WHERE ARE THEY NOW: The cast of ‘The Godfather’

  • At the time of filming, Marlon Brando was already a star, but the movie was considered his comeback. Before his death, he was known as a difficult actor to work with. 
  • Al Pacino was an unknown when director Francis Ford Coppola cast him as Michael Corleone. Over the decades, he has become an acclaimed actor. 
  • Diane Keaton was also relatively unknown at the time of filming. Today, she is one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

"The Godfather" has a star-studded cast, but at the time of filming, director Francis Ford Coppola wasn't so sure he had it right. 

"The cast was always up in the air, and there was a lot of controversy," Coppola told Variety.

He cast Marlon Brando — a star at the time of filming — but many of the other actors were then-unknowns. That all changed after the movie premiered in 1972 and became a cultural juggernaut. 

Almost 50 years since the film premiered, Insider is looking back at what the cast looked like then and what they're up to now. 

Al Pacino was a relatively unknown actor when he took on the role of Michael Corleone.

While casting for "The Godfather," Coppola saw Pacino acting on Broadway. Instantly, he knew he had found his Michael Corleone. However, the studio wanted someone famous, like Robert Redford, to play the lead role. 

Eventually, Coppola convinced the studio to cast Pacino, but the troubles didn't end there. Pacino told The Washington Post that executives tried to fire him three times during the filming of the movie. 

In the end, Pacino earned his first Oscar nomination for the role.

Pacino is an acclaimed, Academy Award-winning actor, with numerous notable films under his belt.

Pacino reprised his role as Michael Corleone in two "Godfather" sequels. He also became famous for "Scarface" in 1983. In 1993, he earned his first Oscar for his role in "Scent of a Woman."

More recently, Pacino was nominated for another mob movie, "The Irishman," in 2019, in which he played Jimmy Hoffa. This year, the 80-year-old actor is appearing in his first TV series, "Hunters," on Amazon.

"The Godfather" was Marlon Brando's comeback movie. He played Don Vito Corleone, the family patriarch.

Brando was a famous Old Hollywood actor, starring in notable films like "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Julius Caesar," and "The Wild One." He won an Oscar in 1955 for his role in "On The Waterfront." In the '60s, however, Brando's career took a downturn due to films that were poorly received by critics, and amid claims he was difficult to work with.

Despite that, director Francis Ford Coppola knew he wanted Brando to play the patriarch in "The Godfather," but the studio needed convincing. Coppola made a strong case for the actor by going to his house and helping him create an audition tape. He got the part and later won an Oscar for the legendary role. 

Before his death in 2004, Brando reportedly became even more difficult to work with.

After "The Godfather," he starred in more movies, like "Last Tango in Paris" and "Apocalypse Now," but his career waned again.

The filming of one of his last movies, "The Island of Dr. Moreau," was reportedly not an enjoyable experience for those on set. Screenwriter Ron Hutchinson described the actor as a "monster."

"By this stage of his life Brando, playing the God of Moreau's island and emerging as the God of the production, was way beyond bored with the making of movies," Hutchinson wrote in his book. "Overweight, unprepared, mocking, dismissive, on the razor's edge where caprice becomes malice, the case for the prosecution is therefore easily made. He was indeed here to sabotage this movie."

Brando died in 2004 at the age of 80.

"Simply put, in film acting, there is before Brando, and there is after Brando. And they are like different worlds," read his New York Times obituary.

In 1972, Robert Duvall played Tom Hagen, the consigliere for the Corleone family.

Prior to "The Godfather," Duvall appeared "M.A.S.H," "The F.B.I.," and "THX 1138," but his portrayal of Tom Hagen was his breakout role. Hagen is the consigliere or counselor/lawyer for the family. 

Duvall was later nominated for an Oscar for this role.

Duvall still has a successful acting career and one Academy Award.

Duvall, now 89, has been acting consistently for decades. He even earned an Oscar for his role in "Tender Mercies" in 1983. 

Most recently, in 2018, the actor appeared in "Widows" opposite Viola Davis and Liam Neeson.

James Caan played the short-tempered oldest son, Sonny Corleone, in "The Godfather."

Caan originally screen tested for the role of Michael, according to "The Godfather" by Jon Lewis, but Coppola wanted him to play Sonny. The actor took the role and brought the ill-tempered character to life, earning an Oscar nomination. He even said he's often referred to as Sonny in the real world. 

"They called me a wiseguy," Caan told Vanity Fair. "I won Italian of the Year twice in New York, and I'm not Italian … I was denied in a country club once. Oh, yeah, the guy sat in front of the board, and he says, 'No, no, he's a wiseguy, been downtown. He's a made guy.' I thought, What? Are you out of your mind?"

Caan has consistently appeared in movies since the '70s.

"Misery" in 1990 is among his most famous since "The Godfather."

Among other movies, Caan, now 80, has appeared in "Eraser" in 1996 and "This Thing of Ours" in 2003. He's also known for playing the role of Walter in the hit Christmas movie, "Elf."

Originally a stage actress, Diane Keaton was tapped to play Kay Adams, the wife of Michael Corleone.

Before "The Godfather," Keaton was seen on Broadway, taking roles in "Hair" and Woody Allen's "Play It Again Sam," and she had appeared in a handful of TV shows, including "The F. B.I." When Coppola cast her as Kay Adams, Keaton's career transitioned from stage to the big screen. 

After "The Godfather," Keaton's movie career took off as she collaborated with Woody Allen.

In 1977, she and Allen starred in the cult classic "Annie Hall," solidifying Keaton's place in Hollywood and earning her an Academy Award. From there, she starred in several notable films like 1991's "Father of the Bride," 1996's "First Wives Club," and "Something's Gotta Give" in 2003. She's also received three more Academy Award nominations.

Most recently, Keaton has appeared in "Book Club" in 2018 and "Poms" in 2019. Today, the 74-year-old star is also known for her eccentric style.

Coppola hired his sister, Talia Shire, to play Connie Corleone.

When Coppola cast Shire to play the daughter of Vito, she had very little acting experience. He also didn't want to cast her because he pictured the character to be more "'homely,' an adjective he'd never use to describe his sister," Vanity Fair wrote. 

In the end, Shire was nominated for an Oscar for her part in the sequel, "The Godfather: Part II."

Shire went on to make a name for herself in the "Rocky" franchise.

Shire entered another successful franchise in 1976 when she started playing Adrian in Rocky. She was even nominated for an Academy Award for that role. 

More recently, Shire, now 74, appeared in Netflix's "Grace and Frankie" and "Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce."

Gianni Russo worked for the mob in the real world before joining the cast of "The Godfather."

When he was young, Russo worked for Frank Costello, a famous mobster, as a messenger. 

"Early on in my life, fortunately, he took me under his wing and mentored me in a way that no one could do," Russo told Vice about Costello. "He gave me experiences and opportunities that I could've never had just being an Italian immigrant from Mulberry Street."

In the '70s, however, he was tapped to play a fictional mobster. His character, Carlo Rizzi, is the son-in-law of Vito and beat his wife, Connie Corleone.

Since "The Godfather," Russo's career has expanded beyond acting.

According to his website, Russo, now 77, is a motivational speaker, a singer, and a businessman. In 2019, he made headlines when he claimed Marilyn Monroe took his virginity at 15 and that he knows who caused Monroe's death.  

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