Shinan Govani: Al Pacino's night didn't end at the pre-TIFF gala

Al Pacino.

Hands running through his shock of hair. Man-scarf firmly in place. Thirty-five-year-old Argentinian girlfriend, Lucila Sola, in tow.

Escaping the eye of the storm that is downtown Toronto, as TIFF got wheeling, the Scarface star snuck off to inconspicuous Prince Arthur Avenue, Wednesday. He'd come for a relaxed dinner at Opus restaurant, the stand-by favoured by stars such as Kiefer Sutherland, Rob Lowe and Russell Crowe over the years.

Oh, the stories that man-scarf could tell. Oh, and did it ever. While Pacino was enjoying that late supper, a bash assembled in his honour - at TIFF Lightbox, on King - was just beginning to thin. Held on the roof – where the mussels were piled high and the city twinkled in the distance - it was framed as this year's eve-before-Film Fest gala. The party has followed an intimate, on-stage conversation between the icon and our George Stroumboulopoulos. The guest of honour, never not animated – at several points, he jumped out of his seat to gesticulate a point – did not disappoint, even opening up, emotionally, about his often-absent dad.

“He had five wives,” Pacino shared. “I never did it once,” he added, reaffirming his never-married stance. (A status he shares, in Hollywood, with the likes of Oprah Winfrey... and, indeed, Pacino's own ex-girlfriend, the nada-married Diane Keaton!)

Other things we learned from the 74-year-old whiz? That he actually started off, amazingly, as a comic. That there was a fair bit of resistance from the studio about his casting, way back when, in The Godfather (“are you crazy? that little guy?”). That he thinks actors are “emotional athletes.” That he doesn't particularly dig this culture we're in of looking at movies on our iPhones (“I like the big screen").

The most powerful moment, I thought, was when Strombo asked Pacino if he's been surprised by his becoming such a big star, to which the screen god insouciantly replied, “I always thought I would be. Sorry.” (The biggest stars often feel this, I've noticed. They just know.)

Oh, and did I mention that Pacino came head to head with Robert De Niro, in Toronto, this night? It was a reunion of sorts between him and his Heat co-star, and fellow vaunted legend, when – ahem - Pacino came in the path of a huge mural of De Niro. One that takes up an entire wall in the entrance of the washroom – near where the party was happening inside the Lightbox. Legends in the house.

Inside the winding party, meanwhile – where we spotted Canadian MVPs like Sandra Oh, Don McKellar and Kelly Rowan, among others – the reviews were solid for Pacino's close-and-personal. Thought one partier did lament to me, referring to Pacino's shouty stock-phrase, “He didn't say Hoo-Ah once!”

Meanwhile:


Reese Witherspoon's Wild doesn't premiere here until after the weekend, but be prepared: it's going to be one of the biggest hits of the Fest. I caught the Fox Searchlight production the other day in a pre-screening, and the actress nails it. An adaptation of the best-selling Cheryl Strayed memoir about a woman trekking 1000-plus miles in the American Northwest, the film is directed by Canada's Jean-Marc Vallee, who's succeeded in creating one of the most difficult things to capture on-screen: a movie about living in one's head. I totally fell for it. In its best parts, Wild, I feel, is poetry in motion.

Reese, by the way, was rather pro-active about nabbing this role. After reading the book – in a day – she immediately called the author to secure the rights.

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