"The film industry is so romanticized," Giovanni Ribisi explains during What to Watch’s interview with the actor for his new show The Offer. With the actor, best known for his roles in Saving Private Ryan, Ted and Friends, getting to play the part of real-life gangster Joe Colombo in this retelling of the making of The Godfather, he couldn’t help but be "nostalgic of the bygone era" they were depicting.
"The Godfather was made in a time where it was almost like filmmaker maverick," Ribisi says, referring to the late 1960s / early 70s period when the studio system was collapsing and directors like William Friedkin, Hal Ashby, Martin Scorsese and, of course, The Godfather’s Francis Ford Coppola were steering the boat that is Hollywood. "It wasn’t this hoity-toity, namby-pamby approach. People were diving in and trying to go deeper and bleed for their art. I think Al Ruddy [the producer of The Godfather] was the producerial version of that — there was nothing stopping him from doing this."
That drive to make what is now considered one of the greatest American movies of all time — or "the greatest movie almost never made," as the Paramount promotional material says — is what The Offer is all about.
Based on the experiences of Ruddy, the series tracks the making of The Godfather from its novel inception by author Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo in the series) to the battles between Coppola (Dan Fogler) and studio execs Robert Evans (Matthew Goode) and Charlie Bluhdorn (Burn Gorman). Not to mention the very real threat that the actual mafia represented for Ruddy (Miles Teller) and everyone connected — depicted in the show by Ribisi as Joe Colombo.
Colombo was a very real threat to the making of The Godfather. One of the heads of the mob’s Five Families in New York during that time period, Colombo was strongly against the movie for how he thought it would depict Italian-Americans and bring attention to the mafia, something he claimed did not exist. So how did Ribisi approach playing this real-life gangster who threatened one of the best crime movies ever?
"When you approach… especially a gangster with all the stereotypes and the preconceived notions, you want to find the humanity in the person, even if it means that there ultimately just is no humanity in this individual,” Ribisi says. However, a biography written by Colombo’s son was helpful in the actor’s process.
"It was intriguing because it was written by his son and from the perspective of growing up with this man, and the personal effects and the personal moral traditions that the guy had and the values that he instilled in his son aside from the sensational mafia life. That was for me where I sort of clicked in."
Though the research was helpful for Ribisi to find the character of Joe Colombo, he says his performance first and foremost had to serve the story that the creators of The Offer — Michael Tonkin and Nikki Toscano — had mapped out.
"I had about three or four months to prepare, and for the first half of that I was so focused on trying to be accurate and… this notion of wanting to do justice to the character," Ribisi says. "And then at a certain point, I realized that any story, as soon as you start editing it or writing it, becomes fiction no matter what… and I need to serve that story. So it became about that."
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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.