Al Pacino’s role in horror movie The Devil’s Advocate might be one of his most iconic roles to date, but it took a long time for Pacino to even consider taking the part of John Milton. In fact, he turned it down three times.
The character is a high-powered lawyer who slowly corrupts the ambitious Kevin (Keanu Reeves) throughout the course of the thriller movie. Strange supernatural happenings occur throughout, and Milton is revealed to be Satan himself. “It’s a modern-day morality play,” director Taylor Hackford said in a 1997 interview with the New York Daily News. “A Faustian tale played against the backdrop of the super-rich and powerful legal profession, which today is like a secular religion. It’s about ethics, about what lengths you will go to to attain success despite your professed morality.”
In the interview, Hackford revealed that while he always wanted Pacino for the role of Milton, he was unconvinced by the script— which then caused Hackford and writer Tony Gilroy to continually re-write it.
“Right from the start, I could feel there was something on Taylor’s mind,” Pacino said in that same interview. “Something he feels he can go after. It’s a sense you just get from some people, and Taylor has it. But the very first time I saw the script, it wasn’t complete.”
“A page-one rewrite,” he said. “Then that thing Taylor was reaching for, it finally started manifesting itself in the script. And suddenly it became a challenge. You want a challenge in this business, you want to see if you can reach what you’re going for. As Lee Strasberg used to say, ‘Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what is heaven for?’ And with Taylor, hey, he’s reaching for something here and you gotta go with that.”