.

WLE: I have a question about Malice. Today, when Aaron Sorkin shoots the actors have to stick exactly to his script. Was that the case when he wrote the script for Malice?

HB: I don’t follow the question.

AP: He’s saying that Sorkin now is an acclaimed writer/director and everybody has to follow to the letter his words and his direction. I think.

WLE: Yes, that’s my question. Thank you.

AP: I don’t know about Aaron except that I like him and I’d like to work with him. I like him as a person so finding this out, I’m not going to work with him. [Laughs] Sorkin, was he that way on Malice?

HB: No, Sorkin on Malice isn’t Sorkin today.

Q: What do you love the most and the least about being an actor?

AP: I love this the most. There’s very little I really like about acting. I have to say, I know I have a reputation of really liking acting, but I’m not nuts about it.

Q: Talk about working together again on City Hall. How did that come about? Was it great working together again?

HB: It was great working together again. It was such a New York movie. It’s about politics. It’s about the nuances. We had a great writer, Bo Goldman. Al had worked with him as well, afterwards.

AP: He wrote Scent of a Woman. How many people here saw City Hall? Less than half. Come on, already.

Q: What is your favorite film that you’ve made?

AP: That I made? Well, I made a film called Looking for Richard so I’m a little prejudiced. I would say I liked Looking for Richard but I enjoyed making Looking for Richard. I really enjoyed all the aspects of film for a couple of reasons. One is that I realized that I was right, that directors are really nuts. Because you can go on and never stop. It was five in the morning, actors were falling all around me but I was directing. I knew that, I also found out in the movie that I’m not a real director. This is a real director. To see really great directors and to work with them, there is a difference but as far as movies go, I had fun on a couple of ‘em. Mostly they’re tough to do. They always were, even as a youngster. I love the approach to the movie, I love the working, trying to figure it out. I don’t know if I love it anymore as much. I wonder. I feel like I’m kind of revealing something. Am I at an AA meeting or something? Things change is all I’m saying. Maybe next week or next month I’ll like it again.

HB: I’ll only add to that, when he gets the right horse, he’ll get on.

AP: He’s right.

Q: When will we see another Harold Becker film?

HB: There’s a couple of things we’re trying.

AP: The difficult thing is five weeks to make a movie. That’s a tough one.

Q: Sea of Love made me miss a Hollywood movie for adults. I hope that comes back.

AP: You feel like you’re watching three dimensions without the glasses.

Q: It still feels like a scrappy independent film made in New York City.

AP: We should give Marty Bregman credit. I made five movies with him. He was a dear friend.

Written by
Fred Topel also known as Franchise Fred has been an entertainment journalist since 1999 and specializes in writing about film, television and video games. Fred has written for several outlets including About.com, CraveOnline, and Rotten Tomatoes among others. His favorite films include Toy Story 2, The Rock, Face/Off, True Lies, Labyrinth, The Big Hit, Michael Moore's The Big One, and Casablanca. We are very lucky and excited to have Fred as part of the We Live Entertainment team. Follow him on Twitter @FranchiseFred and @FredTopel

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