Joe Paterno will be back in the news on April 7 when HBO premieres Paterno, a film starring Al Pacino that centers around the former Penn State coach’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
HBO has already released a trailer of the movie, but fans got more of an idea of what to expect this week when Pacino and Barry Levinson, the film’s director, joined The Ringer’s Bill Simmons on his podcast to discuss the project.
Pacino and Levinson elaborated on different aspects of making the film, including how they tried to understand Paterno’s mindset as the scandal unfolded and he was fired by Penn State.
“You consume it in some way. His state, his finding out about the situation and what he’s going through,” Pacino said. “That’s the kind of denial from it. The kind of emotions he goes through to cope with what he feels is first an unjust accusation and starts thinking, ‘is it?’ “
Simmons asked Levinson what he thought the response would be from the Penn State community, which still features large swaths of fans loyal to Paterno.
“I don’t know [what the reaction] will be. I think we try to present a pretty good look into it all. But look, there are people who have certain opinions and you realize that you’re never going to change someone’s opinion. You can say whatever you want and they’ll go ‘yeah, but.’ So there’s an emotional connection,” Levinson said. “There was a riot, turning over trucks and things, setting things on fire when the students were angry that Joe Pa was fired. And that was an emotional reaction. That wasn’t an intellectual reaction. It wasn’t thought through.
“He was a family member, he was a father. It was all anyone knew. He was the father, the king of Happy Valley. And all of a sudden he was dethroned, so there was an emotional reaction. So how do they respond to [the movie] if there emotions are going to play as opposed to some of the other ways to look at it in the cool light of the day? I don’t know.”
Levinson added that he wants the audience to draw its own conclusions from the movie.
“You don’t ever want to say, ‘This is what I want you to feel.’ You want to create this time frame, these dynamics, these interactions,” he said. “How did they act? How did they react? As opposed to: Here’s the agenda, we’re going to do this about it. You’re presenting it, and as it goes along there’s all these contradictions. The character is contradicting himself periodically. We start seeing these layers of all of this that’s been built up.”
The full discussion between Simmons, Pacino and Levinson can be found below.