Desperately Seeking Pacino
Eric Rivas, aspiring actor, was born in Brooklyn and when I meet him Im at Joe Allen, a friendly Broadway bar and restaurant where nervous Hollywood actors are known to knock back a whiskey and soda before a Broadway debut. Im soliciting an opinion on fame from the bartender, George, himself an aspiring actor, when Mr. Rivas leans over and says. Being famous means youre more than everybody else.
In New York, Conversation Interruptus is a common disease among the people. There is always someone trying to aggressively insert themselves into your life. But Mr. Rivass words come down with such an authority it begs further exploration. Wait until you find out what he is doing at Joe Allen.
We talk for a moment before awkwardly backing up and introducing ourselves. You cant cross the street in Manhattan without passing an entire cast of aspiring actors, so the fact that Eric longs to see himself on the silver screen is in keeping with the wish-upon-a-star mentality that draws amateur thespians the world over to the Big City of Dreams. But its the method to this particular actors madness that is intriguing.
Sure, Eric is enrolled in acting school. Lee Strasburg, William Esper. Hes studied privately with John Turturros cousin; hes been to an open call in the dead of winter for Francis Ford Coppola. Erics tossed a football with John Cusack. He caught an airport-bound Robert De Niro and invited him across the street to a TriBeCa bar for a game of pool. De Niro declined but, undeterred, ever-ready, Eric flashed Bobby D. his card and said, If you ever need someone to play your son, please call me. De Niro stopped packing the trunk of his limo and watched Eric cross the street, regarding him, waving tentatively when Eric stopped and waved before disappearing back into the bar. And while Eric admits that lightning can strike anywhere, he looks for his break to come from only one placeAl Pacino.
Eric admits his initial curiosity about Pacino stemmed from the comparison. But Eric was quickly inspired by the actor, and has felt a calling ever since. Pacino is a God. Hes portrayed the human character in full. From hate to soft vulnerability. From jealousy to a man in power. You move people in that way and you become their God, he says, lecturing like Tony Montaña giving instructions to his men.
Fate can sometimes be a cold hand, dealing from a different deck for different people. Some people get more cards than others, is the way Eric sees it. Not only does he look like a famous actor, his life has intertwined with this famous actor, sometimes cosmically and sometimes coincidentally but always, always leaving Eric with the feeling that Al Pacino is his guardian angel, come down from Mt. Thespus to help guide Erics career.
When Eric was playing football with John Cusack, it was because hed wandered on to the set of City Hall. Credit hours and hours of dreaming of becoming famous for the fact that no one on the set asked Eric who he was, or what he was doing there. The famous have their own body language and apparently Eric has mastered it. Cusack waved Eric deepout of Cusacks range, as it turns outand near Pacinos trailer just as Pacino walked out. Eric coolly introduced himself and the two shook hands like peers before Pacino moved swiftly on.
Another time Eric wandered on to the set of Donnie Brasco. He turned the corner and bumped into Pacino and Johnny Depp, walking side by side down Mulberry Street.
Sure, its New York and you cant turn a street corner without trespassing a movie set. But how can you explain Pacino suddenly standing next to Eric at a newsstand on 57th Street between 8th and 9th? Or Eric winning tickets to Hughie, a Broadway play starringyou guessed itSaint Al?
And you might be surprised at how amenable a celebrity is to your unwelcome, unbidden intrusion into their private life. The approach would, I imagine, have to be a smidgen subtler than the fan who beat Eric to Pacino behind the theater. Yo, you should do Scarface 2 except in this one Al Pacino dies and his sister takes over! Yo! Yo! As a matter of fact I always wanted to become an actor! But how can a celebrity differentiate between a hopelessly moronic, overzealous fan and a true sociopath? Celebrities must train themselves, either formally or informally, in the art of personal security and know how to quickly distance themselves from a dangerous situation. But because they are just people, theyll probably give you the benefit of a few minutes of their time (at least until they see a wild flash in your eye, or a tattered copy of The Catcher in the Rye in your back pocket).
The Scarface fan receded into the night, off to tell his friends a story they probably wont believe, and Eric politely stepped up next to Pacino. Hi, Mr. Pacino? My name is Eric Rivas. I work in the movie theater right there.
Nice to meet you, Pacino flashed him that warm, almond-eyed moviestar smile.
I was with a girl yesterday who told me I looked like you, Eric said.
Oh, I could see that, Pacino said. He started to move up the street.
The black tape passed from Erics hand to Pacinos hand to the hand of someone suddenly standing next to Pacino. Youll have to give me a month, Pacino said. He waved goodbye.
Eric scans Joe Allen as he recounts the story, trying to bionically peer through the glass and wood partition separating the dining section from the bar. Eric has learned that Pacino eats at Joe Allen every Monday night. And its been exactly a month.Celebrity hunting is a cottage industry in Southern California. The ratio of famous to unfamous is high, and the concentration of famous people in and around Los Angeles guarantees the run on Maps to the Stars Homes will last well into the next millennium. What strikes you about the homes on the maps (the veracity of which is always dubious) is that many are without gates or imposing stone walls. Beverly Hills is apparently one of those places where celebrities move about comfortably, where they feel safe to live as normal a life as they can without having to protect themselves from the likes of you and me.
This night Eric has left his acting hat at home and we hit the streets as fans, as celebrity spotters. Eric frequents the celebrity hot spots in Manhattan, the dark bars and restaurants where the famous can have a drink or enjoy a meal in relative anonymityMoomba, Lot 61, Bowery Bar & Grill, Veruka. Our first stop is 147 and in the cab to Chelsea Eric relates his latest celebrity run-in. The documentary film company Eric works for sent him over to Tim Robbins film company with a delivery. Expecting a secretary or another struggling actor to answer his knock, Eric was floored when Tim Robbins himself opened the door, casually signing for the delivery. To Eric, thats the unremarkable part of the story. Remarkably, Eric saw Tim Robbins two days later in a coffee shop and, of course, Eric went up and introduced himself.
He remembered me, Eric says. He had that look of recognition when I shook his hand.
After worrying incessantly all afternoon about dress codes and secret passwords, Im amazed that the doorman at 147 lets us in without asking us a single question. You just have to act like you belong here, Eric tells me. The coatcheck is in the unheated antechamber and, unencumbered of our jackets, we make our entrance like a prom couple. The long, narrow, fairly well-lit room is packed with high-fashion bodies. People look up mid-conversation and, seeing no one they recognize, continue talking to whomever is listening to them between distractions.
We saunter with our drinks up the handicap-type ramp that leads to the curtained-off back room, the restaurant. All the white skin and black clothes creates an oddly disorienting chiaroscuro and we lean against the rail, scanning the tables for a famous face.
It isnt long before were forced from our lookout by a waiter who tells us were standing in a service area. He invites us to go to the lounge, which is down a steep staircase lit by a flickering candle on each step. The lounge feels like a celebrity hangout. Plush couches are positioned around elegant wood tables. The brick walls have been painted white and you can barely make out the DJ in the corner, spinning the music coming over the speakers at a tolerable level.
Eric sinks into a couch and spreads his arms, aping Michael Corleone from The Godfather. He lights a cigarette and his head jerks back when he exhales. He flicks his ash with a quick flutter, raising the cigarette to his lips. Even though the bar is a mere few feet from our couch, a very attractive waitress in a low-cut burgundy lace top leans over our couch, touching me on the shoulder as I tell her our order. I notice the waitress uses the same method with all the men in the lounge. Two beers and an hour later, Eric and I have a hard time leaving the glove-like comfort of the lounge at 147 where, even though we didnt spot any celebrities, we got treated like one.
In the cab down to SoHo we discuss the probability of gaining entrance to our next destination, Spy, and it turns out their door policy isnt so friendly. While the two women in front of us have relatively no problem getting inone of the girls ID is from Italy and theres some discussion about it among the doorman, who are well-dressed and handsome, but Id be surprised if they could point Italy out on a map.
The velvet rope separating the doormen from the rest of us retracts and the women disappear into the bar.
You gentlemen on the guest list? one of the doorman asks, looking us over.
We admit that we arent.
Its a private party tonight, the doorman says and turns away from us.
It looks like we are going to have the same problem at Balthazar, a hip bar up the street from Spy. The doorman asks us if we have reservations. Eric pulls the guy aside, saying something to the doorman in a low voice. The doorman rolls his eyes but miraculously opens the door for us.
What did you tell him? I ask.
I told him I was Pacinos son and that my father was meeting me here in a half an hour, Eric says, smiling.
And he believed you?
No, Eric says, shaking his head. But what choice does he have? If I am telling the truth, and he doesnt let me in, whats he going to do when Pacino shows up and finds his son shivering on the sidewalk? That guy would lose his job for sure and it isnt worth it to him. Erics reasoning is sound and we both recognize the frightening presumption his theory is based on, that celebrities are so powerful they can dictate employee policy at a restaurant they may or may not choose to patronize.
Balthazar is a too-bright European-style restaurant where the clientele, again mostly white and dressed in black, are crammed in at tables so close you must be able to hear the person next to you breathing. The room is a perfect square and the ceiling is high. A person of questionable employ offers to take our jackets and we let him. We pay eight dollars for a flute of champagne and pace the room.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spot the evenings first celebrity. I nudge Eric and we casually saunter toward a small table in the corner. All we can see is the back of this gentlemans smooth, shaved head. Eric and I angle around and pretend to admire a cluster of wine bottles on display in a wood cabinet. We both furtively glance over at the table and, much to my surprise, it isnt the comedian Don Rickles but instead a very gracious, older man who might be celebrating his fiftieth wedding anniversary.
Theres talk of going uptown to a few places, or maybe to Hogs and Heifers where Julia Roberts was photographed dancing on the bar with one of the waitresses. That reminds me, Eric says, pulling out his wallet. I wanted to show you this. Its a picture of Eric with Mariah Carey. Eric has his arm around Mariahs shoulder as she peeks over a pair of sunglasses at the camera. She comes into my mothers salon, Eric explains. I admire the photo and he carefully places it back into his wallet.
Daddy still comin? the doorman sneers as we leave Balthazar. We ignore him and make our way down the street. Someone has thrown out a life-size cardboard cut-out of James Dean and Eric and I laugh at the one-dimensional celebrity. We discuss whether or not to visit a couple of other spots in the neighborhood that may or may not be celebrity havens. Finally, we decide to call it a night. I wish Eric luck and tell him Ill look for him on the Big Screen. Maybe itll be me and Pacino on the same screen, he says. Wouldnt that be something? I tell him it would.
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