Fifty years after Francis Ford Coppola’s Mafia family drama was released, star Pacino is just coming to terms with the level of fame he acquired from the hit film.
“It’s hard to explain in today’s world — to explain who I was at that time and the bolt of lightning that it was,” Pacino told The New York Times. “I felt like, all of a sudden, some veil was lifted and all eyes were on me. Of course, they were on others in the film. But ‘The Godfather’ gave me a new identity that was hard for me to cope with.”
Pacino added, “It’s a piece of work that I was so fortunate to be in. But it’s taken me a lifetime to accept it and move on. It’s not like I played Superman.”
Pacino earned an Oscar nomination for his turn as reluctant budding boss Michael Corleone, going on to appear in all three “Godfather” films, inspired by the Mario Puzo novel.
“When I actually read the ‘Godfather’ book, I kept imagining [Pacino],” director Coppola said in a separate NYT interview. “And I didn’t have a second choice. It was, for me, always Al Pacino. That’s the reason why I was so tenacious about getting him to play Michael. That was my problem.”
Pacino called landing the role “like winning the lottery,” but also shared that at the time, he “didn’t have a choice” to turn it down.
“Francis wanted me. I had made the one film. And I wasn’t as interested in film to the extent that I became interested. My head was in another space,” Pacino said. “I felt out of place in the early films that I made. I remember saying to my friend [acting teacher] Charlie [Laughton]: ‘Wow, they talk about it being real, but meanwhile it’s not. Because there are wires all over you. And also, you’ve got to do it again!’ You do it and they say, ‘Well, go again, do it again.’ It’s real and not real at the same time, which takes some getting used to.”
The “Scent of a Woman” Oscar winner admitted that he assumed Coppola was “going through a min-breakdown or something” once he learned the director was attached to the big-budget film.
“How did they give him ‘The Godfather’?” Pacino said. “It just seemed so outrageous. Here I am, talking to somebody who I think is flipped out. I said, ‘What train am I on? OK. Humor the guy.’ And he wanted me to do Michael. I thought, OK, I’ll go along with this. I said, ‘Yes, Francis, good.’ You know how they talk to you when you’re slipping? They say, ‘Yes! Of course! Yes!’ But he wasn’t. It was the truth. And then I was given the part.”
Paramount Pictures famously “rejected” the entire cast, including Hollywood legend Marlon Brando, as well as James Caan and Robert Duvall. “There was conflict,” Pacino admitted. (That conflict is now at the center of Paramount+’s upcoming series “The Offer,” about the making of “The Godfather.”)
And, as Pacino explained, he only knew he was in “a good film” after shooting the funeral scene for Brando’s character, Don Corleone.
“There, sitting on a tombstone, is Francis Ford Coppola, weeping like a baby, profusely crying. And I went up to him and I said, ‘Francis, what’s wrong? What happened?’ He says, ‘They won’t give me another shot,’ meaning, they wouldn’t allow him to film another setup,” Pacino said. “And I thought, OK. I guess I’m in a good film here. Because he had this kind of passion and there it is.”