winona ryder was riding high in the early 1990s. She was hot from the success of Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, and beetle juice when she was cast in one of the most anticipated films of the decade. Unfortunately, the stranger things star left as filming was about to begin. Here is what happened.
A long-awaited sequel
Legend has it that Francis Ford Coppola didn’t want to make a third Godfather film. A series of financial flops forced him to play ball with Paramount and go into production. He managed to secure Al Pacino, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire, but he failed to get along with Robert Duvall. Tom Hagen was replaced by George Hamilton’s BJ Harrison. That wasn’t the only casting problem.
The new tracks
The heart of The Godfather III was supposed to be the romance between Sonny Corleone’s bastard son, Vincent Mancini, and Michael Corleone’s daughter, Mary. The incestuous love story continues to puzzle people to this day. Since Godfather had already earned his reputation in the history of cinema, these roles were extremely sought after.
Originally, Coppola wanted Julia Roberts for the role. She was too busy with A pretty woman make the movie. The next actress for the role was Madonna. Coppola later said vanity lounge“She was fabulous…We all fell in love with her.”
A different casting decision meant Madonna couldn’t be in the film. Vincent’s role was at one point going to be that of Robert De Niro, but Coppola decided he was too old. This meant that Madonna had to leave and another actress ended up being cast. Ryder ended up scoring the coveted role.
It wasn’t meant to be
The production was already over budget by the time Ryder arrived in Rome for filming. She looked quite tired as if something was wrong. The next day, she missed her landline call. Johnny Depp, her boyfriend at the time, informed the studio that she was not well enough to leave the bed. A doctor treated her and concluded that she was suffering from nervous exhaustion.
Despite the filmmaker’s best efforts to allay her fears, she and Depp returned to America as soon as she was stable enough to leave. The studio and Coppola immediately panicked: who could play such an important role on such short notice? Well, Coppola decided his daughter Sofia Coppola would be right for the role. It helped that she was already in Rome anyway to visit the set.
Sofia’s performance was universally criticized. She found her calling as a great director, but she just wasn’t an actress. Much of the blame for Godfather III fell on his shoulders, but it would have been incredibly difficult for him to convince anyone. One can’t help but wonder if the film would have a better reputation if an actress like Ryder had been good enough to complete the role.
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