Miles Teller & ‘The Offer’ Team on Telling the Crazy, Chaotic Tale of ‘The Godfather’
Hollywood is a business, but, to quote a line from 1972’s The Godfather, some people take it very personal. Like the time Robert Evans, head of the studio that, in 1970, wanted to turn Mario Puzo’s gangland bestseller into a film, found a dead rat in his bed. Whoever put it there clearly didn’t want to see The Godfather onscreen.
“I don’t know what the f— you’ve gotten me into, but I’m not getting killed for some gangster movie!” a spooked Evans (played with grand flair by Matthew Goode) shouts in The Offer, the 10-episode Paramount+ limited series that dramatizes the crazy real-life antics that nearly put the kibosh on one of the greatest films of all time.
Fifty years after it first hit theaters, it now seems inconceivable that The Godfather almost didn’t make the journey from the page to the projector. Also hard to imagine: the idea that its off-set story might be about as dramatic as the film itself. But as The Offer makes clear in juicy detail, filming the Oscar-winning epic required beating back “a constant escalation of risk and stakes,” says Miles Teller, who plays the remarkably even-tempered Albert S. Ruddy, the producer. His most prominent prior credit: cocreating the zany 1960s WWII sitcom Hogan’s Heroes. “This was a moment for Al to truly define himself as a bona fide film producer,” Teller adds, “and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him — including the heavy hand of the Mafia.”
The mob, led by gruff and dangerous Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi), turned out to be a very real threat. The New York City crime boss ironically considered Puzo a traitor for his novel’s goodfellas depiction of Italians. Thus, the dead rat Evans finds in his bed and, in The Offer’s first episode, a literal warning shot that blew out Ruddy’s car windows as he sat at a stop light with dutiful assistant Bettye McCartt (Ted Lasso’s Juno Temple).
With enemies like this, Ruddy — whose memories of filming serve as the series’ primary source—leans on myriad allies in pairings that make The Offer seem like several buddy films rolled into one. Foremost is Ruddy’s bond with fiery Paramount head of production Evans, which “in many ways is the backbone of the show,” says Teller. Despite constant battles and creative differences, they come together when fielding threats to their baby. One such threat infamously led to the removal of the word “Mafia” from the script. “The Godfather never gets made without [Evans and Ruddy] putting their reputations on the line,” says Teller.
Ruddy’s other partner in crime is the brilliantly resourceful gal Friday McCartt, who guides him through studio minefields while struggling with being the rare woman on a testosterone-heavy set. “This brotherhood had been created with [Ruddy and] Evans, [director] Francis Ford Coppola, [co-screenwriter] Mario Puzo and Bettye McCartt,” executive producer Nikki Toscano says. “I use brotherhood loosely; Bettye was part of all that.”
Among the series’ great pleasures is watching the screenwriting partnership of neurotic novice Puzo (a perfectly wide-eyed Patrick Gallo) and the equally committed Coppola (a terrific, cynical Dan Fogler). We don’t see classic moments from the film depicted in the series (“It would be a mistake to try to re-create such a masterpiece,” explains Toscano); instead, the writers negotiate the birth of familiar fan moments, such as the pair pontificating over just how Michael Corleone should play the scene of his first big kill. And who knew Coppola insisted that viewers see an actual pot of Italian sauce simmering in the film? “Food was a metaphor for art to Puzo [and Coppola], and art was everything,” says Gallo.
Beyond sauce, the real meat of moviemaking controversy came from the budget (The Godfather’s Italy sequence, where Michael hides and gets married, was in peril) and casting. Try to imagine the studio’s suggestion of Ernest Borgnine, fresh off the sitcom McHale’s Navy, as the Don. And Coppola’s insistence that notoriously difficult star Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers, Grey’s Anatomy) and little-known theater actor Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) play Vito and Michael made Evans apoplectic.
Hilariously, plenty of other names are thrown out as options in The Offer, including bankable stars Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds, both of whom were considered for Michael. Seeing how Ruddy and Coppola court Brando and Pacino creates another Offer thrill — watching current actors do their best to portray familiar Hollywood icons, with mixed results.
These insider details give The Offer “an unexpected new dynamic on The Godfather,” says Gallo. And while Toscano calls the series “a commentary on how hard it is to make anything in Hollywood, let alone something good,” one is also tempted to count how many times Ruddy managed to not get killed producing it. Proof that, as Michael Corleone famously said in 1974’s The Godfather Part II, sometimes, in order to succeed, you must “keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”
The Offer, Series Premiere, Thursday, April 28, Paramount+