There can be no Godfather without Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone, but as we’ve seen so far in The Offer, the battle for casting was intense, including the debate about Brando in the lead role. That’s where things get rolling with The Offer episode 4, "The Right Shade of Yellow."
In this next chapter of the Paramount Plus original series about the making of The Godfather, Coppola makes and pushes a video of Brando transforming into the Don to try and convince the Paramount brass to hire the legendary but fallen star, while Ruddy makes some maneuvers of his own to get Al Pacino into the role of Michael. Elsewhere, Colombo begins to wield his influence to help The Godfather production.
Did a home video land Marlon Brando The Godfather?
Al Ruddy (Miles Teller), Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler), Bettye McCartt (Juno Temple) and Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo) have a plan to convince Paramount’s executives that Marlon Brando is the right man to play the part of Don Corleone. With a home video camera, the team goes to Marlon Brando’s (Justin Chambers) house to do a make-shift audition.
Brando comes down in a kimono, with his blonde haired tied in a ponytail, looking about as far away from Vito Corleone as you could imagine. However, he readies himself for this screen test by putting on black shoe polish in his hair and wadded tissues into his mouth. Everyone is amazed by the transformation (we don’t get to see it, unfortunately).
To make sure Paramount can’t say no to this, Coppola flies to New York and shows the video to Charlie Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman), who then tells Robert Evans (Matthew Goode) to watch it. They agree, it proves Brando is still a great actor and right for the part.
Is this really how Marlon Brando secured his eventual Oscar-winning part in The Godfather? This is a fact that has become Hollywood legend, though as the series has done already, the details are being fudged around a bit.
In an interview with Cigar Aficionado, Coppola said that the screen test for Brando wasn’t a sneak attack by him and the production team behind Paramount’s back, but in fact, a condition the studio set if they were going to hire Brando; Coppola was sure, however, not to call it a screen test to Brando. Also, Coppola had a film crew help him with the video, it doesn’t appear Ruddy, McCartt or Puzo went with him.
As far as Brando’s initial appearance at his home that is accurate, per Coppola’s retelling. The director was also just as astonished with the real transformation as he is in the show — "We look at it and it's a miracle, how he goes from this 47-year-old surfer guy into the beginnings of this character." The last few bits, with Coppola going straight to Bluhdorn, are also accurate.
Unfortunately, this piece of Hollywood history appears to have been lost forever, as no one seems to know where the video has gone to.
Did the mob help secure locations for The Godfather?
Now that Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi) is on the side of The Godfather after the meeting in episode 3, he proves his incredible power and violent methods to Ruddy in a scene involving the owner of the home the production wants to use for the Corleone compound. After the owner back-tracked on having the movie shoot at this home, Colombo has his men kidnap the man. With Ruddy in tow, Colombo basically threatens to kill the man if he doesn’t provide his house for the movie. Ruddy and the man are both terrified, with Ruddy now grappling with the nature of his new ally. But did this scene really happen? No.
Prior to Colombo and the Italian-American Civil Rights League putting their support behind The Godfather, the movie did face a lot of challenges in getting locations in New York. In Mark Seal’s book Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli, Ruddy is quoted that 62 locations they had lined up backed out. But once the League was supporting the movie, "everybody opened up their doors," said Gray Frederickson, an associate producer on The Godfather.
As for the Corleone house, the production did have some problems with the Staten Island location, but it did not take a threat from Colombo to secure it. Per Seal’s book, Gianni Russo, who played Carlo in The Godfather and was a former mob messenger, says he talked with the house owner who agreed to let the movie film there if they repaired his leaky roof. There is little to no evidence that Colombo or the League did anything nefarious during the production of The Godfather.
How did Al Pacino get cast in The Godfather?
If it was a battle to get Brando cast in The Godfather, getting Al Pacino to play Michael was all out war. As we saw in the closing moments of episode 3, Robert Evans was not a fan of Pacino and was adamant against him playing the part. Of course, Pacino does play Michael, famously, and in The Offer it is shown it ultimately comes down to Evans demanding that if Pacino plays Michael that James Caan plays Sonny, even though Coppola had already cast another actor in the role. Is this how it went down? Pretty much.
This quid pro quo between Coppola and Evans did occur, though how difficult a decision it was for Coppola is debated. According to Evans, quoted from his book The Kid Stays in the Picture in a Vanity Fair article, he said that James Caan had to play Sonny next to Michael because the actor Coppola had signed, Carmine Caridi, was too tall (6 feet 4 inches) to act alongside the 5 foot 6 inch Pacino. Despite some posturing, Evans says Coppola relented.
However, in Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli, Coppola says that he had wanted James Caan as Sonny all along (Caan was one of the early screen tests that Coppola did, along with Pacino). Whoever is right, the end result is the same, Al Pacino and James Caan were cast in their soon to be iconic roles.
There was one final snag. As shown in the show, it is true that Pacino had signed on to do the movie The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, but some maneuvering by Evans settled it eventually.
All episodes of The Offer are now available to stream on Paramount Plus in the US and UK.
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Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.