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Al Pacino has starred in an impressive number of brilliant, classic films, from Dog Day Afternoon to Serpico to Heat, but arguably the greatest role of his career was Michael Corleone in the Godfather films. But believe it or not, when he was first offered the job, the Oscar winning actor wanted no part of it.
This fascinating behind-the-scenes story was told by Pacino in a recent interview with Loaded Magazine, the actor explaining not only that he never really wanted to be in The Godfather, but that he thought director Francis Ford Coppola was crazy for even considering the idea that he was the right choice. Admittedly, a big part of this was that nobody else at the studio actually wanted him to play the role either. Said Pacino,
"No one wanted me. Except for Coppola who was, I thought, a bit mad. He just wanted me. Even I said, 'What are you doing Francis? They don't want me'. Of course Warner Brothers said, 'Who is this kid?! Why do you like this kid? What do you see?'"
Looking at Al Pacino's filmography pre-The Godfather, it's not hard to understand what the studio's hesitation was (it should be noted that Paramount actually made the film, not Warner Bros.). By 1972, Pacino was far from a well-known name, his only big screen credits being the heroin drama The Panic in Needle Park and the 1969 dramedy Me, Natalie. But it wasn't his feature film work that was what made Francis Ford Coppola convinced that he was the perfect man to bring Michael Corleone to life. Instead, it was some of Pacino's award-winning stage work that caught the legendary director's eye. Said the actor,
"Francis saw me in a play called 'Does A Tiger Wear A Necktie?' I won a Tony for it and he just took a liking to me. I must say, very lucky me, because he is a great man and he wanted me and they wouldn't take me still."
In retrospect, of course, Francis Ford Coppola was proven right, and the folks at Paramount were made to look quite short-sighted. To make matters even worse, though, Pacino wasn't the only major star of The Godfather who the studio didn't actually want to be in the movie. Apparently they weren't too hot on the idea of bringing Marlon Brando in to play Don Vito Corleone either.
Hearing this story, it sounds like Al Pacino's career could really use another director like Francis Ford Coppola. It's pretty well-known that he has fallen into a bit of a slump in recent years, but perhaps all he needs is a filmmaker who sees him as being perfect for a role that nobody else can really see him in. Scorsese? Tarantino? I'm sure he's waiting for your call.