Al Pacino Had a Really Hard Time with His Role in ‘The Godfather Part 2’ — ‘I Was Borderline Breakdown’

Al Pacino is universally-regarded as one of the greatest actors of his generation. He’s made a name for himself starring in unforgettable films such as Scarface and Dog Day Afternoon, but his most iconic films are arguably the Godfather trilogy.

Yet, as much as fans love Pacino for his work in the film trilogy, few realize how much his legendary performances took out of him. The character of Michael Corleone was extremely difficult to get into and stayed with him long after filming wrapped.

Al Pacino struggled with his role in ‘The Godfather Part 2’

Al Pacino
Clemenza (Richard Castellano) kisses the hand of the new “Godfather”, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), in the last scene of The Godfather. | Getty Images

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Pacino opened up about his experience filming The Godfather Part II during an interview with Jimmy Kimmel

“I was going through a bit of a dark time there,” Pacino said. “I was borderline breakdown, borderline make it or not make it.”

Pacino revealed that the role itself was weighing heavily on him while filming. 

“Yeah, I wasn’t very happy,” Pacino said. “Well, it’s a difficult role. And you have to sort of get into it, and I was having a little trouble.”

Finding a way to connect with the character had an enormous impact on Pacino’s mental health. 

“It’s always the role, and trying to get there, sometimes it can be difficult, and trying, and make you—and concern you about certain things,” Pacino said. 

Producers weren’t confident in his ability to perform in ‘The Godfather’

Prior to filming The Godfather Part II, Pacino was already having problems with his character. The studio wasn’t initially sold on him for the Michael Corleone role in the first Godfather film, but changed their mind. 

“They didn’t want me, and there were a series of tests. … We finally got to shoot, they accepted,” Pacino said. “Because Jerry Schatzberg, my great friend and director, gave them eight minutes from Panic in Needle Park. And when they saw the footage they hired me.”

Even after Pacino secured the role, the studio wasn’t too keen on his performance. 

“And then when I got on the thing, they were gonna fire me about two weeks into it,” Pacino said. “They didn’t care for what they were seeing.”

He nearly got fired from ‘The Godfather’

Two weeks into filming The Godfather, Pacino was on the chopping block. Like a true friend, director Francis Ford Coppola called Pacino in to try to motivate him. 

“Francis said, ‘Listen, you know I believe in you and all this, but you gotta take a look at the footage,’ Pacino recalled. “So I went to the Paramount building and looked at the footage, cause I knew this was it, my job is over now. And I watched the footage, which I didn’t think was good, or great or anything, but it wasn’t really bad because it was what I was thinking about in this role.” 

Pacino personally didn’t think his performance was bad, he just felt the studio didn’t understand what he was doing with the character. 

“I had given a lot of thought to this role because you had to. It’s a certain kind of role. And I thought, ‘The power of the role was in the transition from this kid.’ You don’t quite know who he is, where he’s going and then before you know it, he becomes this leader without tracking it. So I liked that I would help create a kind of enigmatic person.”

“What was more of a struggle was living afterward with the aura of that. … Being that character, … it sort of had an effect on me, on my life, for a while. ” Pacino added.