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
"It was a very
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
"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.)