‘The Godfather’: 12 Shocking Behind-the-Scenes Secrets

It has been 45 years since The Godfather was released and the movie is still considered one of the best in cinema. The movie tells the story of a family being pulled apart through organized crime. It launched many people’s careers and won Best Picture, Best Lead Actor for Marlon Brando, and Best Writing at the Academy Awards.

Francis Ford Coppola, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, Talia Shire, and Robert De Niro reunited all these years later at the Tribeca Film Festival. There, they watched the first two movies and then talked about it with an audience. Here are 12 shocking behind-the-scenes secrets from their reunion.

1. Francis Ford Coppola didn’t think Talia Shire was the right person to play Connie

The cast is sitting in church in The Godfather: Part III.
The Godfather: Part III | Paramount Pictures

The Coppola family is pretty powerful in the entertainment business today, but it wasn’t always liked that. “I asked for an audition,” said Talia Shire. The actress was actually pretty inexperienced at the time and didn’t know what a mark was, so she would knock over cameras while filming. But that wasn’t the reason her brother, Francis Ford Coppola, didn’t think she was right for the part.

“I didn’t see Talia as Connie because I felt from my interpretation that Connie was kind of homely Italian daughter that only got to marry a good-looking guy like the husband she did because she was a wealthy and powerful girl,” explained the director. “To me, I thought Talia was so beautiful that anyone would want to marry her.” It was actually the producer, Robert Evans who championed her.

2. Coppola was told to let himself be fired

Young Vito is looking at the Statue of Liberty.
The Godfather: Part II | Paramount Pictures

The producers weren’t fans of what was being filmed so it looked like they were about to fire Coppola. This is when the director got a message from his secretary saying, “Very important! Don’t quit let them fire you.” At this point, the director didn’t have any money so if he was fired he would actually still get some money.

3. Diane Keaton got the part because she’s ‘eccentric’

Diane Keaton is in a polka dot dress and hat in The Godfather.
The Godfather | Paramount Pictures

“I read recently that Francis thought I was eccentric. He wasn’t wrong!” said actress Diane Keaton. Coppola went on to explain why that mattered. “What it was was that Kay was written as a New England WASP in the book and she was pretty straight,” explained the director, but he wanted her to be interesting. “You playing the beautiful WASP girlfriend would give it a lot of texture,” he told Keaton.

4. Robert Evans didn’t want Al Pacino in the film

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone and sitting on a bench in The Godfather.
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather | Paramount Pictures

The movie producer didn’t want Al Pacino in the film for multiple reasons, but it was mostly due to Pacino’s looks and the fact that the actor is 5-foot-7 and relatively short. “What it really was is that [Robert] Evans is a tall good-looking guy. And originally he wanted Ryan O’Neal or Redford,” explained Coppola. “[Evans] wanted someone like him to play Michael and I wanted someone who looked like me.”

5. A mob fixer reportedly helped Pacino do the movie

Michael Corleone holds Fredo's face at a party in The Godfather.
Michael Corleone holds Fredo’s face at a party in The Godfather: Part II | Paramount Pictures

Pacino was signed to The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, which could have prevented him from doing The Godfather. The talk’s moderator, Taylor Hackford, claimed that Evans got a mob fixer who was also a lawyer to get Pacino out of the contract.

It worked and he was able to do the movie.

6. Marlon Brando turned into Vito before Coppola’s eyes

A scene from The Godfather where a man whispers in another mans ear while they're both wearing tuxedos
The Godfather | Paramount Pictures

“He came out of his bedroom early in the morning. He was a beautiful man, long blonde hair, Japanese robe on, and not a lot of words spoken,” explained Coppola. “He took his hair and rolled it up. He took shoe polish on it and put a shirt on and started bending — they always had the collars bent you know.”

Brando also took paper and stuffed it in his mouth in order to look like a bulldog. He considered that the character might have been shot in the throat, so he started doing a raspy voice.

7. The cat in the opening scene was a last minute addition

Don Vito is sitting at a desk in a tuxedo petting a cat.
The Godfather | Paramount Pictures

“That was the studio cat. One take, only one take,” revealed Coppola. The cat looks very relaxed with Brando and even lies on the table when he puts him there. “Brando had a wonderful way with children and animals. He loved them.”

8. The cast had a family dinner before filming to get their characters right

The cast of The Godfather is having dinner together.
The Godfather | Paramount Pictures

“Remember the rehearsal where we just had Brando for the first time and we had that dinner in the back of Patsy’s restaurant?” asked Coppola to the cast. Each actor took on their character while having the family meal. “And after that dinner that made me realize that improvisation with food is very lasting. They sort of had what they were gonna be after that.”

9. There was a trick used to make Luca Brasi funny

Luca Brasi is sitting down practicing his lines.
The Godfather | Paramount Pictures

Actor Lenny Montana had a funny entrance while attempting to speak to Vito at the wedding. But the scene didn’t read as funny until actor James Caan used a trick. Caan said Coppola told him, “Jimmy do something” to “make him funny.”

Caan decided to tell Montana to stick his tongue out when saying “Don Corleone” and they put tape on his tongue that read “F U” on it. This made Montana pronounce the words in a funny way. In the later takes, when they took off the tape, Montana still pronounced the name in a funny way. They later added the scene of Montana practicing the lines at the wedding to top off the joke.

10. Montana was allegedly ‘the real deal’

Luca Brasi looks into the camera on The Godfather
The Godfather | Paramount Pictures

Montana wasn’t really an actor, which explained his struggle on set. But he reportedly identified closely with the mob characters that the cast was portraying. “Let me put it this way, there is a scene where he pulls out a gun puts bullets and spins it,” explained Coppola.

When he asked Montana if he could do that, he responded, “Are you kiddin’?”

11. Pacino liked the role of Sonny more

Sonny looks down at a fish wrapped in paper in The Godfather.
The Godfather | Paramount Pictures

It’s hard to imagine Pacino playing anyone else, but Michael Corleone wasn’t his first choice. “Gee, it’s not a good role. Sonny is the part I could play,” said Pacino. “It’s got meat in it that you could really get out there and do it — what [James Caan] does.”

But Coppola was adamant that the role of Michael was perfect for Pacino.

12. It was Shire’s idea for Kay to have an abortion

Michael Corleone looks at Kay angrily while standing by a window
The Godfather: Part II | Paramount Pictures

Many remember the heated scene where Kay finally stands up to Michael. But most don’t know who came up with it. “The important scene where you tell Al [Pacino] that it wasn’t a miscarriage, it was an abortion, that was Talia’s idea,” Coppola told Keaton.

Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice

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