‘The Godfather’: How Francis Ford Coppola Handled Real Mob Figures During Production

It might sound like fiction today, but while making The Godfather producers had to fend with real-life mobsters. Paramount production boss Robert Evans recalled anonymous threats from the very beginning. Then it became clear that the shoot would have union troubles (or worse) if Paramount and director Francis Ford Coppola didn’t meet some of the mob’s demands.

Gulf+Western, Paramount’s parent company, had evacuations at its Manhattan headquarters following bomb scares. Then, producer Al Ruddy heard a car was following him around Los Angeles. And during location scouting, crew members realized no one in Manhasset would work with them.

Needless to say, it was no way to make a movie. So Ruddy decided to play ball with the mafia. Along with passing the script to Colombo family boss Joe Colombo, Ruddy also agreed to bring in a few Colombo associates to perform in The Godfather. As for Coppola, the director followed the advice of author Mario Puzo on how to deal with the mob.

Francis Ford Coppola simply ignored mobsters around the ‘Godfather’ shoot

Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola discuss a 'Godfather' scene on location.
Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola discuss a ‘Godfather’ scene on location in Little Italy. | Anthony Pescatore/NY Daily News via Getty Images

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While the mobsters threw their weight around with Paramount brass, Coppola recognized that he had the insulation he needed and could get to work. If he came across any mob figures during the shoot, he did as Puzo had instructed.

“I got terrific advice from Mario Puzo,” Coppola told Playboy (via Scraps From the Loft) in 1975. “He told me Mafia guys loved the glamor of show business and that, if you let them, they’d get involved. Mario told me that I’d probably be contacted and when I was, I should refuse to open up to them. “

Coppola did just that. If someone connected offered a phone number or tried to pay him a visit, the director rebuffed them each time. “Because if there’s one thing about them, it’s that they respect that attitude,” Coppola told Playboy. “If you turn them off, they won’t intrude into your life.”

Yet that was only possible with Ruddy doing the opposite. You could say, without exaggerating, Ruddy wined and dined mafiosos during the Godfather shoot. It appears he couldn’t have made the film without a number of concessions.

Coppola accepted a connected ‘actor’ in the Luca Brasi role

Marlon Brando gestures at a table while Robert Duvall sits behind him in 'The Godfather.'
Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall in a still from ‘The Godfather’ | Paramount Studios/Courtesy of Getty Images

To sidestep issues with the unions and film locations, Ruddy attended a charity dinner organized by the Colombo family. And Ruddy agreed to have connected characters fill out small parts in The Godfather. The Luca Brasi role was reportedly among them.

In The Godfather Companion, Peter Biskind says that Lenny Montana, who played Brasi, got his part through the Ruddy-Colombo understanding. Prior to The Godfather, Montana’s experience in entertainment was limited to his work as a professional wrestler.

That created some problems on-set. While Montana had no problem handling a revolver, he did have trouble saying his lines. Coppola figured out a solution for that, though. Knowing he had footage of Montana flubbing lines, he shot the scene in which Brasi rehearses for his visit to Vito Corleone.