For director, landing Pacino was something to sing about

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Posted: Mar 20, 2015 12:22 PM
For director, landing Pacino was something to sing about

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — "Danny Collins" casts Al Pacino as a veteran pop star who still fills arenas, has a gaggle of granny-aged groupies and a signature song with a call-and-response element that smacks of "Sweet Caroline."

But Danny Collins is not Neil Diamond.

"I've got a kind of equal-dosage mix of Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, a lot of Tom Jones and a little Barry Manilow — those seem to be the four that people ask about the most," said writer-director Dan Fogelman, whose big-screen dramedy opens this weekend.

"Collins" actually was inspired by something that happened to another musician. Some 45 years ago, English folk singer-songwriter Steve Tilston did a magazine interview acknowledging a fear that wealth and fame may negatively affect his songwriting. That statement inspired John Lennon to dash off a letter to Tilston in 1971.

"Being rich doesn't change your experience in the way you think," Lennon wrote.

Tilston didn't even learn about the letter until 2005, nearly 25 years after Lennon's death, when a collector reached out to confirm authenticity. A 2010 story on Tilston caught Fogelman's attention, but, excepting the part about the Lennon letter — a key plot element of the film — "Danny Collins" isn't Tilston's story either.

Tilston stayed true to his acoustic-folk roots and, as per Fogelman, has enjoyed happy and productive personal and professional lives. Collins sold his soul for stardom, and just may reclaim it in the most unexpected places: the embittered grown son he never knew (Bobby Cannavale) and a harried hotel manager (Annette Bening) who is unimpressed by Collins' star facade, but sees a promise for that man buried underneath it.

Once the 39-year-old Fogelman (a co-writer on Pixar's "Cars" 'toons) got the rights to Tilston's story, he crafted the "Collins" script specifically for Pacino, whom the director idolized growing up in New Jersey. That was a big risk, given Fogelman had no relationship with the Oscar-winning actor.

"When Al signed on to this movie, I was a 34-year-old guy who had never directed a movie before, who was best known for writing cartoon movies about talking cars," Fogelman said. "Honestly, him reading the script alone is a career highlight. And then him doing the movie is a career highlight. So, I'm kind of good."

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