De Niro, Pacino on Rumored Rivalry, 45 Years After 'The Godfather'

Monday’s Today Show featured a reunion with the cast of the first two Godfather films. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Talia Shire all sat down with anchor Matt Lauer to reminisce and talked about their early jitters on the set. “It’s a great script,” Pacino insisted. “But the whole environment of shooting, of filming something — and at the time we were so young and inexperienced — we didn’t know what filmmaking was. Especially when you’re doing scenes and you hear people snickering, you say, ‘Well, this isn’t going well.'”

Of course, it was going just fine. In fact, The Godfather would become, for a time, the highest-grossing movie ever and help cement the notion of a rivalry between De Niro and Pacino, something De Niro was quick to pour cold water on. “We’ve known each other a long time. We were up for the same parts. But that’s what it is — not a rivalry.”

Al Pacino and Robert Duvall in <em>The Godfather</em>, 1972. (Courtesy of Everett Collection)
Al Pacino and Robert Duvall in The Godfather, 1972. (Courtesy of Everett Collection)

Everything certainly worked out well for Pacino, but at the time, the studio was as uncertain about the then-rookie actor as he was about the film — something director Francis Ford Coppola went to great lengths to deal with. He even moved the schedule around just to bump up Pacino’s show-stopping Sollozzo restaurant assassination sequence in order to show the studio that the director could work with Pacino to make magic happen.

“Francis, being as clever as he is, gets the schedule changed and puts the Sollozzo scene in the updated schedule so he’ll be in a position to show the studio, ‘This is what Pacino can do.'”

In the end, we can all be thankful audiences around the world ended up with a classic that hasn’t receded from the cultural spotlight in 45 years. “It doesn’t feel that long, because it’s somewhat in conscious life. It’s referred to a lot,” Pacino mused. “It’s sort of ever-present, those movies.”

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