Portraying a mob boss who is trying to put a stop to the making of the now-classic film, The Godfather was a challenge that Giovanni Ribisi could not resist.
In his portrayal of the gruff and extremely dangerous Joe Columbo, a genuine threat to the movie and those who were trying to produce it, he shows a wide range of emotions.
Best known for his film roles in Saving Private Ryan, Avatar, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and Lost in Translation, he began acting when he was young in the 1980s sitcom My Two Dads.
His TV roles include The Wonder Years, Friends, and My Name is Earl, for which he was nominated for an Emmy for best outstanding guest actor in a comedy series. Ribisi also played the part of Marius in the Prime Video series Sneaky Pete.
The Offer, a 10-episode series on Paramount +, also stars Miles Teller, Dan Fogler, Justin Chambers, Juno Temple, and Matthew Goode. This is an insider’s look at the making of what is considered one of the greatest movies of all time – The Godfather – imbibed with juicy details, classic cars, other period décor, and both a great deal of humor and high drama.
“It is widely known that it’s practically impossible to make any movie,” Giovanni Ribisi exclusively tells Monster & Critics. “But it’s even that much more so when you have the mafia threatening your life if you are going to continue to do so.”
Read on about Giovanni Ribisi’s take on playing a mob boss, playing a real-life person, and why he wants all of us to see The Offer.
Why did you choose this series? Or why did it choose you?
Giovanni Ribisi: I’d gotten a call from Dexter Fletcher, and getting into that conversation was something I wanted from the get-go because The Godfather was just so intriguing to me. Then we had a conversation about my playing Joe Colombo. My first thought was, does he know who he’s talking to? Has he got the right actor? Because it felt so far away; it was just such a foreign concept to play a mafia boss in the Sinatra era. But then I think that became the reason I wanted to do it, because of sort of being terrified of it. We had three or four months to get ready for it and I committed. The material put it all right there.
How do you approach portraying a real-life person, especially a crime boss, versus a fictional character?
Yes, I mean it was actually more difficult to try to get information than I realized. I read a couple of books on him and was really trying to focus on the realities of his physicality, what he was and the way he talked, and his mannerisms. Then at a certain point, it’s not about serving a documentary medium as much as it is about serving the material.
Once you do your research what happens next?
Then my focus shifted to being a part of the production and working with the directors and the producers and the other members of the cast, which was great. We’re ultimately telling a story here.
Talk about the fact that this movie, which is a classic, has endured 50 years, and is still being celebrated almost didn’t get made.
Yeah. I mean, for so many different reasons, and there’s a 10-hour story about that which is phenomenal. First of all, I think one of the things that’s the most interesting is that you have a lot of films about the making of films, but it’s rare that you see movies that are about the producer making those films; the great unsung hero.
The producer Al Ruddy was quite a unique guy in the film industry.
Yes. He was the producer of The Godfather and also a producer on The Offer. So, a lot of these stories were coming from him. One of the things that he did was meet with Joe Colombo, convinced him, was diplomatic enough and wily enough to convince him to let him make the movie. Not only that but to support him in making the movie. And they became friends. I think that was also one of the things that sort of endeared me to the character as well.
Of course, you take away something from every project, from every movie. How did this series change you personally and professionally?
I guess I am still digesting it. I definitely feel like a lot of times you’re going; you’re doing, you’re always trying to do the best job you can. But you’re not necessarily making friends or there’s always just remained a professional relationship. In this, I think it’s quite different.
Why do you think The Offer is so compelling?
I think everybody from the costume designers to the cinematographers, directors, and the other cast members definitely [has] that sense of really being a family. I’m hoping to be able to work with many of them again. It would be a privilege for me.
What is it like to step back in time, the clothes and the props and especially those cars? Do you really feel like you’re in a different time period?
Yes, you do; that Lincoln Continental is such a classic, beautiful car. Yeah, I did. It was like a time warp as soon as you go past the camera and you’re there. That’s a testament to the craftsmanship of the department heads, the production designer, Michael Kaplan who designed the wardrobe, just unbelievable. And then Sal Totino, who was the cinematographer. Yeah, it was a lot of talented people working at their best.
Talk about some of the messages in the series. What I took note of is not being daunted, having resilience, not listening to any naysayers, and not giving up even if there is a gun to your head. What does that mean to you personally?
That’s exactly the thing that hit me as well about this project. The idea that this film, and maybe even filmmaking, is so important to this guy that he’s willing to stop at nothing in order to see this through. Even if it’s at certain points just to see it through and just to finish it. And with no modern conveniences mind you.
You’re in an era where you need to get somebody on the phone or reach out or communicate something, you either have to call them sometimes for two days, leave a message with a messenger service, or you have to go knock on their door. So, it was just a different time for that, and I think the films that you saw are different for that from that time period.
Did you want to see a whole lot of movies from that time period?
Of course, it’s the seminal thing. The 70s is perhaps the peak of filmmaking, and then there’s the 50s and then there’s the 40s noir and all, or the Italian neorealism. But for me I was saying in another interview, the films, it was just rock and roll, it was radical. The approach was radical. The process was about going deeper and deeper and deeper, and it wasn’t this hoity-toity, namby-pamby victimized whatever. It was just absolute bleeding on it. I don’t know, I’m at least nostalgic for something like that.
Why are you excited for my readers to see this series?
Well, if you’re a fan of The Godfather or have any inkling for The Godfather, I truly believe that the stories and the saga of the making of this film will blow your mind. It blew mine!
For more drama, check out, How ‘Fantastic Beasts’ star Dan Fogler got ‘The Offer’ he couldn’t refuse
The first three episodes of The Offer premiere on Thursday, April 28 on Paramount +. Subsequent episodes will stream during the subsequent weeks.