Casting Director John Papsidera on How He Found the Stars for 'The Godfather'
One of the unique challenges to creating a biographical drama about the making of an iconic film, such as The Godfather, is finding actors who can accurately portray real-life people that audiences have been familiar for decades. While speaking to Below the Line, series casting director John Papsidera discussed how difficult it is to cast people for iconic roles such as Francis Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando, and Al Pacino.
Papsidera says that, when casting actors to play real people, he avoids hiring impersonators or relying solely on an actor's physical resemblance. He says, "What I wanted to do was try and find people that had the essence of the characters without absolutely doing impersonations. We just started that method of trying to discover and find actors that kind of reminded us of those actors. We tried to find people who were in that ballpark because they're so identifiable. But we tried not to go down the path of, for instance, a Frank Sinatra impersonator who has done it before and is known for that. So we tried to get the actors that embodied their spirit and their essence, all the way down the list from Dan Fogler (as Francis Ford Coppola). It was tough because he was up for both Ford and Mario Puzo. He could've done either. I'm pretty sure he taped for both. Francis was such an integral part, and we had a little bit more freedom with Mario because he's not as ingrained in people's minds like Francis [and his>look. Coppola had so much drive and passion for this movie, so having somebody with that much life force and creative force, like Dan, was a hand-in-glove [fit]for us."
Papsidera mentioned some of the most unforgettable auditions for the program, stating that "Burn Gorman was really memorable as Bluhdorn. He's a wild-looking character, to begin with, and on top of that, adding the Austrian accent and finding the humor in the role, and not just an actor screaming at the camera, which the sides tended to lead some people in that direction. One of the audition scenes was when he throws something into the television in his office. You had a lot of guys going way over the top, and you had to find the right balance between the look and the performance and not just being a caricature but filling in that life underneath it. Burn certainly did that."
Interestingly, the actor cast as Al Pacino in The Godfather had to leave the project. Papsidera explains, "What's fascinating about that is we had cast another actor [in]that role. As he read the first or second script, he called his manager and said, 'I can't do this because there's sexual content in the material.' It had nothing to do with his character, it was just in the show itself, and there's not a lot of sexual content in the piece by any means. But he felt it was against his religion to be associated with anything in that realm. That was a huge blow because we thought we had a great Pacino. But as it turns out to be, there's always someone else, and I think across the board, people were thrilled with Anthony Ippolito as Al Pacino. Again, not an exact duplicate, but his eyes did a lot of the heavy lifting, and more people commented about him than almost any other role."
Most notably, the show includes a former Grey's Anatomy star in the lead role of Brando. Papsidera didn't initially foresee this casting choice, but it worked out perfectly. He says, "That was an absolute shocker. What's interesting too, and even when I was watching it with my wife, she was [like] 'oh, he's younger.' Everybody's mindset about Brando was how he looked in The Godfather. Well, he was much younger than what he actually played in The Godfather, so we were trying to match the look for the film that he did but also match Brando in real life, which is not how most people picture him. He's not going up the river in Apocalypse Now yet. So that was a real challenge. We had some great reads, and known actors [who]really campaigned and wanted to do it because they knew Marlon and felt like that was an access point. But when Justin's tape came in, I was just blown away. He did a little bit with his voice and his mannerisms, but didn't go full-on Marlon (with any cotton in his mouth), but hinted at it."
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