Reeves, Pacino Cut Deal With the 'Devil'
by Jill Bernstein
SENATOR Alfonse D'Amato has just strolled into an estate in Old Westbury, Long Island, where director Taylor Hackford is shooting scenes for Devil's Advocate. The senator will be making his film debut as himself (along with such other Manhattan hotshots as realtor Lew Rudin and entertainment lawyer Al Grubman) at what has been designed to resemble a plush Fifth Avenue cocktail party. And how does this scene fit into the movie, which stars Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino as attorneys struggling with moral dilemmas far greater than how much to charge per hour? " I haven't read the script," D'Amato admits. "They asked me if I wanted to participate. Al Pacino is one of the great actors of out time." When he sees the finished film, D'Amato may be in for a surprise: Devil's Advocate is more Rosemary's Baby than it is City Hall. In what Hackford (Dolores Claiborne) calls "an inner Faustian journey," prosecutor Kevin Lomax (Reeves) is lured out of Florida with his eager wife (Charlize Theron) to become a defense attorney in the Big Apple. But his firm is full of mysterious lawyers, led by senior partner John Milton (Pacino), who tempt and provoke the newcomer, already uneasy about representing criminals. "The problem," says a slim, clean-shaven Reeves, using his character's Southern accent, "is that [Lomax] is a bit of a Superman, a bit of a rock star in court."
The script had been kicking around Hollywood for a decade (Joel Schumacher was once set to direct Brad Pitt in it), and even after Hackford took the reins, Pacino turned it down four or five times. Only when the director's Dolores Claiborne colleague Tony Gilroy overhauled it completely, eliminating most of the overtly supernatural elements, did Pacino agree to play what he has called an "aging hipster plutocrat" - albeit one with a hint of demon red in his hair. To develop the Milton character, Hackford and Gilrov consulted Paradise Lost and Nietzsche. Reeves's research involved dialect tapes, voice and movement training to promote courtroom finesse, and meetings with top attorneys. Devil's Advocate is the first film Reeves has taken since turning down Speed 2; the actor finds the Lomax character "more sophisticated emotionally."
Negative press plagued the early weeks of shooting, when the first and second assistant directors and the cinematographer were dismissed. "There were problems," Hackford admits between takes. "Not from my point of view, not from an artistic point of view. From a studio point of view. And we made a couple of changes, which I think is unfortunate, but one has to go on." And besides, he says, "two weeks into An Officer and a Gentleman, Paramount wanted to fire me."