James Caan Was Named Italian Of The Year Twice Despite Not Being Italian

Joe Harker

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James Caan Was Named Italian Of The Year Twice Despite Not Being Italian

Featured Image Credit: Alamy/Alamy

The Godfather actor James Caan was named New York's Italian of the Year twice despite not being Italian.

Actor James Caan has died aged 82, with his family confirming the sad news through his Twitter account and thanking well-wishers for their tributes to him.

In a decades-long career the actor established himself as an icon of cinema, picking up major award nominations and becoming one of Hollywood's most recognisable stars.

James Caan passed away at the age of 82. Credit: Alamy
James Caan passed away at the age of 82. Credit: Alamy

Caan was known as much for the roles he didn't take as the ones he did, with the actor passing on parts in legendary films such as Apocalypse Now and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

He also took several years off acting in the 80s after his sister's death from leukaemia and 'Hollywood burnout', and re-established himself properly with an adaptation of Stephen King's Misery.

However, perhaps his most famous role and the one that really propelled him to stardom was that of Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's legendary gangster movie The Godfather.

Actor James Caan alongside Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. Credit: Alamy
Actor James Caan alongside Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. Credit: Alamy

According to Vanity Fair, Caan was first called in to audition for the role of Michael, but director Coppola felt that didn't sit right with his visions of the characters.

The actor explained that he went in for screen tests as Michael Corleone and Tom Hagen in such an extensive process that it cost Paramount $420,000 to cast the legendary movie.

He said: "That was the last thing Francis wanted, because he had it in his mind that Michael was the Sicilian-looking one and Sonny was the Americanized version.

"So I flew to New York, this huge studio, for these tests. There must’ve been 300 guys sitting there. Every actor you can think of was testing for this and that."

Francis Ford Coppola eventually got his wish on Michael, casting Al Pacino in the role, but in exchange Caan was moved to the role of Sonny, displacing actor Carmine Caridi.

Caan was so good in The Godfather that people really thought he was Italian. Credit: Alamy
Caan was so good in The Godfather that people really thought he was Italian. Credit: Alamy

Caan ended up being so good in The Godfather that it convinced audiences he had Italian heritage, even though the actor was born to Jewish immigrants who left Germany and settled in New York.

His performance as Sonny Corleone got him voted New York's Italian of the Year on two separate occasions, with the actor explaining how it even got some people to close their doors to him.

He said: "I won Italian of the Year twice in New York, and I’m not Italian.

"I was denied in a country club once. Oh, yeah, the guy sat in front of the board, and he says, 'No, no, he’s a wiseguy, been downtown. He’s a made guy.' I thought, 'What? Are you out of your mind?'"

The Godfather recently turned 50 years old and there would be no better tribute to the actor's memory than giving perhaps his most memorable performance a watch.

If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677

Topics: Film & TV, Film and TV, Celebrity, World News

Joe Harker
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