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37 Years Of Being Married To The Mob: Gianni Russo Interview

Author: Anita Connors
Thursday, 7 August 2008
Here in Australia to promote the release of The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration on DVD, 3D’s Anita Connors talks to the infamous Gianni Russo about playing The Godfather’s son-in-law Carlo Rizzi 37 years ago, his connections to the mob and those “idiots” on set.

“I don’t know what my life would be without being for The Godfather. I don’t think anybody made more money from this movie than I did because I just…launched a whole line of things because of this new movie… To me The Godfather was a big part of my life,” Gianni Russo says.

Not really an actor, he likens his acting to “like when someone chooses to go play golf or fishing”, Russo got the volatile part of Carlo Rizzi for connecting Paramount Studios with NYC Mafia don Joe Colombo Sr.

“I shot a scene for Michael, Sonny and Carlo and submitted it to Paramount,” Russo recalls. And having read that they were having trouble shooting because of the Anti-Defamation Italian League, Russo decided to go see Joe Colombo.

“[The Colombos] were selling a buck a button at the time to raise money for the League. I said, ‘Well you know I think we have an opportunity to make a lot of money, more money than you could ever make selling buttons… Let’s go over the controversial parts of the script that you don’t like and let’s see if we can work with them. And I’ll arrange for you to get all the world premieres in every major city. You’ll make a fortune.’ So he liked that!

“I brought Joe Colombo and Caesar Vitali, we actually had a sit down with the Paramount people, it was, like, amazing because they had read the book and knew these people. And we worked out the problems and we read the script, and came to an agreement. And they got all the world premieres and I got the part of Carlo. It’s a great gift.”

Central in cementing the film together, Russo found many of the locations for the film. He even suggested the site for the celebrated wedding scene.

“[Albert S.] Ruddy and Francis [Ford Coppola] couldn’t find the location, and I realised that there was a cul-de-sac on Statham Island,” Russo says. “So one day we were going on a scout and I showed it to them, and they realised that they could put up phoney walls, throw down cobblestone…”

On set, Russo minded his own business. However, as Marlon Brando was enamoured with his “Chinese chic chauffeur”, he would pick Brando up in the morning.

“That’s how the mooning started!” Russo laughs. “Jimmy Caan and Robert Duvall started mooning everybody… One morning, coincidentally, we’re driving down Park Avenue going to the bridge to get to Statham Island, and the van next door to us was Jimmy Caan, Pacino and Robert Duvall. And Brando and I are in the back of my limousine having, he liked carbarsone with his coffee in the morning, stoned already and after three or four red lights, Jimmy Caan was mooning us out the window. It was amazing, I’ve got to tell you! On the set I didn’t bother with these idiots!”

Russo’s links with the New York underworld came ahead when filming was wrapping up. With a threat on his life, Paramount and his other associates didn’t want him to go to the premieres.

“Well, the opening night there was a contract on my life,” Russo admits. “…To me I just wanted to get through it, yet I didn’t want to miss it. They advised me not to go ’cause they thought I would be assassinated that night by the Colombo family…Well the Colombos got me the part and they were supposed to get all the world premieres, but on June 28, while we were still shooting the movie, they assassinated Joe Colombo in real life… It was a big controversy.”

Despite such controversy, Russo has great affection for The Godfather. Important to him is “the carry over from generation to generation…it crosses over every generation. And you’ll find something in it your mother won’t find… [Plus], I mean gangsterism has always had a sex appeal – especially to women. Women like those guys. It’s interesting.”

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration, a five-disc boxset, is released 7 August through Paramount. For your chance to win one of five copies head to the giveaways section.