Credit: Hopper Stone


That’s just how he rolls, baby.

Los Angeles residents may have seen this peculiar vehicle around the Greek Theatre lately, emblazoned with an image of Al Pacino looking a little bit like Barry Manilow guest-starring on a 1985 episode of Miami Vice.

It’s actually a massive prop for an indie film tentatively titled Imagined, written and directed by Dan Fogelman, best known as the screenwriter of Crazy, Stupid, Love and the upcoming Last Vegas.

Soon he’ll be known as the filmmaker who got Pacino to sing.

The Godfather and Serpico actor plays Danny Collins, a slick, glitzy purveyor of pop-rock. He’s the kind of guy who headlines at casinos and shares a lot of fan-club members with the AARP. Once upon a time, he was a gritty, soulful contemporary of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Paul Simon, but … that was many years (and a lot of money) ago.

“He’s very cheesy,” says producer Jessie Nelson. “The film picks him up at the moment when he is feeling like he can’t keep it up anymore. He wants to break through in some way, but can’t.”

On his birthday, Collins is given a letter that John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote to him in 1971, urging him to stay true to his own voice and not let the allure of fame and money guide his fate. They included their number on the letter, telling him to call if he ever needs them.

It’s too late for that. Collins never knew his hero had reached out to him, so he is overcome by regret.

“He uses the letter as a catalyst to live the life he never lived, to go back to writing songs. He ended up letting other people write for him,” says Nelson. “He hasn’t written music in 20 years, so he’s struggling with writer’s block to push through.”

Imagined is loosely inspired by a real letter Lennon wrote to British folk singer Steve Tilston. (Tilston also never received the letter until many years later, but he never went quite so musically astray.)

In the film, part of Collins’ effort to reconnect leads him to right some personal wrongs. He seeks out his estranged son (Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale) and daughter-in-law (Jennifer Garner), while his veteran manager (a grizzled Christopher Plummer) tries to help him with a career do-over. Annette Bening, as a friendly hotel manager, helps provide some critical inspiration.

When Pacino’s character arrives in New Jersey to seek out the family, he’s still very much the guy on the side of this bus. “He’s still got the threads,” says producer Nimitt Mankad. “It’s show-wear. He’s a little bit over the top, and that’s his stage persona. [The movie] is about coming out of that wrapper again.”

The bus could well have the same dream.

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