“I thought this is either a dream or a joke”: Al Pacino Originally Wanted a Different Godfather Role While Studio Tried to Actively Fire Him Over 1 Marvel Star

Al Pacino could've played a very different role in The Godfather if it wasn't for Francis Ford Coppola's stubbornness.

al pacino, godfather


  • Al Pacino's Michael Corleone was a powerful role that happened due to Francis Ford Coppola's persistence to cast him in the role.
  • The actor had eyes for another role in The Godfather, that of the hot-headed son Sonny.
  • The studio pushed for Marvel star Robert Redford in the role but had to finally concede to the director's choice.
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It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Al Pacino in the role of Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic crime drama The Godfather. However, Coppola went out of his way to cast the actor after Paramount wanted a Marvel star in the role of Michael. Interestingly, Al Pacino, a newcomer at the time, had a different role in mind. He eyed the role of the hot-headed Sonny Corleone, which later went to James Caan.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in a still from The Godfather
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in a still from The Godfather

The studio was also against Coppola’s choice of Marlon Brando for the role of Vito Corleone. They initially considered Laurence Olivier for the role but once he became unavailable, Coppola and Paramount entered a months-long debate on casting Brando.

Al Pacino Wanted To Play A Different Character In The Godfather

Al Pacino initially wanted to play the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather
Al Pacino initially wanted to play the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather

Michael Corleone was one of the last roles to be cast in The Godfather. Paramount pushed for casting Captain America: The Winter Soldier actor Robert Redford in the role. They were also up for casting either Warren Beatty or Ryan O’Neal for the role. However, Francis Ford Coppola‘s favorite for the role was Al Pacino.


The director explained his casting choice during a reunion of the cast & crew at the 45th anniversary of the film held at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017. He shared that he wanted an unknown actor who looked like an Italian-American. He could imagine Pacino roaming the Sicilian countryside, as he shared at the event (via Metro US):

“Every time I read the script, I always saw his (Pacino’s) face, especially in the scenes in Sicily.”

However, Pacino eyed an entirely different role in the film. He wanted to play the role of Sonny Corleone, the eldest son in the Corleone family. Al Pacino believed Coppola “was really nuts” to push for his casting as Michael. The studio eventually cast James Caan as Michael and Carmine Caridi as Sonny respectively (via Vanity Fair).

However, Coppola was not ready to budge and still pushed for Pacino. The Scarface actor had to screen test several times for the role before the studio conceded. They only had one condition — Caan, who impressed them with his audition, should be given the role of Sonny. Al Pacino shared at the event:


“I thought this is either a dream or a joke…and then started the whole trial of them not wanting me and Francis wanting me.”

When Pacino was finally cast in the role, Paramount had to negotiate a deal with MGM to release him from an already contracted film. The role in MGM’s The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight later went to Robert De Niro.

Marlon Brando Made A Big Fuss Over One Actor Being Cast As Michael Corleone

Marlon Brando in The Godfather
Marlon Brando threatened to quit The Godfather over one actor’s casting as Michael

Marlon Brando‘s temper on set and his box office performance at the time posed a big problem for Paramount in casting the actor. However, Coppola convinced Paramount to give the actor a screen test, in which he impressed the studio. However, Brando almost got Coppola fired from the project due to his issues on the set.

Brando threatened to quit the film when Burt Reynolds was approached for the role of Michael (via Variety). The two actors had an ongoing rivalry at the time. However, Reynolds turned down the offer and Brando was later satisfied with the casting of Al Pacino in the role.


Brando’s first day on the set was a struggle and required several retakes, but Coppola wasn’t allowed to film the retakes. He learned that the studio had plans to fire him and Brando the following week (via Empire). However, Coppola pulled a mafia-style move to retain his position and fired everyone who was lobbying to get him out.

The Godfather earned somewhere between $250 and $291 million at the box office (via Box Office Mojo). The films are now available for streaming on Paramount+.


Written by Hashim Asraff

Articles Published: 1239

Hashim, Entertainment Writer. With over 1000 published articles on FandomWire, he covers a wide range of topics from celebrity life to comic book movies. He holds a Masters degree in Sociology and his expertise proves invaluable in handling sensitive news. His passion for crime investigation thrillers has turned him into a detective, exploring the darkest corners of the internet during his research.