Al Pacino Got ‘Hoo-ah!’ From an Actual Blind Colonel

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It’s been 30 years since Scent of a Woman premiered… which means 30 years of “Hoo-ah!” imitations. The snappy catchphrase immortalized Al Pacino’s character Colonel Frank Slade: a blind army lieutenant who takes high schooler Charlier Simms (Chris O’Donnell) along on a wild New York weekend in the 1993 classic.

True to form, method actor Pacino studied with real blind veterans to prepare for the role. And it was an actual lieutenant colonel who inspired Pacino to use the expression.

Al Pacino’s Method

Al Pacino grew up in the Bronx and, as a young man, studied at the Actors’ Studio under Lee Strasberg. Strasberg took over the Studio in 1951, hewing new talents like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and taught there for decades. He is often referred to as the father of “method acting.”

But what is method acting?

Strasberg, like many of his contemporaries, was inspired by the Russian character actor and theorist Konstantin Stanislavski. Strasberg would eventually specify his own brand: the Method technique.

The Method is what Strasberg preached at The Actors’ Studio. It requires an actor to access the deepest, subconscious parts of themself in order to meaningfully convey the character’s personal experience. To do this, students would mine their own emotional pasts.

But often the term Method, as Strasberg intended it, is used interchangeably with the Stanislavski System, a different technique championed by Strasberg’s contemporary (and sometimes-rival) Stella Adler. According to Adler, the key to unlocking a character resides primarily in the world of the script — not within the person acting. Adler placed more emphasis on the context of a story, encouraging her students, most famously Marlon Brando, to study and live in that character’s world.

Pacino appears to have applied both techniques throughout his career. As a co-president of the Actors’ Studio since 2000, he is considered one of the world’s premier Method actors. But to prepare for Scent of a Woman, Pacino didn’t just look inside himself. He did his homework.

According to the AFI Catalog, Pacino met blind people through organizations like The Associated Blind and The Lighthouse for the Blind. In particular, he sought out those who had lost their sight in traumatic ways. (In the movie, Slade loses his own sight by juggling live grenades.) Pacino listened to their stories, from the moment they realized they would never see again up through the eventual adjustment.

In watching Scent of a Woman, viewers are treated to, at least the tail-end, of that road to acceptance. Some blind experts even taught Pacino physical techniques to live without sight, from pouring drinks to lighting a cigar… to loading a .45 caliber handgun.

“Hoo-ah!”

Throughout Scent of a Woman, the blunt, drunken Frank Slade is partial to long-winded diatribes — always punctuated by a succinct “Hoo-ah!” The phrase threads moments of levity throughout the film, each time casting the grumpy Slade in a goofier light.

But where did the expression come from?

Speaking to Yahoo! in 2017 for a Role Recall, Pacino revealed the inspiration behind the iconic “Hoo-ah!” Pacino said:

“ ‘Hoo-ah!’ came from this guy who was teaching me how to load and unload a .45 blind. You know, it’s complicated, you gotta pick it apart and then put it back together again in 45 seconds. And there’s a lot of little things you gotta learn.

“So, I was forever having practice with this guy teaching me how to do it. And he was a real lieutenant, this guy. And every time I would do something good, say a little good, he would go, ‘Hoo-ah!’ … he’d say, ‘That’s it! Hoo-ah!’ And I said, ‘What is that?’ And he said, ‘Oh, that’s what we do. When you do something, Hoo-ah! With the troops going along.’

“I go, ‘I gotta use that…’ That comes from heaven, that stuff.”

— Al Pacino to Yahoo! Entertainment

So, there you have it. “Hoo-ah” is attributed to a real blind colonel. Or, as Pacino remembers him, “this guy.” But that’s not all that made “Hoo-ah” sing. According to the AFI Catalog, Pacino modeled Slade’s speech patterns off his former manager, Hollywood big-shot Martin Bregman, who died in 2018.

The first sentence of Bregman’s New York Times obituary refers to him as an “outspoken, notoriously tenacious film producer.” It’s easy to see how those larger-than-life mannerisms helped form the rapid-fire Slade. Hoo-ah!

Al Pacino’s Role Recall

Read More: Robert De Niro Was Once a Real Taxi Driver

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