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Can you imagine Laurence Olivier in the role of Don Vito?- this is Francis Ford Coppola’s potential cast list for The Godfather!

Neil Patrick

Without any doubt, The Godfather is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century, it is the bible for modern cinematography with a flawless sense of narration, a plethora of stars and an iconic cast.

We bet a gazillion dollars that by now you can not even imagine someone else as Don Vito or Micheal Corleone. It seems like the parts were specially written for the actors that had portrayed  them. Well, actually, not exactly.

The casting process can be a drag, especially when the studio and the director have different actors in mind and that was the case with the iconic The Godfather.

Below, is the  potential cast list, look at all the names that  could have been a part of one of the most iconic films ever made, but just didn’t quite make the cut.





Mario Puzo was the first to show interest in having Marlon Brando portray Don Vito Corleone by sending a letter to Brando in which he stated Brando was the “only actor who can play the Godfather.” Despite Puzo’s wishes, the executives at Paramount were against having Brando play the part due to the poor success of his recent films and short temper.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone Source

Coppola favored Brando and Laurence Olivier for the role. Olivier’s agent refused the role saying that Olivier was sick; however, Olivier went on to star in Sleuth later that year. The studio mainly pushed for Ernest Borgnine to receive the part. Other actors that were considered for the part were: George C. Scott,Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn, Carlo Ponti.

Frank Sinatra showed some interest in the part of Vito Corleone, despite being angered that a character, Johnny Fontaine, was rumored to be based on him.

After months of debate between Coppola and Paramount over Brando, the two finalists for the role were Borgnine and Brando, the latter of which Paramount president Stanley Jaffe required that he perform a screen test. Coppola did not want to offend Brando and stated that he needed to test equipment in order to set up the screen test. Coppola traveled to Brando’s California residence to perform the screen test in make-up, which Brando allowed Coppola to film. For make-up, Brando stuck cotton balls in his cheeks, put shoe polish in his hair to darken it, and rolled his collar. Coppola placed Brando’s audition tape in the middle of the videos of the audition tapes as the Paramount executives watched them. After Brando’s tape ended, the executives were impressed with Brando’s efforts and allowed Coppola to cast Brando for the role. To be cast, Brando was required to accept a lower salary and put up a bond insuring that he would not cause any delays in production.

Al Pacino was chosen to play Michael Corleone Source
Al Pacino was chosen to play Michael Corleone Source

The part for Don Vito’s son, Michal Corleone was not an easy call as well, since Coppola and the studio had different preferences for the role.

The Paramount executives wanted a popular actor to portray Michael Corleone and considered Warren Beatty and Robert Redford. Producer Robert Evans wanted Ryan O’Neal to receive the role in part due to his recent success with the Paramount film, Love Story.  Al Pacino was Coppola’s favorite for the role as he could picture Pacino roaming the Sicilian countryside and wanted an unknown actor who looked like an Italian-American. However, Paramount executives found Pacino to be too short to play Michael. Dustin Hoffman, Martin Sheen, and James Caan also auditioned. Caan was well received by the Paramount executives and was given the part of Michael initially while the role of Sonny Corleone was awarded to Carmine Caridi. Coppola still pushed for Pacino to play Michael after the fact and Evans eventually conceded, allowing Pacino to have the role of Michael as long as Caan played Sonny. Evans preferred Caan over Caridi because Caan was seven inches shorter than Caridi, which was much closer to Pacino’s height. Despite agreeing to play Michael Corleone, Pacino was contracted to star in MGM’s The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, but the two studios agreed to a settlement and Pacino was signed by Paramount three weeks before shooting began.


Neil Patrick

Neil Patrick is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News