Mario Puzo Gave Andy Garcia An Intimidating Profile For His Godfather Part III Character

No one had a tougher assignment than Andy Garcia heading into the making of "The Godfather Part III." This was the saga's first installment in 16 years, and was expected to be the conclusion of a trilogy. Given that the previous chapters had won the Academy Award for Best Picture and, over time, turned into beloved American classics, this new movie could only match the brilliance of its predecessors. Anything less than a masterpiece could very well travesty the greatness of two of the greatest films ever made.

Garcia, who'd popped in Brian De Palma's "The Untouchables" and reaffirmed his rising-star credentials in Ridley Scott's "Black Rain," had been cast in the pivotal role of Vincent Mancini, the bastard son of Sonny Corleone (James Caan). Vincent is a legitimate heir to the Corleone throne whenever the aging Michael (Al Pacino) should decide to step down. Unfortunately for Vincent, a volatile thug who reveres the equally hotheaded father he never knew, Michael is determined to legitimize the Corleone family business. There will be no more illicit investments. What Michael doesn't understand, and Vincent very much does, is how lethally hard his mafia associates will push back against this move. Because of Michael's ruthless maneuvering in the first two movies, the Corleone family is now the rising tide that lifts their ships. If it ebbs forever, these men will suffer tremendous financial losses. Michael lacks the strength to hold them at bay. Vincent is nothing but strength. But as the story unfolds, we realize he is not just his father's son. He is the sum total of the Corleone clan as it was reconstituted in America.

How does an actor play that?

The DNA of Vincent Mancini

This was very much on Garcia's mind as Coppola began rehearsals for the film. Coppola's process is famously collaborative; he wants his cast to feel as if they're part of a tight-knit family throughout the shoot. To encourage this closeness, he personally cooks dinner for the actors at the end of each day's rehearsal.

One day, Garcia found himself sitting next to Mario Puzo, the author of the book on which the entire saga is based, and the co-screenwriter with Coppola on all three movies. Spying an opportunity to get the straight dope on Vincent from the Godfather of "The Godfather," Garcia asked Puzo for guidance on his portrayal of Vincent. As the actor told GQ, "If I remember correctly, he said, 'He has the strength of Sonny, the intelligence of Vito, the coldness of Michael, and the warmth of Fredo.'" Garcia let loose a big laugh and said, "Thanks very much, I'll work on that."

He certainly did.

A Corleone in full

Garcia's Vincent gives "The Godfather Part III" — or, as it's been retitled in Coppola's latest reedited incarnation, "The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone" — a high-voltage charge in the early going, but as the film progresses, we begin to see the shrewdness of Vito and, in his forbidden romance with his cousin, Mary (Sofia Coppola), the lovableness of Fredo.

This multilayered performance deservedly earned Garcia an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and turned him into a sought-after leading man. Most importantly, in terms of the series' dramatic arc, his Vincent represents everything Michael loved and destroyed. He is the man's squandered promise and ultimate failure made flesh. It is a beautiful performance that cuts through Pacino's histrionics and heightens the saga to the stuff of Shakespearian tragedy. Garcia got the job done. Puzo had to be proud.