How did Marlon Brando land the role of Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s undisputed classic, The Godfather?

There are many stories behind the shooting of The Godfather: baby Sofia Coppola covering as Michael Corleone’s son during the memorable baptism sequence, and the use of a real horse’s head, procured from a slaughterhouse preparing meat for pet food, for the infamous Jack Woltz scene, are just two examples.

How Marlon Brando got the role as the Godfather, Vito Corleone, also makes for interesting reading. Burt Lancaster was in a bidding war for the option – he was keen to play the main role himself – but Paramount eventually won the rights.

The Godfather author, Mario Puzo, who helped write the script with Francis Ford Coppola, had identified Brando as the perfect actor for the part. Other names connected with the role included George C. Scott, Anthony Quinn, Victor Mature and Laurence Olivier.

However, when Paramount boss Stanley Jaffe discovered Brando was being considered for the role, he adamantly refused to endorse the proposal. The actor was renowned for being difficult to work with, and had just come off the back of a series of commercial flops.

Undeterred, Coppola approached Brando with producer, Albert S. Ruddy, and he agreed to read the book, telling them he would be interested if he thought he could bring anything to the part. The studio remained immovable on the casting choice, so the director went to Brando’s house and filmed the actor in full Vito Corleone make-up. After showing this to the Paramount heads and pleading that Brando was the greatest actor alive, they acquiesced and agreed to the casting.

It was a tumultuous shoot, with Coppola convinced he was about to sacked from the production at any minute (Pacino felt the same), although Brando declared he would quit the film should that happen.

At the 1973 Academy Awards, The Godfather claimed three Oscars: Albert S. Ruddy picked up ‘Best Picture’, Marlon Brando ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’, and Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo for ‘Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium’.

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