The Godfather Speaks
Francis Ford Coppola, the director of the iconic Godfather series, reveals secrets about the making of the epic saga.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Francis Ford Coppola, Sept/Oct 03
(continued from page 4)
CA: "The Sopranos," of course, is happening 30 years later.
Coppola: There were three Godfather movies. But all these people loved to watch The Godfather and quote the lines. It became a kind of cultural phenomenon. There are three reasons that happened. One, because it had that extraordinary cast. It was a case of all the planets lining up correctly. You had a good cast, you had a wonderful book, you had a great photographer, you had a terrific art director, you had great music—you had all those things, and the public was ready for it. It's like chemistry. If you get the formula right, it will take off. It was furthered by Martin Scorsese. He made some great movies, notably Goodfellas, which looked at a more realistic view of the Mafia. My Godfather was more classical and not as gritty and as realistic as Goodfellas.
Marty was raised in Little Italy in Manhattan where there really were these fellows and they knew who they were, right in their own neighborhood. Don't forget, Joey Gallo was killed right in Umberto's Clam House, right down from where Marty was raised. Marty was a religious kid. He wanted to be a priest. He saw the Mafia from a different point of view than The Godfather. He saw it more from the little guy's perspective. He made movies more based on that perspective. And, then, what happened was "The Sopranos." But I haven't seen "The Sopranos."
CA: You've never seen the show?
Coppola: I'm so sick of the Mafia, everything about it. They just kind of picked up on what The Godfather had done and said, "Let's make a television series. We'll have a character who's one of those underbosses."
CA: So, you weren't directly or indirectly brought in as a consultant for "The Sopranos"?
Coppola: No way. I knew nothing. I don't think I've ever seen one. I do know Jim Gandolfini because I like him as an actor. He's a big interesting guy.
CA: You met him before or after he started playing in "The Sopranos"?
Coppola: I probably met him before, but didn't know him. I did meet him after the show began, too, and I spent a little time with him. I just liked him. He's a good actor. Usually, television series pick up on what happened in the movies years before and the public was still interested. The Godfather gets watched. I made The Godfather 30 years ago and they watch it as much now as they did then. So, it hasn't gone away. So, some smart guy said, "Lookit, let's have a new show. It'll be kind of that type of setting except maybe we'll do it from a lower level of the Mafia in New Jersey," or wherever it's supposed to be. It really comes down to that they wrote it well, apparently, and they have good actors. Well, I mean, movies, entertainment, theater—it's all about good acting and good writing that comes together.
The love affair with the outlaw, now in the form of the Mafia, has taken off once again. It's an extension of the same thing. Godfather still sells more now than it did when it came out.
CA: What do you mean, as a video?
Coppola: There's more every year: the DVD, the this, the that; it doesn't go away. I mean, it's like owning an apartment building and you keep getting the rent.
CA: And, it's also on TV.
Coppola: And it's on TV. I had some very low days, as you know, after I lost my studio and went through bankruptcy. It wasn't really bankruptcy, but it was a reorganization. And we lived off of The Godfather royalties and Apocalypse Now royalties.
CA: Do you ever see yourself doing a Godfather again?
Coppola: No. I personally didn't feel there was a necessity to make a second one, much less a third one. The third one I made because I was really broke.
CA: I'm fascinated that you've really never watched "The Sopranos." It's been on about four years and it's a topic of conversation no matter where you go. In some ways, one could argue that you were, in part, one of the fathers of it.
Coppola: I have an attitude about film and art. I think one of the reasons you make art is that you hope that it's going to get out there in the culture and that other people are going to take it and redo it and make it again. Young people are going to take your work and think of it in a new way and go on. In a sense, it's like having children that you love. I love the idea that my children are going to take over for me. By the same token, I like that filmmakers take what we did and remake it.
CA: In your life, you've done a lot of things. But without The Godfather, you might not be in the position to have the vineyard, the winery and the estate. Is that correct?
Coppola: I bought this place in 1975 with the money from The Godfather.
CA: What, in your mind, is the high point of your career? If not The Godfather, what was it?
Coppola: The Godfather is not the high point of my career because it was such a horrible experience and I hate the memory of it. I become nauseous when I think about it. For me, given what I want to do in my life, the high point of my career is The Conversation, because it was a film that I really wrote from scratch and I got to make the way I wanted to make.
But, I acknowledge that The Godfather is the event that made me, that put me on the map in a way so that I was able to make The Conversation and Apocalypse Now and other stuff. I am respectful of The Godfather.
First of all, movies are the work of many people, and The Godfather was the work of myself, Mario Puzo, Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, the cinematographer Gordy Willis, the art director Warren Clymer. In other words, I acknowledge that it was really a team. But all movies are. Everything you do in life is a team thing. I acknowledge that The Godfather really made me, but it also bugged me, too, because I couldn't escape it.
CA: Doesn't that always happen when you are the chef that married the ingredients?
Coppola: I was the chef. And the plan was in here, in this book. If you look at this, you'll see everything in that movie exactly the way it's done and why I did it that way. I was very fortunate that I had this recipe.
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