Half a century ago, Francis Ford Coppola was putting together his adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather but Paramount Pictures really didn’t want Marlon Brando. The 47-year-old may have been one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, but his last movie had been a flop and he was considered too much trouble. Nevertheless, the director insisted on Brando as felt he was one of the greatest actors in the world.
In a new 50th anniversary interview for The Godfather with Empire, Coppola said: “I must say, Brando was wonderful to work with. He was the kind of person you didn’t talk to about acting. I used to communicate with him with props. If I put a prop near him, he would make use of it. He contributed so much, even in the idea of the orange peel. That scene is something, I didn’t even know what he was doing.”
That moment took place during Don Corleone’s death scene when the Mafia boss had a heart attack while playing with his grandson Anthony.
Marlon ad-libbed making fangs out of the orange peel and put it in his mouth, hoping to get a more authentic performance out of the child actor.
This actually worked out too well, frightening the kid, with Brando having to apologise. But there was one scene in the iconic movie where the star’s actual fury with another actor was captured and made it into the final cut.
The scene in question took place in Don Corleone’s office on the day of his daughter’s wedding, when his godson, the singer Johnny Fontane came in asking for some help.
Al Martino’s crooner started tearing up before the Mafia boss, who then slapped him in the face for crying “like a woman”.
Speaking with Empire, The Godfather’ associate producer Gray Frederickson admitted this was totally unscripted.
He said: “Marlon was very frustrated with Al Martino, because Al Martino was not an actor. Marlon got so angry – that bit where he shakes him and says, ‘Act like a man!’, Marlon really felt that way. That was him expressing his frustration with Al. And Al was never happy, he was always complaining. He felt that he was not respected on the movie. Marlon did not respect Al.”
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Nevertheless, The Godfather’s other actors were in total “awe” of Brando. To keep them all at ease with the star, Coppola made sure to organise an Italian dinner before filming began.
This gave Brando a chance to show he was very accessible and quite fun to be around. Although, he could be a challenge on set due to his habit of refusing to learn his lines. At times this meant Don Corleone’s dialogue had to be taped to other people’s foreheads.
The 47-year-old also did his own stunt during the assassination attempt scene, where he rolled off his car bonnet onto the ground.
Frederickson said: “No stunt guy did that. He fell onto a mattress, which we cut away from, but yeah, that’s him. He was in great shape! My gosh. He was in his forties and he worked out.”