Posted: 24 Nov 2011 02:59 AM PST
In the wake of the passing of Dr Death, You Don't Know Jack brings the subject of voluntary euthanasia back to life.
TWO decades ago, Dr Jack Kevorkian astonished the world as he took the end of life debate head-on with his "Mercy Machine" and performed his first assisted suicide.
In You Don't Know Jack, the true story of Kervokian's struggle is broached. The movie offers a rare look at the doctor (often dubbed by the media as "Dr Death", "Jack the Dripper" and "The Avon Lady from Hell"), the man behind the sensational headlines, starting with his initial foray into patient consultations and the media frenzy that ensued.
One of the most polarising figures in modern American history, Kevorkian and his allies – sister Margo, friend and medical supplier Neal Nicol, Hemlock Society activist Janet Good, and defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger dedicated themselves to a cause fraught with legal and ethical hurdles. The movie begins in 1989 as the 61-year-old former pathologist Kevorkian launches his crusade to provide what he considers to be a humane and dignified option for the terminally ill – assisted suicide. Kevorkian begins offering "death counselling" services to a grateful and burgeoning clientele but the wrath of the county prosecutor's office.
Enter the talented and flamboyant attorney Geoffrey Fieger who agrees to represent Kevorkian in court at no charge, and Kevorkian is repeatedly exonerated, despite the impassioned efforts of his detractors.
As the media catapults him to the forefront of national news coverage, Kevorkian continues his work, helping 130 patients end their lives.
Starring Oscar-winner Al Pacino as the late Dr Kevorkian in this film (Kevorkian died in June this year) by Oscar-winner Barry Levinson (Rain Man), You Don't Know Jack is the story of one man's obsession with challenging the rules by which we all live and die – and his stubborn insistence on breaking the law to do so.
The 2010 film also stars Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon, Danny Huston, Emmy winners Brenda Vaccaro and John Goodman.
Here, 71-year-old Pacino – whom the Internet movie database calls one of the greatest actors in all of film history – shares his thoughts about this HBO original movie, and about taking on the controversial role.
You get to pick and choose your projects. What was the biggest draw to this one?
I read the script and it was so interesting. Very rarely do you find something that makes you say: 'I want to play this.' It had a good script, a solid story, and yet, the character was elusive and different for me. I've never played anyone like this, and I knew that it would have to be an extreme character. I thought it was interesting to try to find a way to express what it is to be a true zealot. The way I believe Jack is. He's the real thing. And of course it had Barry Levinson as the director.
The film is called, You Don't Know Jack. What did you learn about Dr Kevorkian?
I didn't know that he was as committed as he was. I didn't know that he was as humorous and intelligent as he was. And I didn't know how creative and interesting a person he was. Painting, writing, music – even teaching himself Japanese while he's in a court of law. All these things are so admirable to me. I would like to be that smart. And here was an opportunity to actually play someone that smart. That's fun. That's what being an actor's about. The other thing I learned about Jack was that he wanted to be there for people. His patients and their families felt more comfortable and safer when he was administering euthanasia. They could've done it by themselves, but they would've been upset because they wouldn't know what to do if it went wrong. They were so fearful of that. He was there, because it gave them a comfort zone.
The story deals with some heavy issues, but it doesn't feel like a heavy film – why is that?
This is the trick that Barry pulled off. The story just keeps unfolding. It doesn't feel like it's taking a stand on one thing or another. It's a very eclectic kind of movie, and Barry did that. At one point I had said to him: 'You know, those biopic kind of movies can get a little tiresome.' But Barry said: 'No, I think I can do this the right way.' And he did.
Tell us about your character's relationship with Janet Good, and what it was like working with Susan Sarandon.
Susan plays Janet Good, and Jack had great admiration and love for her. She was one of the only people who could control Jack, and without her, he was rudderless. Susan plays a part that she can really understand, being a bit of a zealot herself. Not only is she a great artiste to work with, but I also worked with her first husband, Chris Sarandon, in a movie called Dog Day Afternoon. He played my lover. And she almost played my lover in this.
What was Jack's relationship with Neal Nicol (played by John Goodman)?
Jack Kevorkian and Neal Nicol go way back to the early stages. When Jack was experimenting with cadavers, he was actually taking the blood from cadavers to save lives. This is when he was doing organ transplants. Neal was right there with him and they both did it, and they both got Hepatitis because of it. But there was this desire to save life. That's a misconception about Jack, his desire to save life. He's a doctor, and he cares for patients. Jack needed his small circle, which was Janet Good, his sister and Neal and they all worked in concert. Jack had to be stalwart to continue his efforts. And Neal was right there with him.
Do you think the film is a tragedy?
When the moment comes when he's rejected finally – the final humiliation - there is a sense that he's out of his arena. He's not familiar with the whole world of law and there is a contrast of this idealist lost in the middle of court procedure. That's where the tragedy builds. I hope there's humour in it. In all drama, that's the thing you look for. I saw it in Jack. Believe it or not, in all the footage I looked at – because I didn't meet Jack – I saw his humour. As I watched all this stuff and I read his books, I got a sense of the dryness of his humour, and I was hoping it could seep through somehow. I hope it does.
You Don't Know Jack, which premiered on Monday will be screened again tonight at 10.55pm on HBO (Astro Ch 411) and HBO HD (Astro Ch 431). Be sure to catch it!Full content generated by Get Full RSS.
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