Next week he will turn 70 years old. The day before his birthday, he'll star in an HBO movie playing Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the crusader for assisted suicide. It's one of Pacino's meatiest roles in years. Though he has made a living in front of the camera, he's notoriously private.
But at this point in his life and career, with a new movie he's proud of, he decided now was a good time to talk about himself and his most important roles, including the one that made Al Pacino - Michael Corleone in "The Godfather."
"When you were on the set of that movie, did you realize this is going to be more than a movie? It is going to be a classic. Did you have any conception of that?" "60 Minutes" correspondent Katie Couric asked Pacino.
"No. Just get me through the day," he replied, shaking his head.
Asked if he was that miserable, he told Couric, "Oh, I mean, with Diane, and I'll never forget it. We did a scene there, at the table…at the wedding, and we went home that night, just got drunk, and we just said this movie's going to die."
Not only did Pacino think the movie was going to bomb, he never expected to get the part playing opposite Diane Keaton.
A successful stage actor, he was virtually unknown in Hollywood when director Francis Ford Coppola picked him to play the pivotal role in the movie.
"Nobody wanted you in the role but him," Couric remarked.
"He was the only one," Pacino recalled.
Pacino says executives at Paramount were adamantly against casting him, and even dismissed him as a little runt.
Only after being made to audition four times did the studio reluctantly give him the part. But Pacino didn't feel secure in the role and worried he might be dropped even after filming began.
"And even Francis started to lose it a little bit because I wasn't producing what they expected at that time. And I kept thinking, 'Well, it's gonna come later,' you know," he recalled.
"Because you wanted to show how Michael evolved, how he became…one of them," Couric remarked.
"I had this in my head, I worked on it for a long time before we went to shoot, for months, I mean, I just focused on that character," he replied.
"But what happened was, they got to do the Sollozzo scene, where Michael shoots Sollozzo…they kept me after that," Pacino explained.
Asked what he thinks the studio execs saw in that scene, Pacino said, laughing, "Well, I shot somebody and it worked."
That scene transformed Michael Corleone from war hero to mobster and launched Pacino's career.
His movie career spans four decades - 42 films and eight Oscar nominations.
His performances are often defined by volcanic moments, so much so that some of his directors wonder where his intensity comes from.
"Sidney Lumet once said of you, 'Everything stems from some incredible core inside of him, that I wouldn't think of trying to get near because it would be like getting somewhere near the center of the Earth,'" Couric quoted.
Pacino reaction to that statement? "Whoa!"
"But where does sort of the explosive nature of your performance, where does that come from?" Couric asked.
"We all got that in us. I see it every day. I see it in babies, I see it in animals, I see it in people all the time," Pacino replied.
He was talking about rage. "It's right there in everybody. It's just that actors access these things."