Here’s How Marlon Brando Got the Role in “The Godfather”

Marlon Brando became part of the cast of “The Godfather” thanks to the persistence of director Francis Ford Coppola and the author of the novel “The Godfather,” Mario Puzo. Although the executives at Paramount Pictures were skeptical, Coppola and Puzo insisted that Brando be chosen for the role of Vito Corleone.

Brando, who was only 47 at the time, was not the first choice for the role. Initially, director Francis Ford Coppola hesitated to select Brando because of his reputation for being difficult to work with. However, producer Robert Evans insisted on Brando for the role of Don Vito, believing he was the only actor who could bring the character to life with the necessary quiet strength and irony.

Coppola agreed with him and devised a clever strategy to convince the studio: he told the Paramount executives that Brando would film for free, provide a guarantee against any potential overages caused by his behavior, and agreed to a screen test.

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This was actually a smart trick to get footage that could pass as a screen test without Brando’s knowledge. Unaware of the true purpose, Brando appeared and performed so convincingly that he won over the studio executives. In that casting, he transformed into Vito Corleone by applying shoe polish to his hair, stuffing his cheeks with cotton, and speaking in a raspy voice.

On set, to convincingly portray the character on the big screen, he had to undergo a transformation using prosthetics, makeup, and a wig to look older and resemble the head of a crime family.

This dedication to the role, along with his intense and measured performance, earned Brando an Oscar for Best Actor, which he famously declined in protest against the treatment of Native Americans in the film industry.

The film “The Godfather” is a 1972 American crime drama directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mario Puzo, the author of the novel of the same name. The main roles are played by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton.

The first installment of “The Godfather” trilogy follows the Sicilian mafia family Corleone under Vito Corleone from 1945 to 1955. The film focuses on the transformation of his youngest son, Michael, from a reluctant family outsider to a ruthless mafia boss.

Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to the novel for $80,000. The studio executives had difficulty finding a director—several candidates turned down the position before Coppola signed on, but disagreements over casting several characters, particularly Vito (Brando) and Michael (Pacino), ensued.

The film was shot on location in New York and Sicily, with filming completed ahead of schedule. The music was composed by Nino Rota, with assistance from Carmine Coppola.

The film premiered on March 14, 1972, in New York. With an estimated gross between $250 and $290 million, it became the highest-grossing film of all time at its release. It received positive reviews from both audiences and critics, who particularly praised the acting, direction, screenplay, story, cinematography, editing, music, and depiction of the mafia.

The film was nominated for ten Oscars and won three: Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Coppola and Puzo).

“The Godfather” is considered one of the best and most influential films of all time. In 1990, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for its “cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance.” The American Film Institute placed it second on its list of the 100 greatest American films, just behind “Citizen Kane.” It was followed by two sequels, “The Godfather Part II” (1974) and “The Godfather Part III” (1990).