I understand. You found paradise in America. You had a good trade, you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law. So you didn’t need a friend like me. Now you come and say “Don Corleone, give me justice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather. You come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married and you ask me to do murder - for money. - The Godfather (1972)
Francis Ford Coppolasigned on to direct The Godfather when he was just 29 years old. The film centers on a fictional Sicilian crime family in New York City and Coppola knew nothing about the Mafia, but he did understand Italian-American culture and tradition — and he was determined to avoid stereotypes.
Released in 1972, The Godfather went on to become an iconic American film. It won three Academy Awards — including for best picture and best adapted screenplay — and its sequel, The Godfather: Part II, won six. Coppola was nominated for another Academy Award in 1991 for his work on The Godfather: Part III.
The director tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that he had no idea at the time how successful the film would be. Instead, as a young director, he was focused on getting the studio to let him do it his way. “It was just the most frightening and depressing experience I think I’ve ever had,” he says. “I had no power and yet I had real opinions in how it should be done.”
As he was preparing to make the film, Coppola put together a notebook with ideas for each scene and pitfalls to avoid. It also included pages from the eponymous Mario Puzo novel the film was based on, with Coppola’s notes in the margin. Coppola has now published those materials into a new book called The Godfather Notebook.
Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando are the only actors to win an Academy Award for playing the same role. The role was Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, in which Brando won for playing the elderly mob boss, and De Niro won in The Godfather Part II playing the young, up and coming Italian mob leader.