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The Singer and the Song
The film features two songs that are deeply important to Danny, both of which were specifically written for the project. " The first song we hear in the movie is Danny Collins' anthem," says Fogelman. " It' s called ' Hey Baby Doll' and it is this beautiful, infectious song written by Ciaran Gribbin and Greg Agar. You can' t get this song out of your head once you' ve heard it. I could not get Al to stop singing it. Our entire crew was singing it all the time."

The song that made Danny a star has become beloved by fans worldwide, as well as a symbol of everything Danny hates about his life. " He has spent his whole career singing this song," Fogelman points out. " It' s become a kind of a call and response he engages in with the audience. They love to do the part where he sings ' Hey, Baby Doll' and he holds out the microphone for them to sing along. He even says at one point, I' m an emcee. I' m a court jester with a microphone. This isn' t about singing anymore. This is about the song and what it means to people."

" Hey Baby Doll" made Danny what he is, for better or worse. " It' s kept him in the chips all these years," says Pacino. " But it has come to represent the way he abandoned his gift. The lucky ones are the ones who are able to connect to their own talent. Some people can hit a baseball. Other people can look at a chessboard and just see it. Danny Collins abandoned what is special in him and there was a price to pay for it."

After almost five decades on stage and screen, there would not seem to be many more career firsts awaiting Pacino, but Danny Collins provided him with one. " It was odd to play a singer," he says. " I wish I was a singer. I wish I were a rock star. A lot of other actors do and they go on to record, but if you' ll notice, they don' t become rock stars. No matter how well you think you sing, you' re not a singer. So I did what I could and Dan was very reassuring. It' s a catchy tune actually. I thought gee, my first hit."

Pacino was able to live out his rock- star fantasy when the producers managed to secure a full house at the legendary Greek Theater in Los Angeles by dropping in on a Chicago concert and having Pacino perform at intermission. " I got a chance to sing on the same stage Chicago was singing on," he says. " There it is. I can go home now. I sang with Chicago at the Greek Theatre. I thought that was a very courageous thing for Dan Fogelman to do. There' s such a sense of realism when I come out in that environment."

Fogelman was nervous that the sold- out crowd at the Greek wouldn' t be willing to sit still for Pacino' s impromptu serenade. " We managed to wangle ten minutes on stage so we didn' t have to shoot against a terrible green scene," he remembers. " We had cameras set up in various sections of the Greek. Our biggest fear was that the whole audience was going to head for the bathrooms.

" We brought out Al Pacino in character and nobody moved," he goes on. " We ran the song seven times. He was actually performing and totally connected to a real audience. It was chaos. It was pandemonium. We had the whole place singing along with Danny Collins- 6,000 people singing a song we wrote for the film! And not one person went to the bathroom."

The second original song, " Don' t Look Down," written by Ryan Adams and Don Was, is a stark contrast to the upbeat commercialism of " Hey Baby Doll." " I went to Ryan' s studio and he played us this simple song," says Fogelman. " It' s the complete opposite of ' Hey Baby Doll' and everything that Danny wants to get back to. Once Ryan played it for me, I knew it was our song. It' s just as important as the first song in setting up who Al' s character is."

An evocative song about looking back at life, " Don' t Look Down" is woven throughout the second half of the film, as Danny struggles to regain his gift and put what he feels and hopes into music. " Al strips it all down for his second song," says Fogelman. " It has such beautiful lyrics. He sings it tenderly and in an almost Dylan- esque manner. Al literally sat at a piano with me and we just worked and worked and worked on this song. There' s so much rasp in his voice now and it' s hauntingly beautiful.

" ' Don' t Look Down' becomes his new anthem," adds the director. " It plays during the final scene of the film and is emblematic of where his character ends up."

In addition to the original music created for Danny Collins, the action of the movie is framed, appropriately, by the music of John Lennon. " The Lennon estate liked the movie," says Fogelman. " They got that this is a love letter to John in some ways and granted us the use of several of his songs. They' re not covers, they' re the original masters of everything from ' Imagine' to ' Working Class Hero' and ' Cold Turkey.' It' s a really, really big get for a film that' s not a monster blockbuster."

Those songs provide a moving soundtrack for Danny Collins. " It is a beautiful backdrop for the whole film and almost becomes a character in the movie," according to Fogelman. " When Danny first meets his grown son, Tom announces that he has no hard feelings toward this man who has essentially abandoned him, but clearly he does. It' s a very painful and impactful scene. We used what may be my all- time favorite John Lennon song, ' Beautiful Boy,' which was written for his son Sean."

Pacino says he is as touched by the finished film as he was the first time he read Fogelman' s sensitive and affecting screenplay. " If this movie says anything, it' s about what it is in life to have somebody, whether it' s family or not," the actor says. " That was what moved me and continues to move me. I' m hoping it will affect other people the same way. It' s the kind of entertainment you want to share with a group of people. It will speak to you about your own life and your own relationships in a way that really means something."

And what does Steve Tilston have to say about the film that was inspired by his missed encounter with John Lennon? " I think the movie is great," he says. " It' s very true to life and Al Pacino is a brilliant choice to play that kind of entertainer. From the moment he first appears on screen, you can' t take your eyes off him."

But making a living as musician for almost 45 years is Tilston' s idea of true success. " The parallels with my life and Danny Collins' begin and end with the device of the letter," he notes. " I made a decision about the kind of music I wanted to make. I was never remotely interested in becoming a pop singer. I have no regrets about the fact that I didn' t become fabulously rich and famous. I' ve done alright."


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