When it comes to gangster movies, there are two different periods: before and after ‘The Godfather’. In fact, Coppola’s film set the standard not only for crime dramas but for movies in general. The 1972 original and its 1974 sequel are often considered by fans and critics to be among the greatest films of all time. Both won the Oscar for Best Picture.
‘The Godfather’ owes much of its success to its script, to Coppola’s direction, but also to the cast. The good eye of the director managed to bring together one of the most remembered casts in the history of cinema. Nobody can now imagine Michael Corleone with another face than Al Pacino, or Sonny without the face of James Caan. And, above all, one of the images that have remained for posterity is the figure of Don Vito Corleone: Marlon Brando left his most iconic character thanks to a colossal characterization and interpretation. It’s hard to believe that he almost didn’t get chosen for the patriarch of this gangster family.
Paramount did not agree very much with the choice of Brando, but Coppola and Mario Puzo, the author of the novel, clearly saw in him the character. Finally, and under certain conditions, they accepted the actor from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ or ‘Rebellion on Board’, who was 48 years old at the time. Dick Smith’s splendid work as a make-up artist shaped this elderly gangster.
However, despite the fact that Brando was the pinnacle, the top had to be supported with strong materials for the fortification that Francis had in mind. The script and the direction were the foundations of that structure at the top of which was Brando and his Don Vito Corleone. However, that top had to be supported by strong columns. Five decades later, it has been proven that Coppola made an effort to find the best pillars, which have acquired the category of totem given the scope of the film. A good cast is not only sustained by a good performance and a good previous casting, but also by the chemistry at the time of shooting and the result that remains on celluloid. Thus, the cast of the entire saga is one of the most memorable.
A curious fact regarding the saga is that three actors have played two different roles: Carmine Caridi was not finally Sonny but instead was Albert Volpe in ‘The Godfather III’ and Carmine Rosato in ‘The Godfather II’ . Frank Sivero played a young Genco Abbandando in ‘The Godfather II’, and had a brief appearance in ‘The Godfather’. The same thing happened to Sofia Coppola, who as a baby came out briefly playing Carlo and Connie’s son, and in the third part she was Maria Corleone.
Fifty years later, we remember the actors and actresses of that first film. How did your careers continue after being in one of the most emblematic films in the history of cinema?
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Brando was one of the great eminences of Hollywood. He had been accumulating titles in his filmography without any very notable title in recent years. Far behind were some portentous jobs and a face: that heartthrob who years ago swept away with ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, a role he had already done on stage, ‘Viva Zapata!’, ‘Julio Cesar’ or ‘The Law of Silence ‘ (for which he received a nomination and in the latter his first Oscar) he now saw himself with several extra kilos, isolated on his island of Tahiti and working more from time to time since the producers were not so interested in him.
However, everything changed in 1972: the controversial ‘Last tango in Paris’ was released, and the film that concerns us. The success of ‘The Godfather’ marked a comeback. His transformation into Don Vito earned him his second Oscar, which he turned down to protest Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans.
The return was not very long lasting. After those two works came some recognized ones such as ‘Apocalypse Now’, also under the orders of Coppola, or the character of Jor-El, the father of ‘Superman’, a role with few minutes that he accepted for money (about 4 million dollars ). During the eighties he did not work (only ‘The formula’ in 1980 and ‘An arid white station’ right at the end of the decade), and in the 90s he appeared in films like ‘Don Juan de Marco’ or ‘The island of Doctor Moureau ‘. His projects were increasingly sporadic, also in part because of the difficulty of working with him. He passed away in July 2004 at the age of 80.
Coppola fought hard for that then unknown actor to give life to his Michael Corleone. The studio wanted someone like Warren Beaty or Robert Redford for the role, but that role went to Al Pacino. Coppola had seen him act in the theater, where he developed the first years of his career. Being the third son of the Corleones gave him his first Oscar nomination. The second part also gave her another nomination, but the statuette would not arrive until 1993 with ‘Essence of a woman’.
He has undoubtedly had one of the most enviable careers in Hollywood: ‘The price of power’, ‘Donni Brasco’, ‘Sérpico’, ‘Heat’, ‘The Irishman’ or ‘The House of Gucci’, one of the last.
As with several of her co-stars, ‘The Godfather’ proved to be Diane Keaton’s career jumpstart, taking her from a fervent career from the stage to the big screen. As Michael’s girlfriend Kay, a small but crucial role in the first film, and one that she would later develop in the second and third films.
Keaton went on to offer great performances, many of them directed by Woody Allen, most notably ‘Annie Hall’, which gave him the Oscar. Works such as ‘Manhattan’, ‘Dreams of a seducer’ or ‘Mysterious murder in Manhattan’ are also to his credit. He has also worked on ‘Rojos’, and has developed part of his career in comedies: ‘Baby, you are worth a lot’, ‘The father of the bride’, ‘The first wives club’ or ‘When you least expect it’ . In that long string of works there is room for series, such as ‘The Young pope’ in 2016.
Caan was not the first choice to be Vito’s firstborn. The director wanted Carmine Caridi in the role of the hot-tempered Sonny Corleone. However he was too tall compared to Al Pacino. Along with him and Duvall, he also got his nomination from the academy. After this film, he appeared in the second part reprising the role in a flashback. ‘The Godfather’ was his tenth film. After Caan has continued to work in the cinema with a career with more than 60 films behind him. Among them ‘A Bridge Too Far’, ‘Elite Assassins’, ‘Misery’, ‘Mickey Blue Eyes’, ‘Dogville’, ‘Elf’, ‘Blood Ties’, and a long etcetera. In fact, he turned down the roles in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, ‘The French Connection’, ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ or two with which he would have reunited with his father in fiction: ‘Apocalypse Now’ (Martin Sheen took the role) or ‘Superman’ himself. Although Brando tried to convince him, Caan did not see himself as a superhero. His latest work was ‘The Queen Bee Club’, together with Ellen Burstyn. He is the father of fellow actor Scott Caan. In March he will be 82 years old.
Robert Duvall (like everyone else) received a lot of praise for his performance in the movie of the consegliere.
Tom Hagen, who also got an Oscar nomination. He already had film experience in films like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘The Human Pack’ among others. For this film he received his first Oscar nomination, the first of seven (he won it in 1984 for ‘Thanks and favors’). Duvall has continued to work tirelessly and has several titles in these fifty years: ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘The Best’, ‘Days of Thunder’, ‘Something to Talk About’, ‘A Day of Fury’, ‘The Scarlet Letter’ , ‘Deep Impact’, ‘John Q’, ‘The Highway’, ‘Jack Reacher’, ‘A Night in Old Mexico’, ‘The Judge’ or ‘Widows’. In January he has turned 91 years old.
Talia Shire had appeared in a small handful of films before her brother Francis Ford Coppola cast her as Connie, Corleone’s daughter. Shire also appears in the second and third parts. For the second she got her first nomination.
Shire later had another appearance in another important film saga: she played Adrianna Pennino, Adrian, the girlfriend and later wife of Rocky, another role that earned her her second nomination. Her trajectory has continued since she has not stopped working. She not only in the cinema, she also in some series, such as ‘Grace and Frankie’ in 2018.
Cazale made his feature film debut in The Godfather, having previously made a career on the Broadway stage. The actor appeared in only five more films before his death from lung cancer in 1978 at the age of 42. The actor thus left a great legacy with five films, all of them nominated for Best Picture. In addition to the first and second parts of the Coppola saga, he also appeared in ‘The Conversation’, ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and ‘The Hunter’, which he did not see. There is a sixth film, ‘The Godfather III’, in which footage was used that had not been used in the previous ones.
Stefanelli had a few movies before getting involved in the Coppola movie. After being Apollonia, a role that she did when she was just 17 years old. She was not convinced by the offers that came from Hollywood and she developed her career in her native Italy, with just thirteen more films.
His last title is from thirty years ago: ‘Le amiche del cuore’, released in 1992. After that work he retired from the world of acting and lived dedicated to his family and the world of design.
Abe Vigoda also worked primarily on stage before ‘The Godfather,’ with only one uncredited screen appearance before playing capo Sal Tessio. He reprized the role briefly in the sequel’s closing flashback scene.
After this work, Vigoda did not stop working. He had numerous appearances in different jobs as a supporting actor in series such as ‘Life and Miracles of Captain Miller’, for whose character, Phil Fish, he became quite popular in the United States, or in films such as ‘Look Who’s Talking’, ‘Joe vs. the volcano’. He continued to act even at a very advanced age. He passed away in 2016, a month before his 95th birthday.
At just two months old, Coppola’s daughter had her first role on the big screen. Nothing more and nothing less than being little Michael Francis Rizzi, the son of Connie and Carlo. In this way, baby Sofia became “her aunt’s son” since Talia in real life is the director’s sister.
To this day, Sofia has followed in her father’s footsteps in directing. She later appeared in her father’s films: being just a girl in ‘Rebeldes’, although her most relevant appearance in front of the cameras was in ‘The Godfather III’.
However, his thing was behind the cameras. After a short film in 1998, ‘Lick the star’, the adaptation of the novel ‘The Virgin Suicides’ premiered in 1999. Then came ‘Lost in translation’, his cult film, or ‘Marie Antoinette’ in 2006. With ‘Somewhere’ he won in Venice in 2010, followed by ‘The bling ring’ three years later. In 2016 he readapted ‘La seduccion’, and his latest film was ‘On the rocks’.
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