Interpreter of Tom Hagen, adopted son, lawyer and advisor to the “Godfather”, Robert Duvall tells us about the filming of the film, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the masterpiece signed by his great friend, Francis Ford Coppola.
Paris party. The beginnings of “The Godfather” were complicated… What memories do you have of the first days of filming?
Robert Duvall. Funny !
Yes, we laugh a lot. We did a lot of goofing around on set, especially with Jimmy Caan. James Caan had been a good friend for a long time. Every time he made a joke, it took Brando more than three seconds to understand it (laughs).
According to legend, you two specialized in showing off the moon… in other words, your buttocks!
(laughs) Yeah, we did it all the time. And Coppola who told us: “Come on guys, stop, you have to be serious here” … but he knew that with our stupidities, we allowed the team to relax, put a more relaxed atmosphere on the set. He admired Francis Ford Coppola for working under such conditions, with constant pressure from the studio to get a quick turnaround and avoid getting fired.
You toured five times with Coppola, starting with “The Rain People” before “The Godfather.” What makes you a special director in his eyes?
When Coppola is behind the camera, you go. He is a fabulous director, the best. He always wants to see what you can put on the table. He doesn’t predetermine how you’re going to play. Some directors tell you “you are going to do this, you are going to do that”. Coppola, he wants to see how you will interpret what he wrote, your performance within the framework of his writing. I call it “from ink to attitude”.
Francis Ford Coppola had gathered all his actors, at the start of filming, for a big dinner. According to him, it was that night when he understood that the film was going to work…
Yes, and Coppola had been right, the pieces fell into place that night, as he wanted, we were a family. Brando was at the end of the table, presiding as if he were the godfather, and in a way he was the godfather to many of the young actors who were around the table. We all admired him. Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and I used to meet weekly at Cromwell’s Pharmacy in New York. If we mentioned Brando once, we were only talking about him. He was a hero to us.
Brando was a hero to us, but we spoke to him as an equal.
You have a very nice scene with him, when your character Tom Hagen has to announce to Vito the death of his son Sonny. What was your relationship with Marlon Brando on set?
Same. We admired him, but made sure to speak to him as equals. For this scene, we did two takes. Francis asked us if we wanted a third one, we did a third one, and that was it. We didn’t do 20 or 25 takes.
What was your approach to the character of Tom Hagen?
As the assistant to a millionaire golfer. (Laughter) Whatever the best man wanted, I was there to accommodate him. Lighting his cigarette, pulling out his chair, waiting to the side, like a waiter in a big restaurant. And if someone disrespected him, he had to face the consequences.
The interesting thing about Tom Hagen is that he was adopted into a family where blood counts more than anything. How did you take that into account?
I didn’t want to cross the line in my game, the same way he couldn’t cross the line in the family. He wasn’t of the same blood, he was a stranger no matter what. An adopted child can be raised lovingly and well integrated into a family, but I think he felt that he had to stay within limits.
Perhaps it is also because he is the voice of reason in a clan, let’s say more… blood?
Yes, the Corleones listen to her as long as it suits them. When she gives advice, it is always for the good of the family. The family knows it, so she has her trust, but again, without going over the line. For him, it is also a company, a business. He will never sink you. He is the voice of reason, but he was involved in his illegal business, he was an accomplice. We can fall in love all we want, but they’re still all outlaws.
Coppola was more worried about my crab cake recipe than my part in The Godfather 3…
It was his first Oscar nomination. What had been your feeling?
Yes, it was fine, but whatever you know. James Caan, Pacino and I were nominated for the movie, it was nice. Who doesn’t like prices? It didn’t work, but it was ok, there were other days… I finally got it years later, and there it is, on the mantelpiece!
Al Pacino was then a relatively new and little-known actor. Did he think, at the time, that he was a good choice?
Yes, I had seen him on Broadway playing in “Does a tiger wear a tie?”, I knew he was very talented. A lot of people wondered why he was cast, and Coppola had the smarts, the foresight to give him the part, and he was right.
Do you sometimes regret not taking on the role of Tom Hagen in the third film?
No, that’s enough for me with the first and second movies. This was Coppola at the height of it.
Why didn’t you agree to do the third?
Money. I told him: “if you want to pay Pacino two or three times more than me, that’s fine, but not 4 or 5″… Coppola had come to see me at my farm, in Virginia, to ask me to participate in “The Godfather “. 3”. My mom was a good cook and he especially wanted his recipe for Maryland crab cakes. I wrote him down on a piece of paper but he forgot. Then he kept calling me but I think he was more concerned that he forgot the recipe than that I wasn’t there. to be in his movie. He always made me laugh (laughs)!