Al Pacino isn’t exactly unfamiliar with playing historical figures, so far be it from us or anyone to tell him how to prepare for a role. If the Oscar-winning actor — who was Emmy-nominated for playing Phil Spector and won the award for portraying Roy Cohn — doesn’t need to go to the Penn St. University campus to prepare for his role as disgraced college football coach Joe Paterno, he doesn’t have to.
“I didn’t go,” Pacino said, speaking via satellite during HBO’s TCA presentation Thursday afternoon. “I did see the documentary ‘Happy Valley.’ […] These things really happened, and as an actor, it makes you feel credible. […] You have the real person to digest and sort of channel.”
How fitting it feels to use Amir Bar-Lev’s 2014 film as a basis of information for the upcoming scripted HBO film, “Paterno.” Covering the two-week period between the story of Jerry Sandusky’s sex abuse scandal breaking and Paterno’s termination from Penn St., Barry Levinson’s upcoming movie studies not only what Paterno knew about his defensive coordinator’s misconduct, but how he responded.
“The question isn’t just what he knew, it’s what he did about it,” Pacino said. “I think he knew there were complaints. He knew there were rumors. […] I don’t think he was very fond of Sandusky, for whatever reasons — I think there were other reasons.”
Pacino, who said he thought Paterno was already depressed even before the scandal broke, was quick to point out the coach’s culpability remains unclear.
“He did act upon it,” Paterno said. “He did say he thought someone should look into this. [But] a guy like Paterno — he’s like an emperor, he’s like a king. He didn’t take up with it because it was out of his control. And I think this is a character who’s used to control.”
Sara Ganim, who won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Penn St. scandal, worked as a consultant on the series and was in attendance for the panel. She says the scandal is still being felt in the campus town of Happy Valley.
“[Paterno’s legacy is] still a hotly debated topic,” Ganim said, after being asked about how local Penn St. fans feel about the coach today. “Unfortunately […] it is a gray area for a lot of people. It’s not known one way or another what people knew.”
Levinson said the movie isn’t going to take a stand one way or another.
“I think at the end of the day there will be people who believe [Paterno knew about the abuse] and there will be people who don’t,” Levinson said.
The film marks Pacino’s fourth collaboration with HBO, following “Phil Spector,” “You Don’t Know Jack,” and “Angels in America.” Levinson directed Pacino in “Spector” and executive produced “You Don’t Know Jack.” He’s also coming off the Emmy-nominated HBO film starring Robert De Niro, “The Wizard of Lies,” which examined Bernie Madoff.
“Paterno” is slated to debut in the spring of 2018. Take a look at new photos below.
Al Pacino and Barry Levinson on the set of “Paterno”
Riley Keough in “Paterno”
Kathy Baker and Al Pacino in “Paterno.”