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‘The Godfather’ Reunion: Francis Ford Coppola, Cast on the Complicated Journey to Make Film History

The Corleone family and then some got back together Saturday night to recount the making of “The Godfather” during the Tribeca Film Festival’s closing night.

Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire took the stage to discuss the film’s complicated origin story during the panel hosted by Taylor Hackford.

Paramount bought “The Godfather,” Hackford intro-ed the talk, but they didn’t believe that mafia movies could work.

“I was attracted to it because I thought it was a foreign author, and an intellectual book about power,” Coppola recalled seeing the book before he had signed onto the film adaptation. But upon cracking the cover, he had some hesitations. “I was disappointed in the book when I first read it because it’s very long,” he said. “Much of the book — about a third — is about Lucy Mancini’s anatomy.”

The director remembered members of the cast and crew who have passed since the films were made, including Marlon Brando who hovered behind the panel in a framed photo.

Shire, Coppola’s sister, remembered her involvement in the movie was a bit contentious. “I asked for an audition,” she remembered. “It was tough for me, and it was tougher for my brother. The director’s job was up for grabs.”

Coppola concurred that the film’s origin had many moving parts, not limited to his own job. “The cast was always up in the air and there was a lot of controversy,” he said. The director remembered a moment in the creation when he was sure he would be let go by Paramount. “As long as I’m going to get fired, probably, my sister should at least get a chance,” he said.

The decision to cast Pacino as Michael Corleone was especially contentious, the director said. He had met Pacino in San Francisco and became obsessed with casting him in the film. “I just saw his face,” he said. “Once you see someone in the role, it’s very hard to get that out of your head.”

But the director’s support was simply not enough. Pacino recalled “countless” screen tests. “It seemed like I was always testing,” Pacino said. “I was still testing after I got the part.”

Pacino also said that he was more interested in playing Sonny. “I thought, [Michael] is not a good role,” Pacino said. He also remembered having a breakdown with Keaton after filming one night. “We’re gone. It’s over. This is the worst film ever made,” he remembered saying at the time.

Brando’s casting, too, took convincing. Paramount told Coppola that Brando couldn’t be in the movie because he was a financial liability, and that the director wasn’t allowed to bring up his name. “I fell on the floor in a faint,” Coppola said.

The full trivia and tidbit-filled conversation below:

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