Andy Garcia reflects on his Godfather dream coming true and 'unjust' Sofia Coppola criticism
Shortly after breaking out in 1987's The Untouchables, Garcia was cast in what can only be described as a dream role for any actor: the newest member of the Corleone family in a Godfather film. Almost 20 years after making history with The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, recognized as two of the greatest films of all time, writer Mario Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola were ready to make a follow-up. Garcia joined a cast of returning legends — Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire — to play Vincent, the illegitimate son of the slain Sonny Corleone (James Caan) who is finally brought into the fold. Garcia's fellow newcomers included George Hamilton and Sofia Coppola, the filmmaker's daughter who was tapped at the last minute after Winona Ryder dropped out.
The resulting film has a complicated legacy. Godfather Part III earned seven Oscar nominations, including one for Garcia, but it was also seen as a substantial step down from its predecessors, which had set an almost impossibly high bar.
Now, tied to Part III's 30th anniversary, Coppola is releasing what he says is his and Puzo's "true vision" for the series' conclusion, a re-edit titled Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.
The new version — now playing in select theaters and out Tuesday on Blu-ray and digital — "is an acknowledgment of Mario's and my preferred title and our original intentions for what became The Godfather Part III," Coppola previously said in a statement. "For this version of the finale, I created a new beginning and ending, and rearranged some scenes, shots, and music cues. With these changes and the restored footage and sound, to me, it is a more appropriate conclusion to The Godfather and The Godfather Part II."
Ahead of Coda's release, EW chatted with Garcia about his Godfather dream coming true, the "unjust" criticism of Sofia Coppola, and a fourth film with Leonardo DiCaprio that never came to be.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Thirty years later, what's it been like revisiting a film that was so important to you and your career?
ANDY GARCIA: It was very emotional, seeing it with this new narrative structure and the changes Francis has made to it. It made the movie even more emotional for me. I saw it at the Paramount theater with Al, Diane, George, and Talia, and so it was just the five of us, and it's always emotional to revisit something, the memories were so vivid and important in my life. So to get back to it and reflect upon seeing the movie come to life in this new form, which was a great experience, but also just rekindling all the time we spent making the movie, which is really the thing about making films. Sometimes the end result of any movie you make is too many people put their hands on it and the movie can start losing its identity. But we always have the memories of making it, which nobody can ever take away from us.
Were you surprised that Francis wanted to go back to it? Do you remember him being unsatisfied in the moment?
In this case I think Francis, as he's articulated, was under a lot of pressure for a release date that he had committed to, which was Christmas Day, and I think he felt that he was still finding his movie and he eventually had to lock what he had and he went out with something. And he probably reflected over the years, like he's done with The Cotton Club and the Apocalypse Now series, that he had things that he wanted to clean up and revisit. And I'm happy he did, because I think the movie is beautiful, as the other one is. But there's a clarity to this narrative now that has helped the movie be seen and enjoyed in a different way and gives it a whole 'nother power.
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in that theater as you, Al, Diane, Talia, and George watched together. That was probably the first time you'd all been in the same room since you made it.
I've seen Al a little bit over the years, and Diane, we worked together on Book Club, so these are all friends of mine that I got to know during the making of the movie. The consensus was that we were all very emotional at the end of the film, and even Diane said she didn't remember herself being that emotionally affected by the film. Of course there's a loaded element that you're revisiting your life on screen in a sense, a time in your life that was important to all of us. For me, to be associated with those films and get a chance to work with the people I was working with, specifically Francis and Al, and of course Sofia. Al had been a great inspiration to me all my life, and continues to be for an entire generation of actors, not only my generation but generations that are coming up. So to get a chance to play with Al in that way was a very special time for me.
Going back, what is your memory of Godfather Part III coming into your life? I'm sure you were excited, both as a film fan and actor.
The first mention of the movie really took place in the late '70s or early '80s, and there was this talk of this new version and there was going to be a young guy in it. I felt, "Well, that's my part." Every actor said that, it wasn’t just me, but I wanted that part because I had such a connection to the first two, like all of us did. I felt like I could deliver that part. But my career had not gotten started yet, I was struggling to find agents and to get work. Luckily it was delayed for close to 10 years and I had an opportunity to build a career, and I had done several movies for Paramount at the time before that, The Untouchables, Black Rain, and I was doing Internal Affairs at the time, which they had developed for me. And the head of the studio, Mr. [Frank] Mancuso, came to me at lunch and said, "What are you doing in September? I'd like to talk to Francis." This was like in May. "I'd like you to play Vincent in the new series." I was like, "I'll check my schedule and get back to you right away." [Laughs] And then it became this whole process. I had a lot of support from Fred Roos, who worked with Francis for many years, and he was a big supporter of mine. But, you know, Francis goes through his process.
I was the last person to screen-test. Rehearsals started the Monday after Labor Day, I screen-tested the Friday before. So people were going in to screen-test all summer long and I was telling my agents, "Let me go in, let me go in, I'm going to lose this part. The studio wants me but Francis is going to make the choice. I need to meet Francis. I need to show what I can do with the part." They kept saying, "Be patient, be patient." I was like, "I'm going to lose this opportunity. Someone is going to come in and Francis is going to say, 'I like this person.'" And I'm sure a lot of great actors did a great job with it, but I got my shot and the next day I was cast in the film. I actually auditioned on Friday, Fred Roos came into the room after the audition as I was taking my wardrobe off, and he said, "Francis would like for you to stay for dinner," so I felt like that was a good sign. And by the time I put my own clothes back on and I had taken the wardrobe off, he came back in and said, "Hey, there's been a change of plans, you can go ahead and go home now." So I felt good about what I did and there was nothing I could do any more about it. And the next morning I got a call saying I got the part, and I got on a plane and went to Napa.
Probably every actor would want to be in a Godfather film, even if you're just in the background, but what was it about Vincent specifically that spoke to you?
I had prepared for that part all my life, just reading the novel and watching the other two movies hundreds and hundreds of times, so I just felt a connection. I knew who this family was, I knew this world. I felt that I was ready to play him. I felt confident, and once I got the opportunity I just jumped in. The first day of a rehearsal in Napa, Francis cooked for us that night. Actually, he cooked for us every night, but the first cook, I tried to help him out and I saw him cooking in the kitchen, so I went in there and tried to be a proper Corleone. You have to help the godfather out and ingratiate yourself into the family. [Laughs] And so Francis was making a pasta for Mario Puzo, an onion-based sauce with fresh basil, I remember him saying, "Go into the garden and grab a basil," so I was just there as a solider waiting for him to tell me what to do next. I went over to see Mario and say, "Hey, Mario, what insights can you give me towards Vincent Mancini? He’s your creation." And he said, "He has the smarts of Vito, the temper and passion of Sonny, the coldness and calculations of Michael, and the warmth of Fredo." And I said, "Thanks a lot, I'll go work on that." [Laughs] That was something I took with me, that the character did not have to be one-dimensional, that he could have vulnerability, he could have all those things, and that's what I aspired to.
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone is one of the greatest performances and characters in film history. Having already watched him in that role and knowing what he had achieved, what was it like being paired with Al? It's probably already intimidating enough because it's Al Pacino, but it's also Al Pacino in The Godfather.
I had the good fortune of knowing Al socially prior to getting the part. We played a lot of tennis together. I was introduced to him through Steven Bauer, who had worked with him on Scarface, so there was an ease between us already. Maybe Al can either correct me or say, "I don’t remember," but I remember going to rehearsal and I saw him there for the first time and he said something like, [impersonating Pacino] "I always knew it was gonna be you!" [Laughs] Listen, I was also lucky that I had a resemblance to the family and to Al, and that plays into a casting choice. But Al, we were just fellow actors; I was there to do what I needed to do and he was there to do what he needed to do. There’s an old saying, the boards, meaning the stage, is always the great equalizer. You've got to come ready to do your thing. You've got to look after your character, with all respects. Al is extremely generous and he loves the craft, and he looks at like we're all in it together kind of thing. The better the parts, the better the whole. So there was never an element of feeling any kind of intimidation or anything like that, there was just camaraderie and warmth and confiding within one another. We spent a lot of time together in Rome, even off set, eating and talking, not even about the film — just being a family.
The other person you were working with closely onscreen was Sofia. What was it like getting to play opposite her, and do you feel like all the negativity that came her way upon the film’s release was unfair? This was essentially a first-time actor who was only here because Winona Ryder dropped out at the last minute. The critics were pretty harsh with their reviews.
Yeah, I thought the reaction to her performance was very unjust. I think her performance is extremely soulful and honest and courageous. I'm very proud of the work we did together, and I'm very proud of the work she did. I think people will see the movie again and feel that our connection as characters is very deep and very true. Sofia actually rehearsed with us the weekend we were in Napa, because Winona Ryder was doing a movie and she wasn't there, so Sofia just sat in to read her part. And then obviously very courageously went to help her father when her father said, "I want you to play Mary," and she said, "What?!" She was studying design and fashion and art and was extremely talented, and, well, we know her career. There's a reason why she is who she is, and that is who she was then. So when she stepped in, to me, it was beautiful. He wanted that character not to be in her late 20s and a woman, he wanted it to be a very young, innocent coming-of-age relationship with this young girl and this dangerous cousin. She was like 16 or 17 years old, and that is who she is in the movie. And I thought all of the reaction to her work was pre-empted by an article that came out that kind of strayed things into an area that people started to jump on board. And I think when people see the movie again, if they have the desire to do so, they will see a very beautiful and touching and soulful performance and relationship that Sofia and I had.
What do you remember of conversations about there being a fourth Godfather film? I've seen reports that there could have been something similar to the structure of Godfather Part II, but with you and Leonardo DiCaprio.
When we were making it I remember having some conversations with Francis a little bit about if there was another one, what would it be. He said, "Well, maybe your character would have to deal with the Colombian cartel," because this movie took place in the late '70s, and then [Coppola] would go back and explore the 1930s, which is an era of the book that wasn't explored, and maybe do a back-and-forth thing. And that stuck in my head, and later on there was a rekindling of that and Francis had mentioned to Paramount to hire Mario to create this new story and see how it comes out. It got announced in the papers and Variety and stuff like that. I was only involved because I had suggested to my agent at the time, who represented Leonardo DiCaprio, that he would be the right age at that time to play Sonny, and I guess he said, "Oh, that would be a great idea," and [Robert] De Niro could still play Vito in the 1930s, and then I would play Vincent and technically Al could still be alive because [Michael] died when he was like 90 years old. So basically you could put the whole gang back together. And so that began to take its form, but then Mario passed away shortly thereafter and the whole thing seemed to just go away. At the end of the day, it's really Francis' call if he wants to explore that. He doesn't seem like that's a thing he wants to do. I think he did want to explore this.
As you've been reflecting back on your Godfather experience, what did being a part of this historic trilogy mean to you?
It was the reason I decided to become an actor. I was always enamored with film throughout my life, so the seed was already inside of me without even knowing it, but once I saw these movies the seed began to break open and this inner flower had to be catered to, or else it would kind of become a vine and strangle me. I needed to really deal with it. And The Godfather was the movie that did that. I said, "I want to aspire to do that one day, and I'd like to aspire to achieve that level of acting, to be a part of a movie like this." So it was a dream of mine, and I had the blessing to fulfill a dream actually working with Francis. So you've got to give that up to the man upstairs that gave me the strength and insanity to pursue it. I don't know how else to describe it. It was a calling. People have callings in their life, I'm not alone in that, but I certainly felt there was a calling to me, that connection to that film, and I've always said it. So be careful what you wish for!