For many fans of cinema, Carol Kane is one of those quintessential New York actresses. A veteran of stage and screen, she has forged a long career playing a number of endearingly quirky characters, be it Alvy Singer’s ex in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, or the deranged Ghost of Christmas Present opposite Bill Murray in Scrooged.
But before those films, one of her early roles was opposite acting powerhouse Al Pacino in the bona fide classic Dog Day Afternoon, which has been re-released on Blu-ray to celebrate its 40th anniversary. We managed to grab a brief but illuminating chat with her recently, where she reminisced about her role as mousey bank clerk, Jenny ‘The Squirrel’ in the film.
Carol Kane: I was just telling my friend the other day I was going to be doing an interview for Dog Day Afternoon. It seemed a funny thing to say after all these years.
Why do you think the film has endured the way it has?
I think [director] Mr. [Sidney] Lumet, who was just a genius, helped bring a life to it which was so vivid and real. You care so much about the two guys Al [Pacino] and John Cazale play. As an audience, you feel the stakes are very high. You want both robbers to be ok, as well as everyone else who is holed up in the bank. Each character is so relatable. You get very involved.
The true story the film is based upon is phenomenal. I urge you to see the real-life documentary of the character [2014’s The Great Sex Addict Heist: The Dog]. Al is absolutely channelling that guy. Sidney had such a connection with the street life of New York which was so vibrant at that time. He introduced that world to the audience in a way that it made them fall in love with it. Everyone is rooting for Sonny. It’s an amazing slice of life.
There’s an absurdity to the hostage situation, particularly when your character is chatting to her husband on the phone, yet the outcome could be far from safe for everyone.
Yeah. The staff attempt to carry on in some sort of normalised fashion within the bank. Everybody is themselves. Because of Sonny’s personality they want to continue going about what they normally do and I guess that’s what happens sometimes in hostage situations.
It’s interesting that every time Sonny opens the door to speak to the police, he’s beloved by the crowds. I do feel bad for the character that John plays, though. He doesn’t have a clue about anything (laughs).
Do you have a favourite moment from the film?
Oh, there are so many scenes I love. I love it when John’s character is taking about how your body is a temple. I really like those moments where you see Sonny interact with the outside world and when he connects with his wife and male lover.
Pacino does a lot to humanise the character.
He does. The film feels so much like a modern fairytale to me – a Robin Hood-type story. I don’t know if Sidney was intentionally going for that or not, but you’re so carried away by the goodness shown by the bad guys that you really want them to get away (laughs).
How was Pacino on set? He’d done the two Godfather films and Serpico by then, but he was quite different to how the audience know him now.
The first time I ever saw him was in a play called Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? It was very clear that whoever this young man was on stage, there was no one else like him. He was extraordinary. His process during Dog Day Afternoon was quite amazing. He worked so truthfully.
Sidney also did something unique in movie-making which is probably unheard of now, but he rehearsed the film like it was a play before shooting began. He hired a big function room down on Second Avenue and made spaces everywhere for the vault and the main bank room. We knew the script from top to bottom by the time we started making the film.
The moment [in the film] when Al see’s me for the first time under my desk and says “what is this, a squirrel?” was completely improvised. He spied me and I guess my hairdo or the way I was crouching underneath reminded him of a little squirrel or something (laughs). He just said it. He was right there in the moment. That’s the secret to great acting.
Can you tell me how you came to be cast in the film?
I don’t quite remember all the details. I lived in New York, as I still do now, and I had been doing a play with Al down at the public theatre. I didn’t even audition. I just met Sidney and he offered me the part. I think one could call it one of those lucky miracles.
Alongside Dog Day Afternoon, you appeared in some other truly iconic films during the seventies. Annie Hall, The Last Detail, Carnal Knowledge. Do you look back on that era with a great fondness?
I’m very moved and grateful to have had the opportunity to work with all those great actors and directors. Looking back, when I was first started out, I didn’t understand how I got so lucky, but I think it was a great, great era of filmmaking and I was part of it. I’ll never get over the honour of that.