Over the course of Al Pacino’s extensive career, there are bound to be roles he regrets passing up. While he did turn down iconic characters like Han Solo in Star Wars and John McClane in Die Hard, there’s one film that he deeply wishes he had accepted.
In 1978, esteemed filmmaker Terrence Malick followed his debut, “Badlands,” with “Days of Heaven,” starring Richard Gere and Sam Shepard. This romantic period drama is set in Texas in 1916, with Gere portraying an opportunistic drifter and Shepard as a reserved, solitary farmer whom he attempts to exploit.
Reflecting on this in a 2015 interview, Al Pacino expressed a fondness for what ultimately became one of the standout movies of the 1970s. He admitted regret over not taking on Gere’s role as Bill, saying, “Terry, a long time ago, asked me to be in a movie, and I always wish, there is another one of my mistakes, there is a museum of mistakes, all the movies I rejected.”
By 1977, Al Pacino had delivered one cinematic masterpiece after another, ranging from “The Godfather” to “Serpico,” “The Godfather Part II,” and “Dog Day Afternoon.” Instead of “Days of Heaven,” he opted for Sydney Pollack’s “Bobby Deerfield,” a film that, while directed by a highly respected filmmaker, didn’t quite achieve the same level of acclaim as some of Pollack’s other works.
It took Terrence Malick two years to edit “Days of Heaven,” and he made significant revisions, incorporating a voiceover that replaced a substantial amount of dialogue. Initially met with a lukewarm critical reception and box office performance, the film has since gained recognition as a cinematic masterpiece over the span of 45 years. Notably, the cinematography by Nestor Almendros and the score by Ennio Morricone are often hailed as particularly exceptional.
The production of “Days of Heaven” left Malick so drained that he relocated to Paris, resulting in an astounding two-decade hiatus before he directed his next film—a powerful war movie, “The Thin Red Line.” From 2011 to 2019, Malick’s output became notably more prolific, with him directing seven films in just eight years.
Al Pacino’s career certainly didn’t suffer from his decision to turn down Malick. He went on to star in some of the most celebrated thriller movies of all time, including “Scarface,” “Carlito’s Way,” “Heat,” and “The Insider.”
While Pacino received the lead actor Oscar in 1993 for the romantic drama “Scent of a Woman,” some argue he never quite reached the same heights as he did in the 1970s. With Pacino now 83 and Malick approaching 80, it would be a welcome development to see the two collaborate before it’s too late.