The closing night of the Tribeca Film Festival brought together the cast from two of the most important and influential movies ever made: The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. Led by the festival’s co-founder, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Talia Shire took the stage with their director, Francis Ford Coppola, to look back on the iconic films after they screened back to back for the audience.
The discussion, which was led by director Taylor Hackford, focused mainly on the first film, which allowed De Niro — who only appeared in Part II — to stay almost completely silent, seemingly to the notoriously shy actor’s satisfaction.
Coppola led a good deal of the talk, which focused mainly on how chaotic much of the production was. He recalled first learning about Mario Puzo’s original novel, hearing from the men who would go on to be the film’s producers, and receiving a call from Marlon Brando (he was turning down a part in Coppola’s The Conversation) all on the same day.
Given some time to warm up, Pacino took command of the stage, delivering a lively retelling of his casting process, which was tortured, to put it lightly. Coppola had wanted Pacino, then known mainly for his work on the stage, from the get-go, but Paramount wasn’t convinced. Producer Robert Evans thought Pacino was too short - which Pacino admitted was “sorta true” - and favored someone like Robert Redford, since as Coppola pointed out, there are some fair-haired Sicilians.
A dozen or so screen tests later Pacino got the part, but his first weeks on set were troubled. He recalled hearing people on set giggling at his performance, and when Coppola showed him some of the takes from those early days, he understood. The director then moved up the famous restaurant scene in the shooting schedule in order to convince Paramount not to fire Pacino, and it worked.
Pacino was not the only person that Paramount was looking to get rid of. At one point during filming, Coppola was told that he was going to be fired that weekend. The studio had gotten the sense that things weren’t going well, and the company wanted to weekend to solidify a replacement. And perhaps channeling Don Vito, Coppola found the 12 people working on set that were his loudest “naysayers” and fired them. He wasn’t sure at the time whether that was allowed, but the move had the desired affect. Once the studio saw a reshot version of the Don’s assassination, Coppola was back on the picture, with a more loyal crew.
As the night went on, the group exchanged stories, some of which had been forgotten by other cast members. Caan, in particular, had a few wild tales that only he seemed to remember, but he would regularly forget to speak into the microphone. One of the more surreal moments of the evening came as a result, when Duvall instructed Caan to “Use your mic” in pitch-perfect Tom Hagen sternness.
Eventually, the consigliere joined in on the fun. The 86-year-old Duvall remembered a time during the wedding when he, Brando, and the other cast members were mooning each other. One of the women on set saw the stunt and pulled him aside saying, “Listen, Bob, you’re fine, but did you catch those balls on Brando?”
Keaton was quiet for much of the night until the end when she told the story of rewatching The Godfather recently for the first time in a while on a laptop. “I was just in awe,” she said. “I couldn’t get over it. It was so astonishing. Every choice [Coppola] made was so authentically perfect. And the f--ing computer!”