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Phil Spector: Al Pacino discusses playing the controversial music producer

Actor Al Pacino will portray music producer Phil Spector in an HBO film. 'Phil Spector' is written and directed by David Mamet.

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Actor Al Pacino (r.) portrays Phil Spector and Helen Mirren (l.) plays his lawyer, Linda Kenney Baden, in the movie 'Phil Spector.'

Reuters

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Much to his surprise, Al Pacino learned that once upon a time he met the legendary music producer Phil Spector, whom he now plays in a new HBO film.

He had no memory of it, "but somebody showed me a picture of me and him on the Internet," Pacino laughs. "It was at some event or party, and we're both looking into the camera, two guys who do not want to be photographed. Since he had mostly worked behind the scenes, I didn't know who he was, and he looked like he didn't know who I was."

That was then, whenever that was. Now, spurring after-the-fact speculation, this forgotten encounter serves Pacino as a fitting first step into the character he captures for "Phil Spector."

Written and directed by David Mamet, this penetrating film explores the preparation for Spector's murder defense: As the story begins in 2007, he stands accused of having forced a pistol into the mouth of a woman — his by-chance date for the night — and pulling the trigger.

The difficulties of the case seem beyond the wherewithal of Spector's original attorney (played by Jeffrey Tambor in a robust supporting performance), who has brought in hotshot lawyer Linda Kenney Baden (the splendid Helen Mirren). She takes over as lead attorney and, as the film unfolds, joins Spector in a verbal pas de deux that teems with Mamet's shrewd dialogue:

"Why do you have so many guns?" she inquires on her first visit to his sprawling castle home near Los Angeles, where the shooting took place.

"I might need one," he replies.

"Why would you need more than one?"

"How many shoes do you have?" he poses. "How many feet?"

Spector is gnomish, unstable and grandiose: "Extraordinary accomplishments," he says, meaning his own, "transform the grateful into an audience – and the envious into a mob."

So he's a problem for his lawyers. He says he didn't kill the girl, but who's going to believe him?

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