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A star-studded miniseries goes behind the scenes on the making of The Godfather
In the 50 years since The Godfather premiered, Francis Ford Coppola’s epic about the generational struggles of a crime family has not only become a must-see classic but set the standard for storytelling in cinema.
But even though the film was recognized with three well-deserved Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Director, its place in cinematic history was perhaps somewhat unexpected for the people behind the project. In fact, in the early 1970s, The Godfather seemed more like a risky proposition than a film of a generation.
Paramount+A new limited series takes viewers through the journey of getting the movie made, with Canadian-born producer Albert S. Ruddy (played here by Miles Teller), a computer programmer for the RAND corporation who became the co-creator of Hogan’s Heroes, at the centre. Wanting desperately to be a filmmaker, Ruddy talks himself into producing the “low-budget” adaptation of The Godfather and stops at nothing—real-life mafia threats included—to bring this story to the screen.
From its inception, the making of The Godfather had twists and turns that rivaled the intrigue in author Mario Puzo’s bestseller. One memorable anecdote was born out of Puzo’s encounter with Frank Sinatra at a restaurant, where the singer expressed his displeasure at being constantly compared to one of the characters in the book. “When they asked me to [write the series], the only story I knew about making The Godfather was that Puzo got into a fight with Frank Sinatra at Chasen’s,” admits screenwriter Michael Tolkin. “So I had five minutes of the show written, and I just needed nine hours and 55 minutes more to fill it in.”
Paramount+Lucky for Tolkin, there was no shortage of tales nor characters giving colour to this story. Take, for example, that a debt-ridden Puzo (Patrick Gallo) had to be talked into writing a book about the very people he was trying to outrun. And even though his work was optioned by Paramount based on the first 60 pages, the studio was long hesitant to produce it because gangster movies were considered passé.
From the drama of getting the film green-lit, to the controversial hiring of Coppola (Dan Fogler) or the musical-chairs-like casting process, the production was a nail-biter from start to finish, but a dysfunctional yet loyal family behind the scenes—one that also includes the legendary head of Paramount Studios, Robert Evans, played by English actor Matthew Goode, as well as Al Ruddy’s resourceful assistant, Bettye McCartt, played by Ted Lasso’s Juno Temple—managed to bring the project to the finish line.
Paramount+To get the cast comfortable with these well-known characters, Temple recalls director Dexter Fletcher giving them an assignment. “He said to us, ‘I would love you guys to come in on Monday with a back story about who you are and how you got to the moment of meeting Al Ruddy,’ ” recalls Temple. “It was such a profoundly brilliant experience, because you’re sitting in a circle of faces that you know from work that they’ve done, and each person had done such extraordinary research, whether they were making up what they could with the little information they found on the internet, or whether they really had these facts. I thought it was so magical to break the ice like that and have us all, in our own versions, confess why we were going to help be a part of getting The Godfather made.”
While there is plenty of material to delve into about nearly each character in this drama, it was a surprising gesture by fellow Brit Temple that gave Goode a bit of insight into the real-life Evans. “She had a friend who bought a pair of his real glasses at an auction after he died and she showed them to me. They have bite marks up and down the arms,” recalls Goode. “He obviously stressed, as he sits there chewing the hell out of them when he’s on the phone and that kind of thing.”
Paramount+But the greatest responsibility lay perhaps on Teller’s shoulders, as the now 92-year-old Ruddy is very much alive to critique his performance. “Whenever you’re playing somebody in real life, I think there’s a great responsibility that comes with that. Through the internalization and your interpretation of the work, hopefully, you do capture that person’s essence,” says Teller. “I think if somebody who knew Al very well, thinks that there’s something there, that we’re sharing some DNA, then that’s great.”
But more than anything, what Teller enjoyed was being able to bring Ruddy’s tenacity to screen. “I just had a blast playing him. I would text him, ‘Al, this is so much fun. Playing you is keeping me on my toes,’” says Teller. “One of the big pleasures of playing him was that he’s a man of action and a guy who was thrown in the fire and just has to figure it out. He’s an underdog and out of his comfort zone constantly. And yet he just continues to press on.”
The Offer debuts Thursday, April 28th on Paramount+