Like everyone else I was an Al Pacino fan. I thought he was a magic actor. Dog Day Afternoon, fantastic. The Godfather, fantastic. Anyway, I was offered a chance to interview him. I think it was for Sea of Love. Not a very good film, but it was nice to get the chance.
To juice myself up for this I had a video of The Godfather and I kept watching that scene when he’s got to shoot Sterling Hayden in the café. He’s never taken a human life before. He’s not really of the mafia, but he’s got to do it. The others take him through it. How it’s got to be: you have the meal, you ask to go to the toilet. They let you go to the toilet. You’ve got no gun, you go into the toilet and the gun will be strapped to the cistern. It’s a noisy weapon, a .38 or something. We want a big bang so people run away. You come straight out and shoot.
Al goes into the toilet and there’s this great scene with just him. You can see in his face his fear, it’s written all over his boat race. He’s twitching, staring, he’s terrified. Anyway, he goes in and he kills them. I watched it until I knew every move of his face.
The interview was going to be the Hyde Park Hotel at midday. That was in two days’ or a day’s time. I’d done all my homework and I came home and we’d been burgled. We lived in Brixton and they stole quite a lot of stuff, including the Colt 45 from my father who was a cop, CID in London. I wasn’t going to kill anyone, but I knew it was illegal.
It came from a situation that wasn’t illegal – my grandfather had it in Ireland as a cop. My dad never really used it. He fired it once in 1945 when the war ended. Another time he used it to shoot his income tax forms. He liked guns. I did too. Dad nailed his tax returns to a rowan tree and we stood back about 20 foot and blazed away. We shot them to bits. Anyway, I had the Colt 45 and a hundred rounds.
The rounds were what are called rimfire. If they’re jostled together they go off. They’re 1940s or something. Anyway, they’d stolen the .45, but they hadn’t found the ammo. I wasn’t keen on the fact that there was a gun out there, especially in Brixton, even if it was an antiquated weapon. I thought, ‘Oh, Christ, we’ve got to have the police round. Don’t anyone mention the gun.’ I thought I better get the bullets out of the house. I took two polythene bags and I put fifty rounds in each. I put on my big trenchcoat and I put the bags in each of the side pockets. I was dragging that mackintosh around. I went off to Time Out and I thought I’ll ditch these bullets en route. I’ll throw them over the bridge into the water. The thing is, there are always people there. I passed a builder’s skip and thought about putting them in there, but I thought if they’re jostled they’ll go off, so I couldn’t leave them.
I walked through St James’ Park, remembering the duck pond, but of course there’s always people walking round the bloody pond. I arrived at the hotel. There’d been an IRA bomb scare and they were frisking people. This was where I had to go in to talk to Al Pacino. I had a rain hat on and I pushed the front up like Humphrey Bogart does in The Big Sleep, and pretended to be a tourist and walked in brandishing a map and went straight through security. Chutzpah!
I get in the lift and I get up to Al Pacino’s floor and there’s this big guy in front of his room, some kind of bodyguard. He didn’t frisk me or anything, so I was sent into the room. I thought I mustn’t take my mac off. I guess I thought the bullets would spill out of my pockets or something.
Al came in, all dressed in black, very short, as we know – totally nice, totally pleasant. He’s whispering, ‘Brian, why don’t you take off your coat?’ I said, ‘I’ll keep it on, Al, if that’s OK.’ He kept looking at my face. Christ, he’s instinctive. My face was in the same state his face had been in when he played that scene. Twitchy man, twitch city. He kept asking, ‘Are you sure you’re OK, Brian?’ Looking at me, trying to see my secret. I got through the interview. We went all the way round the houses, he never says much. It was OK, I got out of there. Fucking hell.
When I got home, the police had been round looking for dabs. I told my wife Sonia all about it. I said, ‘We’ve got to chuck these in the Thames, but we’ve got to find the right bit.’ We went to Greenwich, where there’s a little park. There were three or four pensioners sitting on benches, it was early in the morning. By now, I’d put the bullets in two old paint cans. Full of pink or some shit colour. Sonia said, ‘I’ll create a diversion with the girls.’ So she was dancing around, and I chucked them into the Thames. Thank fuck.
Days later, when I was transcribing the tape with Al, I finally found something to laugh at. We had a misunderstanding. He’d been talking about the armed services and I said that in the fifties I had been in the Mob. Al’s eyes had grown wide with wonder. “You were in the Mob?” I nodded. “Why were you in the Mob?” “I had to join,” I told him. “Who said?” “The government,” I replied “and I guess ultimately the Queen.”
Al seemed baffled.
On the Snap is available now in hardback from Caught by the River.
Illustrations by Joe Ciardiello.