On 20th Anniversary of 'Heat,' Henry Rollins Recalls Getting Punched in the Face by Al Pacino

Meriah Doty
·Editor

This week marks the 20-year anniversary of Michael Mann’s Los Angeles-set bank heist thriller Heat, starring Al Pacino as a hardnosed LAPD cop on the hunt for Robert De Niro, who plays a career criminal. The ensemble film also features Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore in the bank-robbing crew, Amy Brenneman as De Niro’s love interest, Jon Voight, Ashley Judd, Dennis Haysbert, a young Natalie Portman, Danny Trejo, William Fichtner as a double-crossing money launderer — and Henry Rollins as his henchman.

What fans didn’t know when it came out in 1995 was that the working relationship between the film’s two iconic leading men was strained, Rollins revealed to Yahoo Movies during a recent interview. (Though Rollins said he didn’t know the reason for the rift between Pacino and De Niro, the two Oscar-winning actors have admitted to a past rivalry.)

Henry Rollins in ‘Heat’

Rollins, who stars in the upcoming horror indie He Never Died, doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time in Heat, but he did manage to come away from it with some great stories. Once the film enters its full-throttle third act, he has a key fight scene with Pacino. Here’s what Rollins revealed about his Pacino experience during the making of Heat, in his words:

On learning about tension between Heat’s leading men:
Casting director Bonnie Timmermann brought me in to meet director Michael Mann. He’s a very nice man. He said, “Look, I’ve got a lot of tension on the set with De Niro and Pacino. I don’t need any more drama.”

Recalling a highly unorthodox lunch audition:
Michael Mann told me, “You will potentially have scenes with Al Pacino. If he doesn’t like you, you can’t be in this movie. I can’t have Al having any turbulence; we’ve got enough actors on the set already. So this audition is basically going to be if Al Pacino likes you or not.” I said, “How do you do that?” He said, “You’re going to have lunch with Al Pacino.” I said, “Okaaay. When does that happen?” He said, “Now. We’re leaving.” I went, “What!?” And we left the building. I forgot where we went because I was in a daze. All of a sudden we sit down and there’s Al Pacino. I said, “How do you do, sir?” And he said [Rollins doing a dead on impersonation], “Call me Al! Call me Al!” So I had lunch with him and he’s funny and really wonderful. After the lunch was over he looked over at Michael and said [impersonating again], “Michael, I like him!”

His stuntman sustained a grisly injury:
If you remember the film, his body double and my body double go through a pane of glass [shown above] and he knocks me around and I’m handcuffed and thrown onto a couch. Our stuntman, who went through the window, the guy who impersonates me — he split the back of his head open on take one. He’s bleeding magnificently, but they didn’t get the shot. I said, “You’re bleeding.” He said, “Yup! They gotta get me stitched up, and I gotta get this take.” So he goes through a window a second time, they got the take, and off to the hospital he goes.

Watch the scene with Al Pacino and Henry Rollins:

On getting punched — hard — by Al Pacino:
Now, Al Pacino and I [take over the scene], recovering on rubberized glass bits. Al has to grab me, call me a bunch of names and slap me around. He’s a nice man, he doesn’t want to hurt me. He slaps me a little [in perfect Pacino inflection]: “You bastard!” He slaps me and I say [off camera], “Al, sir, we really have to sell this. So you should really haul off and whack me.” [as Pacino] “I don’t want to hurt you.” I said, “Look at this face. What could you possibly do to it that wasn’t done by some guy in San Diego who had five rings on his hand.” He goes, “OK.” Al invests in the moment. So the next take he grabs me by my hair so hard I almost started crying and he hauls off and whacks me across the face to where I could feel it in my toes. “You bastard, you! (whack, whack!)” My face went numb. Thankfully, after a few takes of that [facetiously], we got it! It’s Michael Mann, it’s a lot of takes. Too bad they used one of the earlier takes.

Al Pacino during one of his more animated moments in ‘Heat’

Remembering Pacino’s wisecracks and grace:
With Michael Mann, everything is real. The handcuffs are real, the guns are real, and the beatings are real. I end up in cuffs and props has to come unlink me after every take. It’s a big film and the props guy is not always easily found — especially for such a small actor as myself. So I’m sitting cuffed on a couch. Al, being a total gentleman, would not leave until I was un-cuffed. As I sat there cuffed, Al would use me as a figure of fun. He’d grab me by the back of my head and say [impersonating], “Look at him. Look at his face! Come and get me a marker. I’m gonna put a mustache on his face.” Or he’d grab me by my cheeks and say, “Look at his face. Don'tcha just want to kiss him!?”

Cherishing the experience:
He couldn’t have been nicer. We were all in hysterics. Working with an actor of his caliber and having him be such a cool guy and be so funny, talented, and friendly, was huge for a little guy like me. To pal around with Al Pacino for a few days was unforgettable.

Watch Al Pacino recount ‘Heat’ scenes:

(Images: Warner. Bros; GIFs animated by Paul Rosales)