NEW JERSEY -- Godfather actor Gianni Russo was recently a guest on One-on-One with Steve Adubato, where he discussed his new book, Hollywood Godfather: My Life in the Movies & The Mob, and shared behind-the-scenes details about the famous film.
In the first Godfather movie, Russo played Carlo Rizzi, abusive husband to Corleone sister Connie, as well as a family traitor, complicit in the death of Sonny Corleone.
One Godfather anecdote he shared was the backstory behind the famous fight scene between his character and Sonny, played by James Caan. Though the actors had rehearsed the scene and it was fully choreographed, Caan improvised once the cameras were rolling and wound up breaking two of his ribs.
It was Russo’s first film role, and he was fortunate enough to have been coached on set by none other than Marlon Brando. “I was never in front of a camera, didn’t know protocol on the set,” Russo explained. “Brando became my friend, he mentored me through all those scenes, taught me all those great nuances.” Russo went on to act in more than 40 other feature films.
Russo grew up in Manhattan’s Little Italy in the 1940s and had an early familiarity with real-life mob figures, many of whom disapproved when they heard of the making of a Godfather film. Russo became an intermediary between mob figures of the time and the film's producers and ultimately helped the movie get made.
The legacy of The Godfather for Russo was how well it portrayed the mob in American culture. “It defined the mob in a good way, almost too good,” he said. “There’s so many wanna-bes because of that movie.”
And as for how the film changed him? Russo explained, “It’s my whole life.”