If someone were to ask about the “biggest” screen star ever to grace our leafy Beach streets, I would put my money on Cass Ole, the race horse who galloped down Kenilworth Avenue to Queen Street in 1979’s The Black Stallion. Horse play aside, I’d bet on Al Pacino in the 1989 thriller Sea of Love.
On Sept. 3 this year Pacino was honoured at the 3rd annual TIFF Charity Gala. The acting legend mentioned how much he loved Toronto when he worked here on The Recruit (2003) and Sea of Love, which is such a New York City movie you would never know that all of the interior scenes were filmed here.
Sea of Love was a big hit and marked a rebirth for Al Pacino after four years away from the screen. He plays Frank Keller, a divorced alcoholic police detective on the trail of a serial killer. The actor saw himself in the role: “Sea of Love was about a guy going through a crisis … I’m kind of lucky to go out there and play a character who mirrors what I’m feeling at the time.”
According to Sea of Love director Harold Becker, “Al’s more than a great actor. He’s the human condition walking around. Al doesn’t play a character, he becomes the character. When he’s sitting in a restaurant eating for a scene, he’s not acting, he’s eating.”
Sea of Love was a long film shoot with eight weeks in Toronto locations which had to be matched up with Manhattan exteriors. A police sting “Meet the Yankees” breakfast cuts from outside a New York ballroom to inside the Masonic Temple on Yonge Street at Davenport Road. Pacino’s tough detective shows his human side by saying to a suspect who brought his young son along, “Catch you later.”
One hot scene with Ellen Barkin was shot at a supermarket somewhere along Queen Street. There was also filming on Balsam Road, a quiet cul-de-sac backing onto Glen Stewart Ravine (also used for Lindsay Lohan’s house in Mean Girls). The scene may be one in a backyard patio with trees all around or it could just be a deleted scene.
Two detectives (Pacino and John Goodman) follow a lead out to the suburbs of Kew Gardens, Queens, NY. Acclaimed stage actress and Beach resident Nancy Beatty plays the wife who answers the door. You may recognize Beatty from her many great stage performances over the years as well as countless television and movie appearances. A prominent member of the Toronto theatre community, Beatty is one of those actors who is always believable in her roles no matter how big or small.
Sea of Love captures the dark side of a man and a city in crisis. In the 1980s New York City could be a dangerous place at night, but like Pacino the Big Apple has made a comeback, though strolling on Manhattan streets has always been a full-contact sport. In one scene Pacino and Barkin are walking down Fifth Avenue when Pacino is bumped hard by a stranger, not an extra. Being the pro that he is, the actor never misses a beat and carries on with the conversation.
Alfredo James Pacino has come a long way from the mean streets of the South Bronx where he grew up wanting to be a baseball player. (One joker in Sea of Love asks if he’s a “shortstop.”) At age 74 Pacino may be too old for a Sea-quel here in Toronto, but watch out for Robert DeNiro in town later this month as a gangster in Idol’s Eye.
One scene in Sea of Love will elicit a smile from fans of The Godfather (where Pacino plays Michael Corleone who shoots a corrupt police captain in a New York restaurant):
Detective Keller (Pacino): “What’s with the back-up? What’s with the wire? What’s she gonna do? Confess? Shoot me? We’re in a restaurant!”