Al Pacino reflects on ‘The Godfather’ fame 50 years later: ‘Hard for me to cope with’

Al Pacino is opening up about his breakthrough role in “The Godfather” 50 years since its release.

Pacino, now 81, rocketed to stardom after his Oscar-nominated performance in the 1972 mafia film, a role he landed after having participated in just one movie prior, 1971’s “The Panic in Needle Park.” He was, however, a rising star in New York theater at the time and a recipient of a Tony award.

Although he will always be known as the legend who played Michael Corleone, Pacino said when director Francis Ford Coppola approached him about taking on for the role, he didn’t take it seriously.

“It just seemed so outrageous. Here I am, talking to somebody who I think is flipped out. I said, what train am I on? OK. Humor the guy. And he wanted me to do Michael. I thought, OK, I’ll go along with this. I said, yes, Francis, good. You know how they talk to you when you’re slipping? They say, ‘Yes! Of course! Yes!’ But he wasn’t. It was the truth. And then I was given the part,” Pacino said in an interview with The New York Times.

Al Pacino in "The Godfather: Part III," which was originally released in 1990.
Al Pacino in “The Godfather: Part III,” which was originally released in 1990. (Paramount)

“The Godfather” premiered in New York on March 15, 1972. All this time later, it’s still the role Pacino’s most known for. But he admits his entry into superstardom isn’t what he expected nor wanted.

“It’s hard to explain in today’s world — to explain who I was at that time and the bolt of lightning that it was,” Pacino said. “I felt like, all of a sudden, some veil was lifted, and all eyes were on me. Of course, they were on others in the film. But ‘The Godfather’ gave me a new identity that was hard for me to cope with.”

“I am deeply honored by it. I really am. It’s a piece of work that I was so fortunate to be in. But it’s taken me a lifetime to accept it and move on. It’s not like I played Superman.”

Although it wasn’t apparent during the making of the “The Godfather” just how big the film would be, Pacino recalled a memory that made him realize it’d be a hit.

“So, I’m going back to my camper. And there, sitting on a tombstone, is Francis Ford Coppola, weeping like a baby. Profusely crying. And I went up to him and I said, Francis, what’s wrong? What happened? He says, “They won’t give me another shot.” Meaning, they wouldn’t allow him to film another setup. And I thought: OK. I guess I’m in a good film here. Because he had this kind of passion and there it is,” he recalled.

Whether he expected it or not, Pacino would go on to score his first Academy Award nomination for the film. Boldly, he didn’t attend the ceremony. He said it had nothing to do with taking a stand or a disagreement for the award for which he was nominated (supporting actor). 

Al Pacino says he wasn't expecting to skyrocket to stardom after his iconic role in "The Godfather."
Al Pacino says he wasn’t expecting to skyrocket to stardom after his iconic role in “The Godfather.” (Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival)

Instead, he said he skipped the ceremony because he was “somewhat, more or less, rebellious” at the time.

“I did go back for others. But I didn’t go to them early on. It was the tradition,” he said, adding that Marlon Brando took it one step farther when he actually “gave back the Oscar.”

Plus, reaching that deal of fame at a young age would take some getting used to, he suggested.

“I was young in terms of the newness of all this. It was the old shot-out-of-a-cannon syndrome. And it’s connected to drugs and those kinds of things, which I was engaged in back there, and I think that had a lot to do with it. I was just unaware of things back then.

Director Francis Ford Coppola said he only envisioned Al Pacino as the actor who'd take on the role of Michael Corleone.
Director Francis Ford Coppola said he only envisioned Al Pacino as the actor who’d take on the role of Michael Corleone. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

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