Francis Coppola has long wanted another crack at The Godfather Part III, looking to shorten it in places, and strengthen it in others, and change the title. He has been tinkering with that for awhile, as he re-cut versions of other films including Cotton Club. But he always said he needed Paramount Pictures’ blessing. Today, the studio announced it will release his new edit and restoration under the title Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. The picture will be given a limited theatrical release in December, marking the 30th anniversary of the film’s release. It will then find its way to digital home entertainment platforms.
This means Coppola has now restored the films of his he believed could be improved, and his fervent desire is to get the chance to make the epic Megalopolis, which was close to a production start before it was derailed by the tragedy of 9/11.
“‘Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone’ is an acknowledgement of Mario’s and my preferred title and our original intentions for what became ‘The Godfather: Part III,’” Coppola said. “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’ and I’m thankful to Jim Gianopulos and Paramount for allowing me to revisit it.”
The third installment pales in comparison to the first two installments, considered among the best American films ever made. Still, the picture was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director as it followed a 60-ish Michael Corleone as he seeks to free his family from crime and find a suitable successor to his empire in a storyline that was Vatican heady.
Coppola and his production company American Zoetrope worked from a 4K scan of the original negative to undertake a painstaking, frame-by-frame restoration of both the new Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone and the original The Godfather: Part III.
“Mr. Coppola oversaw every aspect of the restoration while working on the new edit, ensuring that the film not only looks and sounds pristine, but also meets his personal standards and directorial vision,” said Andrea Kalas, senior vice president, Paramount Archives.
In a lengthy interview he did for Deadline’s Disruptors Issue for the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Coppola discussed how turning 80 made him want to see versions of his great films that pleased him the most. Here is a lengthy track in which he discussed his recut versions of Apocalypse Now, Cotton Club and his fervent desire to do a better version of that final Corleone installment. It’s a bit sprawling, but who doesn’t like reading about his recollections on the great films he made? Coppola felt emphatic that the performance of his daughter Sofia would be vindicated in the new version. You’ll recall that he cast his daughter in her screen debut after Winona Ryder dropped out:
You recut and re-released Apocalypse Now once before. Why did you do it again now?
So what happened with Apocalypse is, they said it’s too long. Now that I’m 80, I see a lot of this differently, but the first time, they all said it was too long and I was this scared kid. Now, often when a movie is too long, taking out time doesn’t necessary help, and sometimes putting more back makes it feel less long to the audience because they understand it better. But I was scared, so I said, “We’d better shorten it,” and we did it as much as we knew how to when everyone said it was really weird. “It’s not like those big war movies,” they said. I said, “But the Vietnam War wasn’t like those kind of previous World War II movies.” Whereas war films usually had a New York sensibility—there was always a guy from Brooklyn or Nick Conte played a G.I.—Vietnam was a Californian war. It was surfers and drugs and rock’n’roll and The Doors.
Apocalypse was the first movie to tackle the Vietnam War, but it took so long to cut that Deer Hunter came out before us.
Did coming out second in the marketplace, after The Deer Hunter, help or hurt you?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question. The Deer Hunter not only came out but won the Oscar, and, of course, I was the one who presented it to Michael Cimino. I liked Michael Cimino very much and I was happy for him, but I didn’t know what awaited me because my film didn’t come out for another year. The film that won at the Oscars our year was Kramer vs. Kramer, which was wonderful in that it introduced Meryl Streep, but it was a more conventional movie.
That must have been awkward: you were presenting because you’d won the previous year for The Godfather, not knowing if following that staggering movie was going to hurt yours. Was it a mixed feeling for you?
Well, it got further complicated by the fact that, before I gave the award, I improvised a little statement that was ridiculed at the time. I said the cinema was going to be changed completely by a new technology that would involve digital and satellites and electronics, which would forever change the face of the cinema. People were laughing and saying, “What is he smoking?” Everything that I said in that statement came true. Now it is used as my prescience but the truth is I was very embarrassed by that off the cuff thing I threw in.
I remember Ali McGraw was the co-presenter and she was looking at me with an astonished look of, “What is he talking about?” At that time, my life was such a jumble. I was basically very scared, for good reason because I had a very unusual movie, which of course may or may not have been accepted. And all that debt I didn’t know how I was going to pay and which was going to wipe me out.
A couple of years later, I was in some relatively cheap hotel in London and Apocalypse Now came on television. I always liked the opening: the helicopter, the napalm, the guy in the hotel room… I thought I’d watch that part and turn it off but I watched the whole thing, and it was a big moment because I’d realized by then that the movie is less weird now, like those avant-garde paintings that a few years later become the wallpaper in peoples’ houses.
Meanwhile, there’s all these other sequences and footage. I had so much footage. Distributors were saying, “Why don’t you make a version of Apocalypse that has everything in it?” I had these Betamax tapes. I had all this material, so we did this long version, put everything back in, and that was Apocalypse Now Redux. When the film was going to have its 40th anniversary at Tribeca, they asked, which version did you want to show, the original or Redux? I said, “I would love to do my own ‘classic’ version, which would be something in between those two.” There are some sequences in Redux that aren’t interesting and I’d wished I would have taken them out. So I used those Betamax tapes and made the third version. It will be released as Apocalypse Now: Final Cut.
Why did you recut The Cotton Club, which you’ll have ready for this fall?
Cotton Club was a very strange endeavor. I didn’t get along with Bob Evans during The Godfather, at all. He was so tough on me. I was seriously on the verge of getting fired maybe on three or four occasions. Had I not won the Oscar for Patton, I would absolutely have been fired from The Godfather.
But didn’t Fox hate your Patton script, until George C. Scott forced their hand?
True. They were talking to Burt Lancaster and he very much didn’t like my script—especially that beginning scene. He felt that it was totally anticlimactic that I started the film with this portrait of Patton. So I was basically replaced because of the opening. Then, years later, when Lancaster was not going to do it and they brought in George C. Scott, he wasn’t crazy about the new script. A man named David Brown said that there was a young guy that did a much more strange script. It was David Brown who resurrected my script. I wasn’t around so I didn’t know that, but that’s how that happened.
Why weren’t you there to accept your Oscar?
Because I was in New York, about to get fired from The Godfather. In fact, the night of the Oscars, I watched the show with Marty Scorsese and he said to me, “How are they going to fire you now?” Because he knew I was in deep, deep trouble.
What didn’t they like about The Godfather?
They hated my casting ideas. They hated the Al Pacino idea. They hated the Brando idea. They hated the fact that I decided to set it in New York and they fought it. Of course, their reasoning was logical. There was a movie made in New York called Mister Buddwing and what followed was a big to-do about how inhospitable New York was to movies, how expensive they were. So there was a sort of boycott on New York and when I suggested it to Paramount for this little $2.5m version of this book they bought, The Godfather, they wanted to make it in St. Louis. And set it in the ’70s.
Because it was the ’70s, and if a movie is set in the ’70s then you don’t have to get special cars, or hairdressers and clothes. A period picture adds a big cost. So I was not popular, wanting to make it in New York and set it in the ’40s, which is when the book was set, because I felt that that was a big part of the story. The fact I survived is a miracle to me, to be honest, because I had no clout, no big, successful movies. The only thing I had going for me was that I was Italian-American.
I was young, which meant that the thought they could push me around, and they did push me around. And also I was pretty much considered a good screenwriter, and they definitely needed a free rewrite of that script, so that’s why I got the job. How I kept it, I don’t know.
It was helpful that every major director they went to turned it down. Kazan, Costa-Gavras, everybody turned it down because there had been a mafia picture called The Brotherhood starring the wonderful Kirk Douglas that flopped. So the idea of an Italian gangster picture?
The book was taking off, though, so they thought if they could make it for $2.5m with this young director, who maybe could direct actors… Peter Bart had seen this movie I made called The Rain People and he thought the acting in it was presentable. So he thought maybe that would be OK. Where were we going with this?
You were talking about making The Cotton Club after you almost got pushed off The Godfather by Bob Evans…
So, when The Godfather fooled everyone and was this colossal success, they came to me and said, “Of course we want to make Michael Corleone Returns, because it made money.” I said I didn’t want to have anything to do with Paramount Pictures or Bob Evans. I didn’t want to have anything to do with gangsters. I could say that because I now had a couple of bucks.
Finally I said, “Here’s what I will do…” I loved Mario Puzo—he was a wonderful man and I really liked working with him. I said, “I’ll work with Mario, and we’ll make a script for a second Godfather movie, but I don’t want to direct it. I’ll help produce it and I will choose a young director that I think would be great and you could have what you want.”
I had this crazy idea of a movie that would be two time periods that would tell the story of the father and the son when they were the same age. You would see Michael when he was a mature young man and, of course, the father, who would have been already dead. It was far out but I liked it. When the time came, I went to them and I said, “We have a script and I’ll tell you the director who should do it.” Everything I tell you, to my knowledge, is true. “This young director, I think is a fabulous talent…” They said, “Fine, who is he?” I said, “Martin Scorsese.” They said, “Absolutely not. That’s outrageous.” So I told them to forget it. Goodbye. Then the whole deal was off.
I didn’t know that.
Not many do. He’d done Boxcar Bertha and Who’s That Knocking at My Door. So that was where it was left. Charlie Bluhdorn himself calls me up, with his Viennese accent. “Francis, you are crazy. You’re not going to do it? You have the formula of Coca-Cola. You’re not going to make more Coca-Cola?” I said, “Charlie, my opinion of Bob Evans, he has talent but he was so tough on me and he’s so second-guessing of me, it’s such a struggle, I don’t want to go through it again.”
But I said, “OK, here’s my deal. One, I want a million dollars. That’s to write and direct it.” That to me was like asking for a great fortune. “Number two, I want Bob Evans to have nothing to do with it. I don’t have to talk to him. He doesn’t read the script. I don’t get his opinions. And number three, I don’t want to call it some stupid sequel. I want to call it The Godfather Part II.”
They pushed back. They said, “You can have the million dollars. You can have nothing to do with Bob Evans.” He was already in a little trouble I think with Paramount with some other stuff, but they gave him up like that. “But we can’t call the picture The Godfather Part II.” I asked why not. They said, “Because our marketing department tells us that if we call the movie The Godfather Part II everyone’s going to think it’s the second half of the movie they already saw instead of a separate movie.”
I swear to God. It’s so ironic, because now if I have any bad standing in the movie business it’s because I don’t want to do a movie that’s built to have a lot of sequels. I’m the one who started the title stuff that led to films like Rocky V. Godfather II was the first movie with that name. I got into another big argument with them 16 years later because I absolutely didn’t want to call the third one Godfather Part III. Mario and I had a title for it.
What was it?
I’ll get to it, but I have to do this in order. I didn’t have the clout 16 years later because I was in all sorts of financial mess. So it was called Part III, which was a mistake because it was never conceived as a Part III. It was conceived as an epilogue to comment on the first two movies.
What about The Cotton Club?
So I get a phone call out of the blue a year later and it’s Bob Evans. His voice is almost trembling with emotion, sadness. He says, “Francis, this is Bob Evans.” I said, “Oh, hi, Bob. How are you doing?” He said, “I’m not doing well. I’m a little scared. You’ve got to help me with my child.” I said, “Of course, I’ll do anything.” I knew he had a boy. Is it an accident? Is it drugs? He says, “I don’t mean my son. I mean my movie.” Because he had announced a movie called The Cotton Club. It was to star Richard Gere and the great Gregory Hines, and he was going to direct it. I asked him what was wrong with it. He said, “I’m going to direct this movie The Cotton Club but I need your advice. It’s very complicated. Can I bring Richard Gere and Gregory Hines to see you?” I said sure.
So Richard only signed his deal on the strict condition he would not play a gangster. In fact, Richard Gere can play the cornet and he wanted to be a musician. I said, “Let Richard Gere be a musician in The Cotton Club.” He says, “He can’t, all the musicians there were black.” There was not ever a white musician in The Cotton Club. Only white people could be in the audience, but only black people were the performers and they had to go in through the back door.
Bob said, “I need a story idea that will enable Richard to be a jazz musician.” I think about it, do some research, and get the idea. You remember George Raft? He was a dancer and entertainer but he was also hooked up with gangsters. Eventually he became a movie star, but he had come from that world. I thought, What if the Richard Gere was like that? In other words, he’s a jazz cornetist or something but he sort of knows gangsters and then he goes on to be a star, like George Raft. I wrote up two sentences, sent them to Evans, and said, “I hope it helps.”
Meanwhile, I was trying to write my dream script. I was always trying to write my dream script—Megalopolis.
Evans says, “It’s brilliant but only you can write the script.” So I write a script and my idea is, I take two men, Richard Gere and Maurice Hines, and their families. The idea was to have a movie that was sort of like The Godfather, that crisscrossed between the white family and black family. That was the way I wrote the script. And since there’s so many African-American people and white people in it, I thought the theme of it ought to be slavery, which is not just slavery as we know it in our country but for anyone, even in the mob. If you become beholden to a gangster then you become, in a way, his slave. I thought that was an interesting theme.
So I send the script to Evans and I say, “Thank you so much, I’m done now. Goodbye!” He said, “It’s brilliant. It’s great. It’s the best script I ever read but I have only one problem, Francis. Only you can direct it.” I said, “Bob, I thought this was all about you making your directing debut. You have a lot of good ideas and a lot of good opinions. Maybe they don’t always agree with me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. You should do it.” He said, “Well I don’t feel I’m up to this script. This script is so beyond my capability.” I said, “I’ll tell you what, you do it, and the first week I’ll go and I’ll sit in your corner and if you’re scared or if you’re nervous or anything I will be there for one week but I don’t want a credit. I don’t want a job. I just will do that for you.” He asks me to come to New York, with my wife and little Sofia, who was 14, to meet the talent. Lonette McKee and Gregory and Maurice Hines are there and all these great tap dancers and Cotton Club type girls. They were all wonderful.
You ended up directing it, of course.
I made the deal. It was lock, stock, solid, final cut control and I went and began. That’s how I got to do The Cotton Club. When I got there, there’s only one piece of casting that had to be mutually approved, which was the young lady. Richard Gere was already cast. So for the young lady I wanted Diane Lane. He agreed, and we cast her. So then I cast Bob Hoskins, rest in peace. Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne as the two gangsters. Evans hit the roof. He was furious. He said, “You cannot hire Fred Gwynne to be Frenchy!” I said, “Why not? He’s a wonderful actor.”
Evans said to me the classic line: “I forbid it. I will not have a Munster be in my movie.” I said, “Bob, you forget. We made a deal. This isn’t The Godfather where you can do this to me. I make the choice. I want to cast Fred Gwynne.” He said, “I forbid it.” I said, “We’ll see.” We call my lawyer, Barry Hirsch, who made the deal and said, “Of course you can cast who you want.”
So then Evans started getting at me through these other ways. I was working with the team he assembled and eventually I had to forbid him from coming on the set because it was turning into The Godfather all over again. So the movie was made under this war, and when it got really heavy… I discover the reason he wanted me to direct it was that he didn’t have the money, and he thought that if he could present me…
The money would materialize.
And it did but the money came from some very strange places.
Las Vegas guys?
Well, yeah, but not only that. They went to see Barry Hirsch and said, “What is this stuff about Evans can’t come on the set and so on?” This is a true story, I wasn’t there but he told me this. He said he had the contracts on the desk saying all of what I’m just saying—they swept it off the desk and they say, “Now it’s off the table.” And the next thing that happens is that a guy shows up. I’m not going to say his name but he was sent by that group. He shows up, and he’s sitting on a chair next to the producer Barrie Osborne, so I know the guy is there. I’ll just call him Joey.
I’m a courteous guy. I’m not going to say, “Get off the set,” or anything, but I get it that he’s been sent and he’s just watching. He doesn’t say anything for three days. By weird stroke of luck, don’t tell me how this happened, he realized that I was not in the wrong. I was just trying to do this movie and they were interfering with it. So, little by little, he started to protect me.
This is very hard to explain. This Joey fellow was pretty bright and, whatever his past was, was pretty nice. I never, during all of The Godfather, I never got to know anyone…
…In organized crime?
I was always advised by Mario Puzo, who did everything from research. He said, “Don’t even be friends,” and I wasn’t. But now Joey was there and he started protecting me. I was a little scared about the fact that he was protecting me. So ultimately, he weighed in. There was lots of trouble with the Evans side wanting to get the footage, and then when it was being finished, during the edit, there were lawsuits—and there was a murder. I mean, what went on behind the scenes of The Cotton Club is a novel. There was a murder connected with the financing. They tried to seize the print, and we would hide the print so they couldn’t get it, and Evans sued me. They even sort of co-opted my own CEO, who I later learned was in debt to them for gambling. There was a big lawsuit about who had the right to determine the cut of The Cotton Club. All this is going on while we’re trying to finish it. So it was utter warfare.
Then [Evans] and his guy said to me, “It’s too long. There’s too many black people and there’s too much tap dancing.” Well, it’s The Cotton Club. What we did was, we preserved all those wonderful Cotton Club performers who now, as we speak, are mostly all dead, but it’s all in that movie.
The picture came out. It was received OK. Of course, Evans damned it. Everyone was expecting The Godfather. It was never that.
So you took another cut at it?
I always felt that the movie got cut down; there was 25 or 30 minutes taken out and a lot of the black story got cut out. I found the Betamax of the original cut. I don’t think in the release version of The Cotton Club you really understand what’s happening between the black folks and the white folks and the gangsters. You don’t quite get it because it’s been so truncated. So I asked MGM, the distributor, “Would it be OK if I made a new version?” Because I didn’t own anything. And they said no. This was two years ago. It was Gary Barber, who just left and was terrible. His position was, “The picture hasn’t done anything. We won’t help you.”
You did it anyway?
Fortunately, there was a little window before he closed the door, and I had to say I would put up $40,000. They gave me access to the materials and I got them. To my horror, the 25-30 minutes that was taken out, no one knew where the negative was. It didn’t exist anymore. We searched and searched and finally found a good enough print. If you have a good print you can copy a good print and then, with a lot of expensive CG, you could bring it up. I ended up putting up pretty much all the money, about half a million dollars.
I said, “If you come out with it again, which this version that I technically own, would you let a little stream of the income pay back my half a million dollars?” Gary Barber says, “No.” I don’t know why. He’s not there anymore, thank God. I guess he felt he had me because I didn’t own anything and I had already committed to some of it. When we showed it, I was amazed that the movie could have been transformed so much. What had been a little disjointed and out of balance and not even totally clear and maybe repetitive, just blossomed.
We showed it once at Telluride and I got the same reaction, which made me feel I wasn’t crazy. It was a new birth for the film. I said, “Let’s call it The Cotton Club Encore.” There’s Gregory Hines, Bob Hoskins, Fred Gwynne—all these people who are gone now. I restored the original ending. I think it’s great and Lionsgate agreed. It’s only been shown three times so far, but they’re going to release it in theaters and show it at the New York Film Festival.
So the Apocalypse Final Cut version and this version of The Cotton Club are the best version of those movies and there’s logic to why. I’m older and I’m less frightened and I’m less easily bullied. What have I got to lose?
You’ve left your Godfather trilogy alone? There was a chronological version that wove together the first two parts and added some footage. It was quite good…
That was a favor to Charlie Bluhdorn. The idea was that it was going to be shown twice on NBC only and never again, and then they just went and put it out.
The intercutting between Michael Corleone in Vegas and his young father in Italy is classic. Did Robert De Niro really almost make himself ineligible because he was going to play Don Corleone’s bodyguard in the original?
He did. He was going to play Paulie Gatto, but he got the part after they got Pacino out of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. When De Niro was being auditioned for that he said to me, “I don’t want to lose the part of Paulie Gatto but if I could get the lead in that…” I said, “I’ll hold the part for you. If you don’t get the lead the part’s yours, but if you do get the lead, God bless you,” and he did get it.
It’s remarkable how close that opportunity came to not happening, and also how you had to fight to get Brando, even secretly making a screen test to show to Bluhdorn.
That’s all true, but Brando was probably one of the smartest people I ever knew and he knew what I was doing. I went to his house at, like, 7am. I’d heard that he didn’t like loud noises and that he wore earplugs. I had two young guys with me, and I said, “Let’s not talk. Let’s do ninja signals.” We went to his house, set up very early. I had brought Italian cheese and a little sausage and little Italian cigars and I put them around. We were all ready when all of a sudden the door opens and out comes this beautiful—he was 47—guy in a Japanese robe with long, blonde hair and he looks around and he sees what’s going on.
He rolls up his hair, takes some shoe polish and makes his hair dark. He says, “The character gets shot in the throat so maybe he talks like this…” He puts some Kleenex in his mouth. He did it all himself and then he took the little cheese and he nibbled it. I remember, he took the lapel of his shirt and he sort of creased it. “Their lapels are always creased,” he says. I’m sitting there, astonished, and then the phone rings. He picks up the phone and he starts talking like the character. I’m like, “What the hell? Who was that? What did they think?”
When I had this whole transformation of him into what you saw in The Godfather, I took a wild chance. I went to New York because I knew, whatever Charlie Bluhdorn said, that all the guys would fall in line because they were afraid of him. I went to his office and he came out to the conference room where I had put a machine. He said, “Francis, what are you doing here?” I said, “Charlie, I just want to show you something.” He looked at it, he saw the door open, and then Marlon Brando came out, with the blonde hair. He said, “No, no, absolutely not.” He kept watching. “That’s incredible,” he said. And that’s how Brando got the part.
And they fought you on Al Pacino, whose slow build of Michael Corleone from war hero to steely mob boss was superb, even though you cast him thinking there was only going to be the one movie…
Well, they first wanted Ryan O’Neal. And then Redford. I said, “The guy ought to really look Sicilian.” They said, “Sicilians are blonde and blue-eyed because they were occupied by the French for many years. So there could be a blonde, blue-eyed Sicilian.” What had happened is, I had met Pacino before, so when I read the book I just pictured him. When you do that it’s very hard to get that out of your mind. That’s why I was so persistent.
You think of all that could have gone differently on this film and I wonder, do you believe in the movie gods?
I believe that once and a while you get lucky. I’ve been unlucky, but in the case of The Godfather I think of how lucky I was. Even with the first Godfather not only was I lucky to have this unbelievable cast but this unbelievable director of photography, Gordy Willis. This unbelievable art director, Dean Tavoularis, this unbelievable costume designer, Johnny Johnstone, who did On the Waterfront and taught me so much. Then the most luck of all was, the audience seemed to be ready for it because the audience isn’t always ready for the movie you’ve made. They may not be ready for 10 years, or maybe they were ready for it 10 years earlier. To have all those things happen right, once in your lifetime? Let’s face it, The Godfather made me.
The first two were hard to measure up to when The Godfather Part III was made.
I want to try that again, and I’ll ask Paramount because in a few years there will be the 50th anniversary of the first film. I want to use a title I tried to but wasn’t allowed to, one that came from Mario Puzo. It’s Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. But ‘coda’ means epilogue. In other words, you got part one and part two and then the epilogue.
Why didn’t the studio like that?
They probably wanted a Godfather IV and V. There’s a cut I want to make that would be 14 minutes shorter. Usually, I go back and make them longer. This would be effective, and it makes the ending break your heart. Jim Gianopulos is the head of Paramount. An extremely nice man. And so what I want to say to them is if you allow me this, you won’t have to pay me.
Why all this looking back?
All I know is maybe I’m older, maybe I’m more circumspect. I want to show Sofia a new version, because she is so beautiful in it and so touching. She wasn’t an actress. But she was the real thing, playing that 19-year-old Italian girl in love with her own cousin. Godfather III as The Death of Michael Corleone is doubly painful because at the end he doesn’t die but he does worse than die. He loses everything he loves—and he lives. There are certain things in life that are worse than death.
You took some heat casting your daughter Sofia, who has become a fine filmmaker in her own right. Was it right to put so much pressure on her, when she was untested?
Well, I felt betrayed by a journalist by the name of Peter Biskind. And Tina Brown. I was asked if a journalist could come to the set and report on the movie, but Peter came in with a story all ready to write because he knew that there was a controversy about the fact that I had cast Sofia. He’s the one that came out with the article first that sort of greatly criticized her performance and started that whole trend, that I had cast my daughter when Paramount didn’t want me to.
Why did you?
I was in a tough position on that matter because they wanted me to put actresses in the role that were much more mature. My idea of the character was, an 18 or 19-year-old who had a crush on her cousin. That’s why I had cast Winona Ryder. But she didn’t say, “I can’t do it.” We kept waiting for her and she kept stalling and we kept delaying. I had shot absolutely anything I could without the girl and only then did Winona tell me she was dropping out. I had no choice but to close down the picture.
Paramount had all these actresses who were like 27 to 30 and I felt that that would destroy what I was trying to do. Sofia didn’t want to be an actress. She wanted to be a painter at the time, but every time I had put her in a movie as a little girl, her natural personality always came through for me. I always put my kids in movies because I had them around. I always took them out of school to be with us, wherever and whenever we went on location. Sofia did that for me and I believe if I do this new cut that her performance will be very touching as a little 19-year-old girl. That’s one of the things that can be so improved.
I felt that the plot of Godfather III was that they were coming for Michael but they got her. And [in the press] they were coming for me but they chose Sofia. I don’t have malice against anyone at this point in my life, but, to this day, it upsets me that Peter Biskind was the one who was given access to the set and he used it to damn my daughter. I believe that in a new version of The Death of Michael Corleone, Sofia’s performance will vindicate her.