James Caan passed away on June 6, but the legendary actor left an indelible filmography during his time in Hollywood. Caan and Al Pacino’s careers skyrocketed after the success of 1972’s The Godfather, in which the duo played brothers Santino “Sonny” Corleone and Michael Corleone, respectively. Just months before his death, Caan opened up about the epic crime drama and mentioned the chemistry during filming. “One of the things that made ‘The Godfather’ successful … was that everyone really enjoyed working on it and that resonates on screen,” he told the New York Post in March.
Although the role of Sonny catapulted his career, the Thief star initially struggled with the role. “I was so awful … I really had nothing under control,” Caan said in 2017 during a reunion with The Godfather on Today. One of the most memorable scenes between Caan and Pacino in The Godfather involved Sonny advising Michael to keep “brains” off his “suit” after he assaulted a police officer. Although Caan was frustrated that an earlier scene between him and Robert Duvall had been cut. “I was so pissed off,” Caan told The Hollywood Reporter in March.
Despite his minor complaints, Caan and Pacino shared working together on the all-time classic.
James Caan almost played the role of Al Pacino
Even after the veteran Hollywood actor had a long list of films under his belt, James Caan still remembered the audition for The Godfather that director Francis Ford Coppola put him and Al Pacino through. “His wife, Eleanor, turned a bowl on our heads and cut our hair, and for the price of four corned beef sandwiches we had at lunch, he rolled this 16mm. Improvisation,” Caan told Vanity Fair in 2009. Originally , the studio insisted that Pacino wasn’t big enough to play crime boss-turned-soldier Michael Corleone. Executives eyed Caan for the role. “Fancis called me one night, ‘Jimmy, they want you to come in and test … They want you to play Michael,'” the ‘Rollerball’ actor recalled, while Coppola added that he disagreed.
Caan’s Sonny Corleone famously died in the 1972 classic, so he didn’t reprise his role in subsequent sequels. However, when Pacino was working on The Godfather III, he was in constant contact with his friend. Caan said Pacino “calls [him] from Rome all the time,” according to a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times.
The two acting legends only appeared together in one other film, 1990’s Dick Tracy, in which Caan had a cameo, according to the LA Times. Despite their lack of screen time together, the “Misery” star looked back fondly on his days working alongside Pacino. In January 2021, Caan tweeted a throwback to the couple. “AL & Me. End of tweet,” he wrote, while adding a moving emoji.