In so many ways, The Godfather is the definition of a timeless classic. Fifty years on from its release, Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum mobster opus – telling the multi-generational story of mafia boss Don Vito Corleone and the rise of his reluctant son Michael – has retained all of its power and precision, barely ageing a day while also remaining a shining example of ‘70s cinema. For Coppola, the making of the film was something of an ordeal – but its success changed everything for the then-down-on-his-luck director, aged just 29 when he took the film on, and whose career flourished in its wake. In a brand new major interview to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary, Coppola spoke to Empire about how he looks on the film all this time later – reflecting on how much it changed his fortunes.
“Well, it’s odd, of course. To think that 50 years has gone by since the adventure of The Godfather, and when that changed my life so dramatically. Because now the Coppola family is considered synonymous with [the film by] many people, [but] when I came to LA, to UCLA Film School, I just dreamed to get a peek inside a studio. Movies were an exotic fairyland,” he says.
During the making of the film and running up to its initial release – unaware of the behemoth it was about to become – Coppola was feeling the financial strain, trying to provide for his wife and kids. But when The Godfather did arrive, causing queues around the block for tickets, his fortunes changed dramatically. “I went from having zero money at all and a family to support, to having several million dollars, which was astonishing,” he recalls. “No-one in my family had that kind of money. I went from being unknown and poor with a lot of family responsibilities – I was married young and I loved my kids and my family – to having some money and acclaim. I was famous, everyone knew about The Godfather and knew about me.”
Today, The Godfather gives Coppola the one thing he always wanted – not money or notoriety, but a sense of belonging. “The way I look at it, I always wanted to be one of the group,” he says. “At first, I was an outsider, and I wasn’t included in the group because I was a new kid, or I was poor. Then I became famous, and a success, so I still wasn’t one of the group. In my heart, all I ever really wanted was to be considered one of the group, which I am now because when they talk about all the big directors of the ‘70s, they say George Lucas and Francis Coppola and Marty Scorsese and Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma and Paul Schrader. So, I have what I want – I am one of the group.”
Read Empire’s full Francis Ford Coppola interview in The Godfather 50th Anniversary issue – also including remembrances from cast members including Talia Shire, Robert Duvall and James Caan, rare behind-the-scenes images, and an exploration of the legacy of John Cazale – on sale Thursday 20 January, and available to pre-order online here.