Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Facing My Idol [or My Brush With Al Pacino]

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In high school I was obsessed with Al Pacino. I don't know what came over me, but I was a half Italian-American, living in Staten Island, New York who had never seen the Godfather films until I was a teenager (it was unheard of!). Once I did there was no looking back.

Michael Corleone was such a fascinating character. As I delved further into Mr. Pacino's work and the nineties marched on, I found myself surrounded by characters who were larger than life, boisterous and engaging. I cheered, screamed and danced in front of TV screen when he finally won an Oscar in 1992. By the time I entered college I owned every single Al Pacino movie on video and my walls were plastered with his movie's posters. In 1996 when I saw Looking for Richard in an Indie theater in Manhattan, Al Pacino shifted from an actor I admired to a full-on genius and personal idol.

As luck would have it, in that same year, Al Pacino was starring in and directing Hughie, a two character play right on Broadway. I got third row tickets and made my plans.


I was going to meet my idol.


As the day grew nearer, I got more and more excited about the great meeting. I needed Al to understand how much I had loved Looking for Richard. I wanted him to understand that, unlike everyone else who would be clamoring for his attention at the stage doors, I was there to say, "Thank you," for shining such a beautiful light on the Shakespearean work, Richard III. I was not just trying to snap a pic of Michael Corleone, in the flesh. I needed him to know I not only saw his labor of love Looking for Richard, but that I also understood it.


The question remained - how could I convey this if only given a second of his time amidst a throng of fans?

And then it came to me. It was so simple, so easy. Two things, given the time, given the moment, would be all I would need to convey my message. First, I would ask for an autograph, not on one of my movies, posters or pictures, but, instead, on my copy of Richard III. Then, if I could speak to him I would boldly say, "A kiss, a kiss - my kingdom for a kiss!" echoing the sentiments of Richard when he utters, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" - for I felt a kiss from Al Pacino would be as valuable to me as a horse would have been to Richard.

That was the plan. I told everyone and we all agreed it was brilliant.

On October 25, 1996, at 8pm the show began and I watched, in awe, as Al Pacino took the stage mere feet in front of me. After the show I went out to the stage doors along with what felt like the entire population of midtown Manhattan! In other words, it was very crowded.

When I saw Al Pacino come out the stage door, I reached over the crowd and snapped some pictures, then handed the camera back to someone I was with and started to lean into the crowd while on my tippy-toes. Al was great - he was smiling, stopping for pictures, signing everything that was thrust toward him and feigning shock and surprise every time someone gave him some roses. As I watched his excitement over every Godfather, Scarface and Carlito's Way artifact thrown his way, I began to feel less confident in my glorious plan. It was also becoming clear that I would never be close enough to utter my well-rehearsed line, "A kiss! A kiss! My kingdom for a kiss!" So I just reached my arm through, holding my "New Folger Library" edition of Shakespeare's Richard III.

Finally, at one point, I felt it taken from my hand - I went back up on my tippy toes to look over the crowd to watch him sign. He did so quickly and turned to hand it back to the assistant who was holding all of the items from the crowd when all of a sudden he did a double take. It was written all over his face, "What the hell did I just sign? This isn't mine at all..." The smile he had plastered to his face from the moment he walked out the door was gone. My heart sank. I had made a horrendous mistake! Perhaps he would think it was an enormous disrespect to sign a Shakespearean work!

He turned to his assistant and asked, "Who gave you this?" I thought I was in trouble for sure. I felt like I was being called down to the principal's office. I was completely panicked. The crowd around me parted to allow me to take full credit for whatever it was that was happening. Then Al Pacino saw me and didn't hand the book to his assistant to hand to me, he grabbed my hand, placed my book in it, placed his other hand on top of it, looked in my eyes and, with a much smaller smile than the one he was flashing to the crowd around us all he said, "Thank you."

The signature, in black marker, is difficult to see.
It's coming off the side of Richard's head.
It was in that moment I confirmed what I had always known - I am not cut out for theater, for I could not remember my line! All I could say back, in a mousey squeak, but with a smile that could probably outshine Time Square herself was, "Thank you." He shook my hand once more.

And it was over. Al grabbed another artifact to sign, the crowd closed in around me - this time with lots of questions, What was that? or Did he write that book? or Is that him on the cover? or Wow! You're so lucky!

There was no picture of the moment. This was long before the age of the digital camera and when we still had a limited amount of pictures that could be taken on any one outing. My family and friends tried to catch a shot, but the crowd was too deep and before digital, you didn't just snap like crazy in hopes of catching a shot (not unless you were a professional photographer)! 

When I got back to my family and friends waiting for me, all I could think and say was, "I didn't say it..." I was so disappointed in myself. However, they were all just as awestruck as the crowd around me. They had seen what had happened and then someone said exactly what I needed to hear at that moment, "Are you kidding me, Nicole? Who cares that you didn't say your line! Tonight, when Al Pacino is going home in his limo, he is going to be thinking about the girl who brought him a Shakespeare book to sign! He might even tell his friends about you!"

I laughed, but saw the truth in it. Al Pacino, after all, is just a person, too. He might have been my idol, but that day I realized how normal  he was, which made him even more awesome.

It is hard for me, these days, to think about meeting my idol and how I would react or what I would do. As I get older and have more and more life experiences myself, it is difficult for me to place anyone on such a plane of greatness that I could not see them, at their cores, as a fellow human being with whom I could just communicate given a topic of mutual interest. For people I admire, it seems that finding such a topic would be even easier than someone who would otherwise be deemed "ordinary," but is someone unknown to me. In addition, growing up here in New York has given me plenty of opportunities to star-gaze, to see those ├╝ber-famous people all over the city doing this and that and recognizing that while they may have a famous face and have different talents than I do which bring them notoriety, at our cores, we are similar.

This is not to say that I don't still squee after a brush with greatness. I'm not implying that I don't work my butt off for a great pic, if possible. And more than anything, this is not to say that I don't come off sounding/looking/acting like a complete idiot from time to time. I give you the 2010 New York Comic Con as a perfect example. I hadn't realized when I went (I was crazy sick and had done no pre-planning whatsoever) that James Marsters was going to be there, was giving a talk and then was giving autographs. I went to his talk, where I stood for an hour, then stood on line to get an autograph. I had something to ask him (I don't remember what), but when it came my turn, he had some canned line that he had been giving to each person on the line. I can't blame him, you have to do something to get through the day, right? But that was not ordinary human talk, it was fake-flirty meaningless talk, so, in vapid response, I giggled. I was one faceless female in thousands of people he had seen that day.
I know he played a vampire for years, but I have a feeling, if I had my wits about me that day,
I could have earned something a little less tongue-in-cheek than this from Mr. Marsters! :)

So, to answer the What if question that inspired this entire post, What if you came face to face with your idol? my answer is simple: I would hope to make an impression. It does not have to be a permanent one - I understand from my years in the pseudo-celebrity status of a high school teacher in a large public high school how difficult that could be when faced with so many different people edging to do so. However, a small impression like the one I had on Al Pacino, who I truly do believe reflected back on the night of October 25, 1996 and thought it was really nice that some twenty years old girl asked him to sign her copy of Richard III, is more than any one girl can ask for.






This post was written in response to What if #12: What if you came face to face with your idol? Link up, share your response and check in to Rivera Runs Through It Every Tuesday to see what the new "What if" question is! Or check in to the list of What If Prompts from the past to see which one you'd like to participate in!



 


What are your tales of glory and failure when it comes to meeting your idols?
How would you prepare yourself for meeting your idol?
Who is your current idol?

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