The Godfather: Part II

I was 42 years old when I played Johnny Ola in The Godfather, Part II. It was my first major role in the cinema. Up to that time I had spent twenty two years as a stage actor. Film acting was new to me. And there is an essential difference between stage acting and film acting, and that is a matter of projection. Theatre acting requires projecting your voice past the footlights to the ears of a seated audience. In playing a role for film, the camera is the audience. Common sense, yes, but you need to know the difference when you are facing another actor, in this instance Al Pacino. This was my first role as a film actor and I learned this lesson from the Director, Francis Ford Coppola.  

I made my entrance as Johnny Ola, meet Michael Corleone. I sit down facing him, and with twenty two years of theatre training behind me, I proceed to deliver my memorized monologue, my very well memorized monologue.  I was determined to get it right so that Coppola would be happy he hired an unknown for a sequel to a major American film about gangsters, based on a best-selling novel by Mario Puzo. I felt very lucky to get the role.  The scene took place in Lake Tahoe, where Michael Corleone is holding court, and hundreds of people are celebrating a party outside while the band in the gazebo is playing a florid tango and guests are seated around the grounds.

A speedboat is approaching the area. Johnny Ola is seen walking towards the cabin accompanied by others. I enter the scene, just like the script says. I sit down to talk to Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and the Director yells cut as my first words come out. The Director gets me into a state of anxiety and nervousness by changing the script between takes.  The ruse works and soon, with  help from Pacino who tells me it is not my fault, the scene gets done, and I learn a lesson about film acting.  You have to be in the moment, just like real life.  I learned a valuable lesson on my first film role.  “No acting!” as a great teacher, Lee Strassberg, once said at the Actors Studio.


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