Take of the Devil
Pacino plays Satan but Keanu is the one who's devilishly good-looking.
Marianne Gray spoke to them about one hell of a new movie
One of cinema's greatest and most over-used themes is the eternal struggle between temptation and surrender, good and evil. But few films have tackled the subject with quite such a loaded cast as Devil's Advocate: Al Pacino stars as the Devil with Keanu Reeves as the advocate who is invited to enter an underworld of earthly pleasures.
Reeves plays Lomax, a smart Southern lawyer with a tongue of gold, given an offer he can't refuse by John Milton (Pacino) the Mephistophelean head of a New York law firm. Ignoring objections from his fundamentalist mother that the Big Apple is the world's nexus of sin, Lomax heads for the dazzling north, a lifestyle of the gods and a pact with Satan.
"I read the script, based on the novel by Andrew Neiderman, and liked it a lot," says Reeves, in his quiet, polite, understated way "It's a metaphor for all the stuff that happens in life. An allegory or morality play, if you like.
"The script had been kicking around Hollywood in some form or another for about eight years, although the story has been around longer than Hollywood!" Reeves says. "The whole aspect of this script is beyond Hollywood, where they say people sell their souls to the Devil. But okay, this is a big Hollywood film wagging a finger about the seductions of wealth and power."
In Taylor Hackford's $57 million movie, his stellar leads are supported by South African starlet Charlize Theron as Lomax's sassy young wife. The actress made her debut in 2 Days In The Valley, and has since had roles in That Thing You Do! and Trial & Error. And there's also strong support from Hollywood stalwarts Jeffrey Jones and Craig T Nelson, familiar character actors from films such as The Crucible, Beetlejuice, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Poltergeist and Ghosts Of Mississippi.
Reeves has a clear sense of his own character's role in the film: "He doesn't acknowledge the things in life that he can't control. He's an ambitious man, a moral man, but he wants personal and material gain. He has come from poverty, now he's an attorney who has never lost a case and he always thinks he has the answers. Which he normally does have until he sells out to Manhattan's temptations. Think of Rosemary's Baby and Wall Street and Bonfire Of The Vanities and you have the feeling."
Reeves found his role made him question his beliefs: "I think I believe in the Devil but not in one sole devil. I think there are many. The Devil is inside you, not outside you. And that's what is different about this tale - the Devil doesn't make a deal. Lomax is an ambitious man - he wants things, he wants to win, he wants to know that no one can beat him. He just doesn't quite realise that his soul is on the brink."
A lifelong fan of Al Pacino's work, Reeves was initially nervous about working with his co-star. "When I found out that Mr Pacino had accepted the part, my blood started to tickle," he says. "Early on in the picture, especially in the mornings, there were moments where I felt I was letting him down, but after a while I think we were good together.
"The big thing I learned from him is to fight. He fights to be free. He is such a free actor, he doesn't edit or censure himself."
As John Milton, Pacino says the challenge was to make his character a Devil that could exist in the Nineties.
"The character of Milton blossomed with every new idea Taylor or I brought to the table," he says. "It was interesting to play someone that had been around this long and was still around. I like the idea of a character who is able to say 'What was your favourite century?' and mean it. I feel I've been around for a while myself. I could speak for the 20th century, sure."
Pacino says he hesitated before accepting the part: "I thought of all the other actors, like Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, who have played the Devil and, y'know, it is comforting to know that they are still around. The Devil isn't a huge issue as such for me, but I am a Catholic, and as a Catholic, there is a Devil. I just don't think we have heard it in recent years. It doesn't seem as though the Devil is part of our vocabulary as much as it used to be. But it is definitely there.
Pacino turned to his character's namesake to research the role: "I tried reading a couple of masterpieces, Milton's Paradise Lost and Dante's Inferno. I immersed myself in what would be relevant. We found out a way to see how many times Shakespeare mentions the word 'devil' in his plays and in what context.
"That's what I like, I think, almost as much as acting, to be able to research," says the man seen by many as the finest screen actor of his generation. "It's a kind of adventure, finding things out you didn't know before, a form of knowledge collecting. I'd never read Paradise Lost. I never thought I would. I'm grateful to this film for that alone."