The Offer Star Dan Fogler On Preparing To Play Francis Ford Coppola [Interview]

Francis Ford Coppola can't be an easy role to play. He's not only one of the greatest directors ever to live, but any movie fan likely has an idea of how the famed director expresses himself and his general presence. It's a daunting role for a variety of reasons in the new miniseries "The Offer," which is about the making of "The Godfather." 

Early on during the filming of the series, though, Dan Fogler felt fairly at ease playing the maestro. The actor, who's previously directed as well, related enough to the filmmaker. Despite all the obvious pressure involved, Fogler felt A-OK portraying Francis Ford Coppola. Recently, the actor told us about researching Coppola, capturing his mannerisms, and his great respect for the man. 

It felt like I was playing someone that was very close to me

This role is a very tall order.

Speaking of tall, Coppola is supposed to be almost six feet tall. He's like 5'11" or something. I really tried my damnedest to seem like I was tall, but they didn't really give me any help man.

[Laughs] I don't think anyone is going to call you out for that.

Okay, good. I think Coppola might watch it and be like, "Wait a minute. I'm taller than he is." I think that might've...

Do you ever think, what if he watches this?

Absolutely. From day one I was like, please let him like this. I really wanted to nail it, and hopefully, one day he'll watch it and give us his stamp of approval. I really tried to get his essence. I felt like, in listening to him, I really thought that he sounded a lot like someone who was in my family, you know? I grew up in New York, and he kind of sounded like my dad in a lot of ways. So I tried to make it my own and infuse my own life into him. That helped me ground it for myself.

There are his commentaries, the Godfather notebooks, so much you can read and listen to from Coppola. Where do you start?

[Director] Dexter [Fletcher] said to look into the Godfather notebook. If you're a fan of "The Godfather," I strongly recommend it. It has all of Coppola's ideas and anxieties written in the margins of the novel, which he used as a real foundation for the script.

I watched a documentary called "The Making of the Rain People," which is directed by George Lucas. That was really helpful to see Francis in all his neurosis, making a movie that doesn't make a big splash. It's just a constant therapy session, which was a nice little window into his soul during that time, right before "The Godfather."

Like you said, there's a lot of footage. I tried to make it my own. I had a lot of people coming up to me being like, "Man, you're him!" So I was like, "Oh, okay. I guess I'll just own that." You can't really deny that I do kind of look like him. It felt like I was playing someone that was very close to me.

You don't play him as the legendary Francis Coppola, either, but just an anxious guy trying to make a movie.

Yeah man, he's holding onto that anxiety all the way through "Hearts of Darkness." You see that still there. He's already won academy awards and now he's making this; he takes these massive risks with his own money. There are moments in that movie where he's just like, what am I even doing? He's constantly questioning himself. It's really cool to see him humbling himself like that.

What I noticed is that he almost has to be at the center of a whirlwind in order to make his best work. He has to get everybody into a frenzy and it's a giant circus. And then from that anxiety, he creates diamonds from that. Yeah, that was a good lesson.

He kind of flails, you know?

What about his mannerisms and how he carries himself? Anything specific you latched on to?

I wanted to make sure that my clothes didn't really fit very well. I wanted to be more overweight. I wanted to be at my heaviest when you first saw him. And then his nourishment becomes the making of the film, so he kind of loses his weight over the course of it. So when you first see him, he's indulging in just food and drink and wallowing in depression and director jail, because he is not being allowed to do what he wants to do. Let's not be fully comfortable with the clothes.

You know, there are Italians; you go to Italy and you stay there for a little while and you get what is known as "a very relaxed arm." You know, one of your arms becomes very relaxed, kind of hangs by your side and you gesture at things from your hip. He's got two relaxed arms, so that was very informative. It makes for almost like a Hitchcockian walk, which was cool. He kind of flails, you know?

I noticed that he, especially when he's giving a speech or something, needs to touch the crease of his hair, for some reason, like he has to make sure it's there. And so, I've put that into his performance. There's a lot of footage of him just freaking out on the telephone, you know? I love how he gesticulates.

How long did you have to prep and study him?

I'd say we did a little, like a deep dive, about three weeks. Got the part. Then we had rehearsal, which was wonderful. Dexter was great, man. That really felt like a theater rehearsal. We all sat around, and we wrote essays about our characters and our backstory.

What was really informative that I love about Francis was he really enjoyed life. I was watching the John Belushi documentary and there was the part about "The Blues Brothers" and the afterparties that they would have in this little hole in the wall that they created as their afterparty club, after SNL, and they would play music into the morning. Do you know who their bartender was?


Yeah. Doesn't that give you a little glimpse into his personality, the kind of people he wanted to be around? And that was probably the coolest place in the world to be. He's in the middle of it. Handing out drinks, man.

I want to be Kubrick

There are those universally beloved Coppola movies, but do you have any favorites that don't have "The Godfather" or "Apocalypse Now" status?

I thought it was really cool that he made "The Outsiders” afterwards, you know, with all those guys. I thought that was really cool. I love Gary Oldman as Dracula. Holy crap. That is a performance. I mean, that movie is pretty nuts! But there are some beautiful moments in that movie. He's probably my favorite Dracula. So come on. That's got to be something.

You know what I also dug? Because when I was making my first movie, "Hysterical Psycho," which is like a funky horror movie, I loved finding "Dementia 13," which was Coppola's first horror movie. You see there's a little spark of genius there and it's in certain shots he used. I love seeing that early stuff, which was cool.

That's just a good horror movie, too.

Yeah, yeah. He did sound first. He did every aspect of movie-making. I thought that was cool. He could've just done it himself. If everyone walked away, he could've gone, "Fine, I'll light it myself."

How'd your last day of playing Coppola compare to your first day on the set?

Yeah, the first day, you're like, "Oh, I hope I'm getting it." We had such a great captain with Dexter, though. He's like, "You got it, man. You got it, mate. You doing it!" I was like, "All right!"

He really instilled me with a lot of confidence. I didn't watch any dailies. I usually watch dailies, but I didn't get to see anything. I just had to rely on people who knew Coppola, who were watching my performance and they were like, "You're doing it, kid."

By the end I was so proud of what we had accomplished. Looking back at everything, all the iconic moments, all of the moments from the film that we recreated as a backdrop.... My God, it was, I'm just thrilled to be a part of it. I got a lot of confidence going into the next thing.

That's great.

I hope I get to play more directors! I want to be Kubrick. There's a movie out there about the making of whether he was involved with the filming of the moon landing, which would be interesting.

The first three episodes of "The Offer " are now available on Paramount+.