How Dominic Chianese Lost His Shot at a Part in the 1st ‘Godfather’

Prior to landing his steady, lucrative job as Junior Soprano on HBO’s The Sopranos, Dominic Chianese put in decades of work in roles with far less publicity. As Chianese has recalled it in different interviews, he was still struggling to find acting work with good pay in his early ’60s.

That doesn’t mean Chianese didn’t have any big roles along the way. The Bronx-born actor landed a few major parts in the mid-’70s. His credits included Dog Day Afternoon (1975), starring Al Pacino, and All the President’s Men (1976).

But his career got its first boost when he played Johnny Ola in one of cinema’s great classics: The Godfather: Part II (1974). Chianese didn’t end up in that film by accident. He’d already had a strong shot at a role in the first Godfather film (1972). However, Chianese couldn’t make it to the audition.

Dominic Chianese didn’t have enough money to travel from Boston for his ‘Godfather’ audition

Dominic Chianese pays Johnny Ola in “The Godfather: Part II,” 1974. | CBS via Getty Images,

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Chianese, who turned 89 in February ’20, spoke about his path to playing Johnny Ola in The Godfather: Part II on the Talking Sopranos podcast. The process began with an interview with director Francis Ford Coppola at New York’s Paramount Building.

“Coppola talked to me for about 25 minutes,” Chianese recalled. “But I was on my way to Boston to play a juror [in a production there].” While Chianese was in Boston, he heard from his agent that Coppola wanted him to audition for a role in The Godfather. But he couldn’t get back to New York.

“I can’t come from Boston,” Chianese recalled telling him. “I have no money. Of course, they’re not gonna send a limo for the audition [laughs]. So I didn’t get into The Godfather I. Francis told me he had me up for a part; he never told me which one.”

The story gets better from there. Though Chianese couldn’t make it for Coppola’s callback, the director kept him in mind for the sequel to The Godfather, which followed soon after.

Francis Ford Coppola gave Chianese his ‘Godfather II’ part without an audition

Salvatore Corsitto, James Caan, and Marlon Brando in ‘The Godfather,’ 1972 | Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While Chianese didn’t mention it, you can imagine the sting he felt when he missed out on a part in what became a smash hit (and Oscar-winning) film. But the sequel won twice as many Oscars (six) as the first installment, and Chianese got his part in The Godfather: Part II.

“[Coppola] gave me the [Johnny Ola] part,” Chianese recalled on Talking Sopranos. “I’m sure Al Pacino and Lee Strasberg had a lot to do with it because I used to hang out at The [Actors] Studio. I wasn’t a Studio member, but I would hang out there.”

Between Pacino (Michael Corleone) and Strasberg (Hyman Roth), you’d imagine that was all the recommendations Coppola needed for Chianese. After Dog Day Afternoon, the Pacino connection paid off again at the end of the decade, when Chianese got a part in And Justice for All (1979).