Godfather: Celebration and Reunion–Part 3

James Caan: It was when I was laying there dead with a hundred and forty-seven bullets in me and Brando had to get emotionally prepared.  So he says, “give me a moment, give me a moment.”  And he says, “ok, let’s do this.”  Then about a day later, Bobby had to do something and I said, “would you give Bobby a moment?” and Bobby imitates Brando from earlier and then he just walks across the stage, that’s all.

Brando and his availability to everything.  That cat, I remember being there that morning. And wasn’t it just that same morning when you put the cat there?

Coppola: The cat is only in one take.

James Caan: Yeah, that cat sat there like it was there for a thousand years. He never even referred to it.

Coppola:  This is an interesting note but I think the key, for me, of what happened that made family was the rehearsal when we just had met Brando for the first time. We had a dinner in the back of Patsy’s restaurant and Tali served the food. I was sitting to the right.  Everyone was excited because Brando was there.  Jimmy was telling lots of jokes, trying to impress him that way.  And Al was just looking serious, trying to impress him.  Every time Brando looked away, Bobby would do an impression of Brando.  That dinner made me realize that improvisation with food is very lasting. They sort of had who they were going to be after that.

Duvall: It was easy because Brando was like the Godfather to young actors.

Caan: I want to tell a quick story about Francis.  We had Luca Brasi there one day and he had to come through this one door. Luca came in and he said, “Don Corleone, I am honored to be here on the day of your daughter’s wedding.” And Francis kept looking at him and looking at him.  He says, “Jimmy, do something.” I said, “What?” He said, “Go do something. Make him funny, make him do something different.”  So, I went over and I knew Lenny.  He was the biggest, strongest guy of all time.  I said, “Lenny, you gotta do me a favor. When the door opens and you’re in the close-up, when you say Don Corleone, stick your tongue out.”  I put a piece of tape on his tongue that said, “F You” on it. (So, he opens the door and says, “Don Corleone” and did it and everybody laughed.  Francis thought this was great. So, they did it again and Marlon had, “F You too” (laughter) But the brilliance of it was when we went back to do it, he never changed. He never changed his tone.  So, three weeks later, at the wedding, Francis came up with Luca Brasi, which was never there, studying this speech. And that’s how he made it work.  It was brilliant

Coppola: He never did get through the lines.  (imitates Lenny stuttering) and he kept sort of fumbling. So, I thought, if we shot him practicing it would then be funny.

Luca Brasi

Coppola:  Let me put it this way.  There is a scene where he takes out a gun, puts bullets in and spins it. I said, “ok, take out the gun, put bullets in it and spin it. Can you do that?” he looked at me and said, “are you kiddin?”

Coppola: I feel that Al didn’t get to talk about getting the part.  I told my side of it and he didn’t tell his.

Al Pacino: That is such a long story.  But it starts with Francis and I in San Francisco getting to know each other because he wanted me to play another role. It was really great. I went to Zoetrope and sitting around a pool table was Spielberg, George Lucas, they’re all kids and have never done a movie, I don’t think.

Coppola: Everywhere we went in San Francisco the girls lit up for some reason.

Even after Diane Keaton did a million screen tests, she came to me and said, “Pick Al, pick Al.”

Al Pacino: I got back and they didn’t want me for the movie, he had written a beautiful movie.  You know Francis wrote, “Patton,” with George C. Scott. He is a great director and a great writer. And it was a great script. It was almost abstract.  An almost surreal movie about a professor who falls in love with one of his students.  It was beautifully written.  Anyway, they turned me down. Francis never did it.  I went away and a year later my phone rings in my apartment, and Francis says, “Hey Al.” I said, “Who’s this?” he says, “It’s Francis.” It had been a year and my life was in a strange place. He said, “I just want you to know; I’m doing, The Godfather”.”  And I thought there was something wrong with him.  Of course, “The Godfather” was the biggest book and  you know, its tough in Hollywood.  Anyway, I thought it was strange. I said, “that’s great” I told him it was a great book, very entertaining.  He tells me he is thinking of using me as Michael Corleone.  And I thought he was really nuts. So I thought ok, let me just think about this here. I flash on the book and right away I start thinking, because I’m an actor, that its not a good role. Sonny is the part I want to play.  Its got meat in it and you can really get out there and do what Jimmy does.  Try to do it anyway. So there I am on the phone with him and I didn’t tell him I didn’t want to play Michael and he tells me, “Michael is you.” I said, “that’s really…” I almost said strange but I didn’t (laughter).  I hung up the phone and thought that it was either a dream, or a joke, or whatever. But sure enough it was real. Then started that whole trial of them not wanting me and Francis wanting me.

Coppola: Bob Evans was a tall, good looking guy.  And originally, he wanted Ryan O’Neill or Robert Redford.  Don’t laugh because there are blonde Sicilians.  They are famously blonde because the French where there for two hundred years, so there are blonde, blue-eyed Sicilians.  But I finally realized that Bob wanted someone who looked like him to play Michael. And I wanted someone who looked like me….

Coppola: When I was thinner you know, and I had dark hair.

Al Pacino: Yeah, you did. We could be related in a way (laughter) I just want to say this; When a director wants you for a part you’re lucky. It’s really something.  It’s like somebody likes you. You don’t know why they like you but they just like you. So you sort of like them, right?  (laughter) I mean, that’s sort of a thing.  He likes me so much, I dunno, I like him. So he wanted me so much, I thought well maybe I could play the role. I labored over that.  But the studio didn’t want me, we’ve been through that. And then they didn’t want me after they hired me.  And while we were filming, Francis was concerned.  Again, I was new to film, I didn’t know what to do.  But I had a sense of this character because I would think about it all the time. I was living on 90th and Broadway. And I’d walk to the village and back every day. It’s not a big thing, but I did it. And I did it thinking about this role. Just trying to figure out where could I go with it. Of course, I was unable to articulate it to Francis at the time. I just didn’t have the… as you can tell, it’s not easy for me to talk.  (laughter) But you’ll get used to it. In any event, I came and I started filming.  It was dizzying, the whole thing.  Diane and I in that whole wedding thing.  We got so loaded after that wedding scene. You were on the floor.

Coppola: You can’t from that wedding scene where he tells her about the guy, and the brains on the contract.  That was literally shot at night because we were so late.  We had lost the light, and we were in deep trouble schedule wise. We just pumped light into it.  I don’t know if you remember?

Al Pacino: Yeah, a lot of chaos going on there.

Coppola: It was very, very dark.

Al Pacino: But we were theater actors. We were not used to film. The whole thing had a kind of surreal feel to it.  We got back, and we started drinking. Talking about where do we go from here? We’re gone, it’s over, this is the worst film ever made. We know nothing about it. So there it is and we’re going along and I come back in and nobody talks to me, only Francis.  The great guy for me, on this picture, was Al Ruddy.  Al would always come up to me during shooting.  He would come up to me and say, “Hey kid, come here, come here. Pacino, listen to me. You’re gonna be great.  You’re gonna be great in this picture. You’re great, you understand?” I didn’t know what I was doing but it was encouraging.  He was the only one who spoke to me.  Because I would do scenes, you know, I would be in the middle of a scene and I really heard people giggling, snickering. I thought, what is that about? And it was about me. “Were did Francis get this guy?!” I remember Francis actually, do you remember the time you called me into Ginger Man’s?

Coppola: What did I say?

Al Pacino: You were sitting there with your family, and you were very nice to me.  You didn’t ask me to sit down at the table. Which I took as a sort of strange reaction, and I thought, well I’ll stand here then.  and you told me, straight out, that I got to start getting my chops together.  In a way he was saying, I sort of don’t know what you are doing. Then you did one of the most wonderful things.  You said, “I prepared the rushers, the takes, you’ve done and they’re at Paramount.”

Al Pacino: You showed me the stuff and that was amazing. You said, take a look at what you’re doing.  And I looked at it in this room by myself, sitting there thinking, well, that isn’t very good, it seems ok, it doesn’t even seem ok but it doesn’t matter because my mind was always thinking that Michael was something… you know I was going for the end of the movie       which makes him somewhat enigmatic and early on he is like someone you don’t pay attention to much. So when the transition comes, when finally, he becomes the Don, you go, Woah, were did that come from?  That was my hope, and I tried to orchestrate my role that way. I sort of knew that I was doing it but I was really on the wrong track.  So I went to him and said, “I see what you mean.” Because I didn’t know what else to say to him (laughter) because he was convinced of it.  And then he did what is the most brilliant thing anybody could do.  He actually changed the schedule.  He took the Sollozzo scene where Michael shoots Sollozzo and the Captain and he put it up front.  It wasn’t scheduled for that day.  Because the studio was done with me, I was gone.  He showed them the Sollozzo scene and they kept me.  (applause) Did I miss something there?

Francis Ford Coppola: Its true, that scene, the Sollozzo scene was very early in the schedule. I know the first day was you and Diane at Best & Co. And maybe the second week we shot that scene. That scene, even Paramount realized how…

Al Pacino: That I could play Michael

Francis Ford Coppola: For sure.

Al Pacino: You know what. I almost didn’t understand that because we all know that everything is the cut. It’s how a scene is cut together. I won’t look at rushes anymore because you see this close-up that goes on forever. But it’s how the editor cuts the film with the director.

Coppola: What I was told was that on the third week when we shot Brando.  His first scene was in the olive oil company with Sollozzo. And they hated Brando in it. They thought he mumbled and they hated the look.  The photographer liked very dark footage, to say the least. So we are down there in Little Italy across the street from where we were shooting the scene, and Gray Frederickson came to me and said, “you know, they are going to fire you this weekend.”  And I realized, of course they fire the director on the weekend so that the new director doesn’t lose any time preparing.  And I realized that there was a group around, I dunno, twelve people who were the naysayers.  They were the ones were actively trying to get me fired. So on that Tuesday, I fired those twelve people.  Because I had said, “if you don’t like Brando, let me go and I’ll shoot it again.” Because it was his first day. And they said no. I was very puzzled and wondered why they wouldn’t because it was so easy to just jump up and I could’ve done it within a half of day.  Then that’s when he told me they were going to fire me.  Then I fired the people and I went up and we shot that scene again.   I’m sure there were lots of phones calls asking if I could do that. Even I didn’t know if I had the authority to do it. But I just figured, I’m the director.  At least throw them into confusion (laughter) And then they decided that weekend that it would probably be bad publicity to fire me.  So Bluhdorn took me and my father out to, The Palm” steakhouse and said that they saw the new footage with Brando and that it was much better. And sort of gave me a real confidence that they weren’t firing me.  Ironically, in the movie, that’s the first shooting.  The scene in the picture wasn’t the second one shot. It’s the first time, the one they didn’t like.

Coppola: When you are doing something and you get lucky, which obviously, I did with such a collection of talent. If it’s different, if it rubs people, at first, the wrong way or if it’s not like something that was before that was successful. You know, everyone is scared and so it’s logical to think you ought to get another director.  “The Godfather” is very dark. Darker than most movies were. And Brando did mumble a little bit. That’s his style. And he does it deliberately. He told me that when he does his lines he tries not to move his mouth very much so that it’s easy to loop any lines that you want in there.  (laughter)

Al Pacino: He believed in dubbing, really, that was one of his major things after the film was over in post-production. He taught me that and I found that its very helpful in film, if you can lip-sync.  I didn’t know about the mouth not moving much. I’ll try that next time.

Gordon Willis: Cinematographer

Coppola: The first movie I made was edited by a gentleman named Aram Avakian.  And Aram Avakian had directed a film, “End of the Road” and Gordon Willis was the cinematographer.  So I had heard about him and admired him through that connection.

Coppola: Gordy Willis is one of the all-time greats in cinematography.

Francis Ford Coppola: What about the baptism do you want to know?


Francis Ford Coppola: What had happened with the baptism.  A screenwriter is constantly trying to figure out how to get into one sitting, a two hour and ten-minute movie, from a novel. Which of course you read over time. You are constantly looking for ways to condense and smoosh stuff from the novel into the script. So my idea was to take what was forty pages of the novel and through the device of the baptism ceremony kind of wrap it all for the end of the picture.  So at first it was a screenwriting device on how to get a lot of pages in the novel expressed in a short time.  And let the event of the baptism, let all the murders, and the wiping out the families that rotated around that.   In the first cut it wasn’t really working.  We had two editors. One of them who was working on the second half of the film, named Peter Zinner, had the idea to put in that organ.  Once he put that in it just gelled and the baptism really worked.  (applause)


Robert De Niro: I was honored that Francis asked me to do the part. I remember that Gray Frederickson and I went up to Paramount when it was at Columbus circle and up to the screening room on the thirty-something floor.  I took a tape recorder, the old reel-to-reel, and filmed the scenes Brando was in. And I played them over and over again to myself as I was working on it. But I looked at it in a kind of a scientific way and I had to sort of find spots where I could do stuff to imitate what he’s doing. And I enjoyed it.

Francis Ford Coppola: In my idea to get someone to play Brando as a young man was daunting. But I didn’t think of it as Brando. But I thought he could play Vito Corleone the character in the way Brando created him. He could be the younger Vito Corleone without ever going through Brando.  Bobby’s not a Brando look-a-like necessarily. But he could capture what Vito Corleone would have been as a young man. Which he did.

Seeing the Movies Again

Coppola: I haven’t seen these movies for years.  I tend not to see the movies I worked on. I know I hadn’t seen, “Godfather II” for a really long time.  I saw, “The Godfather” because we had to do the restoration because the print was not in good shape.  I thought it was a very emotional experience.  I had forgot a lot about the making of it and so I was more in the story.  I used a lot of family, it had my sister and things in the script that I had deliberately put there. So I found it a very emotional experience for myself.

Diane Keaton Saw the Film Recently

Diane Keaton: I saw it on my computer. I hadn’t seen it in about 30 years, or something like that. All I could think of was that I couldn’t get over it. It was so astonishing. Francis, it was so beautiful and everybody is so great in it. And the music. Every choice you made was so authentically brilliant. That is so unusual. I just kept crying. And that damn Talia. I saw her in that scene where they were fighting and screaming and then you had slow, long scenes where it was just the guys and then suddenly there was this vicious thing that would happen. I was just blown out of the ballpark, crying over Talia.  Everything was astonishing to me. And I was totally surprised because I didn’t expect it.  And on a fucking computer. That’s where I am, I am on the computer and I’m so emotional about it.  I was so shocked because I never really paid much attention to, “The Godfather” because I always felt that I was the most outsider, weird person. And why was I cast? And I had no voice but then there were a couple good scenes with Al.

Coppola: The scene where you tell Al that it wasn’t a miscarriage, that it was an abortion?

Diane Keaton: Oh, I’ll never forget that

Francis Ford Coppola: That was Tali’s idea

Diane Keaton: Talia?!  All right girl!


Francis Ford Coppola: Interesting thing about that. That was the concept of the script. To tell the story of a father and a son at the same time in parallel action at the same age. Interestingly though is when we first cut it together it would alternate every ten minutes, more or less. And we found that it didn’t work at all. And when we doubled it and made it twenty minutes of one and twenty minutes of the other. Then it started to work. But it was written with the back-and-forth kind of shorter duration.

Violence and Religion

Francis Ford Coppola: the question is the violence is sort of being expressed through the imagery of religion and precession.  I don’t know.  It’s like Opera is kind of the tradition, in my mind, a sort of odd pageantry to violence.  Certainly, we know in historically in the seventeenth century with the church there was all kinds of incredible violence in the struggle between different… so I don’t know.  In my mind there was a certain violent pageantry that was linked together.

Nino Rota’s Music

Coppola:  I Knew Nino Rota’s music very well but the score that really sealed it for me was, “Rocco and His Brothers.”  It has this beautiful, deep, heartbreaking, tragic family story. Nino Rota wrote that, as well as the Fellini scores.  But that was what cinched it for me.

Could this film be made today?

Francis Ford Coppola: This film could be made today but it wouldn’t get a go ahead.  The first Godfather cost 6.5 million dollars.  The second Godfather cost 11 or 12 million dollars.  Which if you convert that it would take a major movie studio.  But the process today to getting a green light.  Nothing can get green lit unless it’s a Marvel comics type of a …’

James Caan: And basically there are not enough wires.  WIRES (laughter)

Coppola: You know once, Kirk Kerkorian, who owned MGM asked me, “How do you make a film that his successful but also artistically.” I answered, risk.  Nobody wants the risk when you get into business.

Robert Duvall: During the wedding scene. We all were mooning each other and Brando took it quite seriously. (laughter) In fact he gave out a world championship belt. So he went for is belt and I went for my belt and Coppola said, “there are women and children here, you can’t do that.” But we did it. (laughter) and we mooned some woman turned to me and said, “Mr. Duvall, you’re fine.” Then she turned to her friend and said, “But did you catch the ball on Brando?” true story.

James Caan: I remember when Brando came home from the hospital.  Me and Bobby are supposed to carry him up on a stretcher.  So he grabs on end, I grab the other end.  When I lifted it, my testicles hit my ankles (laughter) but I wasn’t going to quit. And all of the sudden he was laughing.  He had put five hundred pounds of weight under the mattress.

Favorite Scene

Coppola: No, no. There are so many wonderful scenes and the cast is so beautiful.  I feel that an unsung hero in this was the villain.  A good villain is someone you take seriously, and I think Virgal Sollozzo played by Al Lettieri was dangerous. That made the whole story work better.

Coppola: What’s really, for me, beautiful about that scene was that when Bobby Duvall gets the news that they’ve killed him. He plays it not like the lawyer. He plays it like the son and you can see he is crying because his father has been killed. They’re a family. That’s what it really comes down to. That’s what it is really all about.