Everyone knows everything about the Godfather trilogy. Its quotability, alone, is astounding: legions of fans know every line, plot, subplot, and sub-subplot and can mimic the mannerisms of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro. But as familiar as the trilogy may be, there are still plenty of nuggets of Godfather goodness that may surprise you. Here are ten things you may not have known about Francis Ford Coppola’s epic triptych.
1. Marlon Brando, James Caan, and Robert Duvall enjoyed mooning the cast and crew.
The trio of actors engaged in a mooning competition during the course of the Godfather shoot. Brando pulled the ultimate moon on the 44th day of filming, pulling down his pants in the midst of a giant wedding-reception scene. For his dubious valor, he received a belt buckle with the engraving “Mighty Moon King.”
2. Actors researched their roles by hanging out with real mobsters.
Brando prepared for his role by meeting with a Bufalino gangster. Pacino, Caan, and Duvall have all acknowledged meetings with mobsters, as well, with Caan becoming especially familiar with Carmine “The Snake” Persico and noting “how they’re always touching
themselves. Thumbs in the belt. Touching the jaw. Adjusting the shirt. Gripping the crotch.”
3. Don Vito Corleone’s cat-petting in the opening scene was improvised.
When we first meet Don Corleone in the opening scene, he’s sitting at his desk with a gray cat in his lap, stroking away as he listens to a plea for help. The effective image was, in fact, purely serendipitous: when a stray cat wandered onto the set, Brando incorporated it into the scene. Another act of improvisation can be found in a later scene: the orange-peel fangs that Corleone bares at his grandson were entirely Brando’s own idea.
4. Brando was the studio’s last choice for the role of Don Vito Corleone.
Executives refused to consider Brando for the role of Don Corleone, given the difficult actor’s reputation. Among the other actors considered were Laurence Olivier, George C. Scott, Anthony Quinn, and Ernest Borgnine. But at the insistence of Coppola and Godfather author Mario Puzo, Brando was finally hired on the condition that he work only for a percentage of the profits and that he agree to a screen test — his first since 1953.
5. The Godfather script was offered to numerous directors before Coppola.
Elia Kazan, Arthur Penn, Costa-Gravas, and Richard Brooks are a few of the filmmakers Paramount first approached to adapt Puzo’s best-selling novel. The studio finally agreed to offer the job to Coppola, partly because of the director’s Italian heritage, and Coppola, whose first impression of Puzo’s novel was negative, initially declined. Eventually, though, he agreed, and the rest is history.
6. Michael Corleone was the toughest role to cast.
Coppola saw Pacino in a Broadway play and instantly knew he had found his Michael Corleone, but at the time Pacino was an unknown and didn’t perform well when he tested for the role. The studio insisted on casting a big name, like Warren Beatty or Jack Nicholson. But options waned, and with the start date looming the studio caved to Coppola’s wishes.
7. Coppola didn’t want to direct a sequel.
Coppola was burned out by The Godfather and resisted the sequel. “It sounded like a tacky spin-off,” he later told Playboy. After much coaxing, he agreed on the condition that producer Robert Evans, who had hounded him during The Godfather, stay out of his hair and that he get to name the movie The Godfather: Part II.
8. Al Pacino made peanuts in The Godfather.
Given his obscurity at the time, Pacino earned a relatively paltry $35,000 for the first film. However, after the success of The Godfather, as well as lauded performances in Scarecrow and Serpico (for which he received an Oscar nomination), he landed a $600,000 salary for The Godfather: Part II, as well as a 10 percent cut of the movie’s adjusted-gross income.
9. Coppola didn’t want to cast his sister, Talia Shire, as Connie Corleone Rizzi.
Coppola cast various family members in minor roles but was against casting his sister, Talia Shire, as Connie. He thought she was too beautiful to play a woman who was supposed to be homely. But Shire’s screen test came off brilliantly, and Coppolla relented, not wanting to deny her the opportunity of a lifetime.
10. The Italian-American Civil Rights League protested The Godfather.
At the time, the Italian-American Civil Rights League, which held a lot of sway in New York City, objected to the movie’s negative depiction of Italians. As a concession, a producer offered to donate some of the proceeds to the league’s hospital fund and to give some of the league’s members small roles in the movie. But the offer was withdrawn after negative press.