The Tribeca Film Festival just closed with a bang. Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro headlined a discussion following back-to-back screenings of “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” marking the 45th anniversary of the first film. It wasn’t just that formidable trio onstage: James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire were all in attendance as well.
So, too, was Don Corleone himself. A photo of Marlon Brando in character overlooked the proceedings, reminding everyone at Radio City Music Hall (and the 10,500 people watching on Facebook Live) that he’ll always be the head of the family.
Taylor Hackford, who moderated the discussion, began by mentioning the film’s humble beginnings: “The Godfather” was never intended as a high-profile prestige picture. Paramount envisioned it as a “quickie” meant to capitalize on Mario Puzo’s novel’s best-seller status. Coppola elaborated, recalling that he first spoke to Marlon Brando on the same day that an ad for “The Godfather” caught his eye. (Brando was calling to turn down “The Conversation.”)
“I was disappointed in the book when I first read it,” he admitted. “Maybe a third or a quarter of it was about Lucy Mancini’s anatomy…on the first read, I thought it was a little bit of a potboiler.” He then paid tribute to the many members of the cast and crew who are no longer with us before the 80-minute discussion began in full.
Caan on Coppola: “Francis, you know, somehow in his young little mind just knew who had it and who didn’t. He knew who every character was.”
Duvall on Brando: “When Jimmy would tell a joke, it would take Brando three seconds to get it.” [He then imitated Brando’s laugh.]
Keaton on how she got the role: “I honestly don’t know…then I read recently that Francis gave me the part because he thought I was eccentric. He wasn’t wrong.”
Coppola on Keaton: “I felt, how could I give [Kay] something beyond being a beautiful W.A.S.P. woman? How could I give her some stuff that might be interesting?” His answer: cast Diane Keaton.
Coppola on Pacino: “I heard Al was a wonderful theater actor. “Every time I read [the script], I always saw his face. Once you see someone in the role during the reading of it, it’s very hard to get that out of your head.”
Duvall on Brando: “It was easy [working with him], because he was like the godfather to younger actors.”
Caan on the cat: “That cat set there like it was there for 1,000 years.”
Coppola on watching them for the first time in years: “I found it a very emotional experience. I forgot a lot about the making of it.”
Pacino on John Cazale: “He was a very close friend of mine, and we had worked together.”
Coppola on Brando: “They said to me, if Marlon will do it for nothing, and if he’ll put up a million-dollar bond that he won’t cause trouble during production, you can have him. I said ‘yes.'”
Pacino on Coppola: “Without Francis, where would I be?”