Winona Ryder was riding high entering the 1990s. She was hot off the success of Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, and Beetlejuice when she got cast in one of the most anticipated films of the decade. Unfortunately, the Stranger Things star left when filming was just about to start. Here’s what happened.
A Highly Anticipated Sequel
Legend has it Francis Ford Coppola did not want to make a third Godfather film. A series of financial flops compelled him to play ball with Paramount and enter production. He was able to secure Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and Talia Shire, but he failed to come to terms with Robert Duvall. Tom Hagen was replaced by George Hamilton’s B.J. Harrison. This was hardly the only casting kerfuffle.
The New Leads
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 perplex folks to this day. Since the Godfather had already earned its reputation in film history, these roles were extremely sought after.
Originally, Coppola wanted Julia Roberts for the role. She was too busy with Pretty Woman to do the film. The next actress up for the role was Madonna. Coppola later told Vanity Fair, “She was fabulous…We all fell in love with her.”
A different casting decision meant Madonna could not be in the movie. The role of Vincent was at one point going to be Robert De Niro, but Coppola decided he was too old. This meant Madonna had to go and another actress ended to be chosen. Ryder ended up scoring the coveted role.
It Wasn’t Meant To Be
Production was already over budget by the time Ryder arrived in Rome for filming. She seemed quite tired as if something was wrong. The following day, she missed her set call. Johnny Depp, her boyfriend at the time, informed the studio she was not well enough to leave the bed. A doctor attended to her and concluded she was suffering from nervous exhaustion.
Despite the filmmaker’s efforts to assuage her fears, she and Depp flew back to America as soon as she was steady 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 visiting the set.
Sofia’s performance was universally panned. She found her calling as a great director, but she was simply not an actress. Much of the blame for Godfather III fell on her shoulders, but it would have been incredibly hard for her to win anyone over. One can’t help but wonder if the film would have a stronger reputation if a proper actress like Ryder had been well enough to complete the part.