In celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary, Al Pacino takes fans back to the early 70s when he was an actor looking for his big break.
As Paramount gets ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather by re-releasing the movie in theaters and 4K Blu-ray with brand new restorations, fans of the film get a chance to reflect on what the characters and their stories mean to us. This also gives people like Al Pacino a chance to reflect as well.
It is hard to imagine The Godfather without Pacino. The incredible, Oscar-winning actor started his dynamic career with his understated performance as the introverted Michael Corleone. But without The Godfather, there wouldn’t be the Pacino that we know and love today.
The actor was a rising star of the New York theater scene with just one movie role, the 1971 drug drama The Panic in Needle Park, when Francis Ford Coppola fought for him to be his lead in the Mafia epic—against the wishes of Paramount Pictures. For Coppola, there was no one else that was worthy of the role, saying to The New York Times, “When I read the Godfather book, I kept imagining [Pacino]. And I didn’t have a second choice. It was, for me, always Al Pacino.”
But the performance of a lifetime brought its burdens to the up-and-coming actor.
“I felt like, all of a sudden, some veil was lifted and all eyes were on me,” Pacino says in an interview with The New York Times. “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.”
While Pacino had already snatched an Obie Award and a Tony before starring as Michael, there was something about the role that was overwhelmingly intense. For a majority of the film, Michael is lingering quietly in the background, not quite showing up until his speech where he says he is going to get the drug kingpin Sollozzo and the corrupt McCluskey.
“I’d like to think it was the nature of that particular person and that interpretation,” Pacino says. “I can’t think of any other characters that I made that coil that used that kind of framework.”
The film catapulted Pacino into immediate stardom as he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the film. That year, Pacino skipped out on the ceremony, but not because he was protesting the Academy for his nomination as supporting actor and not as the lead. He was just rebellious and uncomfortable with the entire situation.
“I just was afraid to go… I was young in terms of the newness of all this. It was the old shot-out-of-a-cannon syndrome.”
Marlon Brando did win the Oscar that year for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather but rejected the Oscar as a form of protest against Hollywood's treatment of Indigenous Americans.
“I am deeply honored by [my performance in The Godfather]. I really am. It’s a piece of work that I was so fortunate to be in. But it's taken me a lifetime to accept it and move on. It’s not like I played Superman,” says Pacino.
While Michael Corleone isn’t a beloved superhero that perhaps every recent generation knows, Pacino’s performance will hold a special place in the hearts of the film’s fans.
In celebration of The Godfather, let us know your favorite scene of performance from the film in the comments below!