‘The Godfather’: Al Pacino Says it was Hard to ‘Cope’ With His New Level of Fame

Al Pacino is one of the most celebrated actors of all time. At 81, Pacino continues to give great performances in his films just like he has throughout his career. His role as Michael Corleone in The Godfather and its sequels put him on the map. With The Godfather celebrating its 50th anniversary, Pacino says that it was hard for him to “cope” with the new level of fame that The Godfather brought him. 

Al Pacino thought Francis Ford Coppola was joking when he offered him the role

Al Pacino reflects on the fame he received after his role in The Godfather
Al Pacino in ‘The Godfather Part II’ | CBS via Getty Images

At the time in his career during the late 60s-early 70s, Pacino had success on the stage but only appeared in two movies, Me, Natalie and The Panic in Needle Park. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Pacino said that the novel by Mario Puzo was a “big deal” and he couldn’t believe that Coppola got the gig to direct it. When Coppola offered him the role of Michael, Pacino said he thought the director was “flipped out.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh here. It just seemed so outrageous,” Pacino joked. “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.”

Pacino explained that Paramount was not only opposed to this casting choice, but the entire cast as a whole. 

“Well, they rejected his entire cast!” Pacino exclaimed. “They rejected Brando. They rejected Jimmy Caan and Bob Duvall. There was conflict.”

Pacino said ‘The Godfather’ was a ‘bolt of lightning’ for his career

The Godfather instantly became a success with both critics and audiences when it debuted in 1972. It launched Pacino’s career as a film actor and Pacino himself credits the film for getting him to where he is now.

“I’m here because I did The Godfather,” Pacino said. “For an actor, that’s like winning the lottery. When it comes right down to it, I had nothing to do with the film but play the part.”

He became a recognizable star for his role as Michael and started appearing in more high-profile films in the 1970s including Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. Pacino told The New York Times it was hard to “cope with” the new identity that he had in the world. 

“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 explained. “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 skipped the Academy Awards, despite being nominated

Pacino did get nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Godfather. However, he did not attend the ceremony. Pacino explained that he was still “uncomfortable” with being in that world. 

I was somewhat uncomfortable with being in that situation, being in that world,” Pacino said. “I was also working onstage in Boston at that time [in Richard III]. But that was an excuse. I just was afraid to go. I was young, younger than even my years. I was young in terms of the newness of all this. It was the old shot-out-of-a-cannon syndrome. And it’s connected to drugs and those kinds of things, which I was engaged in back there, and I think that had a lot to do with it. I was just unaware of things back then.”

He was not the only member of the cast to stir up Oscars drama as Pacino reminds the Times that Marlon Brando, who won Best Actor for playing Vito Corleone, declined the award. Pacino was nominated for Best Actor for The Godfather Part II but lost to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto. He finally won Best Actor for his role in Scent of a Woman

The Godfather trilogy is being released on March 22 in 4k Ultra HD to celebrate its 50th anniversary. 

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