HBO's Phil Spector biopic stars Al Pacino at the top of his game, and casts doubt about the music producer's guilt

With a reputation for being as brilliant as he is eccentric, music producer Phil Spector was best known for his string of “Wall of Sound” pop hits that soared to the top of the pop charts in the 1960s. All that changed on the night of February 3, 2003, when he was accused of murdering Lana Clarkson after she was found shot to death at his L.A. mansion. 

With Spector currently in prison serving a 19-year sentence for the crime, the headline-making trial that landed him there is the basis of a new HBO biopic called Phil Spector, written and directed by acclaimed playwright David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross). 

Pacino Channels Phil Spector

Oscar-winner Al Pacino plays Spector, with Helen Mirren (pictured above) as Spector’s attorney, Linda Kenney Baden. 

“I was familiar with [the trial],” Pacino said during a session at the January edition of the TV Critics Association press tour. “Not extensively, but I did know it was out there. And it was bizarre and seemed very strange . . . but it wasn’t until I did the role, of course, that I learned much more about it.” 

Although actors portraying real people often meet the subjects they’ll be playing, Pacino deliberately chose not to do that. “I didn’t meet [Spector] because he’s in prison and he’s already been convicted. This person I’m playing is the guy who was there before he was convicted.” 

Director David Mamet Talks Spector

Mamet admits he had a preconceived notion about Spector when he first took on the project. “I didn’t know anything at all about the case,” said Mamet. “I said, ‘I know all I need to know, which is that he was a freak, he killed some girl, he went away. Good riddance.’ ”

Mamet’s attitude changed, however, after he saw the documentary The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector: “After the first 10 seconds, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, this guy’s a freak. He’s small. He’s wizened. He talks funny. His arms are shaky.’ Three minutes later you say, ‘Well, but he says some interesting things.’ At half-an-hour, you’re saying, ‘How could I be so prejudiced? The guy’s kind of brilliant.’ And at the end of the documentary, you’re saying, ‘Wait a second. I came to this with such prejudice. Maybe the guy’s not guilty.’ ”

Originally published in TVW. For daily programming updates and on-screen Entertainment news, subscribe to the free TVW e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.