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SHIRE, TALIA: The Godfather (25th Anniversary)

NO MORE MR BAD GUY
The Godfather made history. It also made a number of careers, including that of the director’s sister: Talia Shire, speaking exclusively to PAUL FISCHER on the eve of its 25th Anniversary re-release, says it could never be made again.

It was 25 years ago that an unknown Talia Shire became a part of movie history, when her brother, director Francis Ford Coppola, cast her in the pivotal role of abused wife Connie Corleone, in his Oscar-winning take on the best-selling novel, The Godfather. It was a film that re-defined a genre and American film culture. It would also change the lives of all its participants, including Shire, who went on to star in five Rocky films and two more Godfathers, garnering two Oscar nominations in the process.

"It was a very bittersweet moment"

It must have been an unforgettable and iconoclastic gathering earlier this year: 25 years ago to the day, a small group of actors gathered to see a film directed by a then 32-year old, never realising how it would help re-shape a depressed American film industry. There was Pacino, Caan, Keaton, Coppola and his sister - Talia Shire. Missing was Brando, but his indomitable performance as the ageing head of an Italian-American crime family remains planted in everyone's minds. Seeing it now, what would this group of actors think about the film that altered their lives. "The general feeling among us all after we saw it again was: could a film like that be made today. It was a very bittersweet moment," recalls Shire.

Over the celebrationary dinner that took place in San Francisco earlier this year, the group pondered this question for hours. The answer they came up was an unequivocal "No." "Today, we get everything instantaneously, the numbers come in immediately, so movies don't have an opportunity to marinate any more. But you've got to remember that The Godfather wads a studio movie, and today studio movies are far more formulaic that they used to be, so the risk level is less."

At the time Mario Puzo's best-seller was brought before the cameras, Shire was 27-years old, the baby in the family. America was in the grip of post-Vietnam fever, it was a transitional time for American society, and the cinema was a reflection of those times. Young actress Shire was a novice, but now, sitting and chatting with the actors who were novices as well, they all concurred that The Godfather remains a unique film in the annals of contemporary American cinema. "Apart from the fact that it's a genuine treasure, a near-perfect movie, the casting was also unique."

"I asked to audition for the movie and he said no"

Brando was considered a dinosaur and an oddity, Coppola was relatively inexperienced and baby sister Talia wanted a piece of the action. Even today, controversy remains as to Shire's involvement in this film, but apparently, it was a decision not exactly made by her brother. "I asked to audition for the movie and he said no, and here's the reason why. He's a young director requesting certain interesting casting and the feeling was that if you cast your sister there are all sorts of trades that go on. So I'd be more in the way." But she auditioned any way, using her married name of Shire to get her in the door. Coppola was in London at the time, and it was producer Bob Evans who made the decision to cast her. "When Francis came back he was furious that I went ahead and did this."

"Nepotism is a strange thing - it sounds like a disease and it feels like one."

Production on Godfather was never easy, but having one's sister in the film, a decision not made by the director, didn't exactly make things run smoothly. "There was a certain amount of tension. Nepotism is a strange thing - it sounds like a disease and it feels like one. You have to be 10 times more orderly, more focused, and more together. At the time, the first 2 or 3 weeks were very scary for Francis, because he didn't know whether or not he was even going to maintain his job on the film. So his priority was to get another day in so he couldn't be fired. Therefore I have no doubt that I caused a great deal of tension for him."

But Coppola was not fired, and the director is now full of praise for Shire's portrayal of the battered wife. While Godfather remains a male-dominated film, as were its two subsequent sequels, Shire nonetheless felt an affinity with Connie Corleone. "She came from a male family. The role of women in the movies, and that one especially, was a difficult one, and I related to that in some way. It was a tough relationship for the woman in that particular royalty, which it was in a sense, and I thought for me, it would be an interesting role." Not that she was treated like that in her particular family at all, Shire hastens to add. "I knew I would understand something of that oppression, that it took something very special for that kind of person to evolve."

Like Connie, it took three Godfather films to make one acutely aware of Shire's own artistic evolution, and she draws a clear parallel. "At least by the third movie she didn't wind up TOTALLY in the kitchen."

"We made that movie for 1 million dollars, before low-budget films became as fashionable as they are today." on making Rocky

While celebrating 25 years of cinema history, a year before she was part of another movie celebration: 20 years on, and Rocky also transformed the life of its participants. "We made that movie for 1 million dollars, before low-budget films became as fashionable as they are today." And like Connie, her Rocky character was also allowed to blossom and develop through five films. Shire tended to concentrate on those two characters for much of her career.

Now aged 52, Shire's life has been marred by tragedy, having lost her second husband, producer Jack Schwartzman, to cancer, a few years ago. It was Schwartzman who encouraged Shire to take the plunge and direct her first movie, a thriller called One Night Stand, in 1995. Prior to its completion, her husband died at home. "It was a long mourning period and one that I'm only just getting over."

Raising 2 teenage sons, Shire is now returning to acting. "At the beginning I was never passionate or ambitious about it, but I now I really want to do it again." She's grateful that she has left behind this cinematic legacy, and can look forward to a future playing an assortment of characters, "that are outside the boundaries of Connie and Adrienne." Shire is about to start shooting a new film with Dennis Hopper and has other films on the boil. Hollywood is again making this actress several offers she can't possibly refuse.

(Rocky I - V is available on video from Warner Home Video.)

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Al Pacino and Talia Shire in Godfather


Talia Shire with Marlon Brando


Diane Keaton and Al Pacino


THE GODFATHER (R)
(US)

 

CAST: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Diane Keaton

PRODUCER: Albert S. Ruddy

DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola

SCRIPT: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola

CINEMATOGRAPHER:

EDITOR: Williams Reynolds and Peter Zinner

MUSIC: Nino Rota (composer) Carlo Savina (conductor)

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dean Tavoularis

RUNNING TIME: 185 minutes

 

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 7 (Sydney);
August 14 (other states)






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