TV

Filmmaker Dexter Fletcher On ‘The Offer,’ The Unbelievable Story Of ‘The Godfather’

Dexter Fletcher, seemingly, has become the go-to filmmaker for projects about real people, who are famous, and in a lot of cases are very much still alive. Even though not credited as director of Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s well-documented that he stepped in when Bryan Singer, let’s say, stopped directing the movie. Then, of course, he was the director of the Elton John biopic, Rocket Man. And now he’s here to tell the story of the making of The Godfather, as executive producer and director of a few episodes, with The Offer. (Which will stream on Paramount+ starting April 28th.)

The Offer tells the story from producer Al Ruddy’s point of view. Played by Miles Teller (who stepped in after Armie Hammer … departed) Ruddy would go on to produce movies like the two Cannonball Run movies, then eventually win another Oscar for Million Dollar Baby. But after leaving network television (he helped create Hogan’s Heroes), his first real claim to fame was producing The Godfather. And in getting The Godfather made, he had to cut deals with basically everyone, including the actual mob who, at first, didn’t want the movie made at all, then decided they were fine with it, but wanted their cut. And then there’s Paramount, and dealing with an erratic studio head Robert Evans (Matthew Goode, who is excellent as Evans) who is supportive, but also going through a divorce and sometimes goes missing. If the stuff we see in The Offer is even half true, it’s a miracle The Godfather even exists today. As Fletcher explains ahead…

I feel over the last few years, you’ve become the go-to person for projects about famous people, who many are still alive, and you have to navigate everything that comes with that.

Yeah, I suppose so. I mean, I suppose the first time I kind of came across it, it was with Eddie the Eagle.

Even that. Yes, good point.

And I spent the time talking to the person who the film was about, who is still alive.

But there’s a different level of fame with the last three.

Yes, exactly. But nevertheless, he is still a real person. What’s interesting about that, is the script was written in a very jokey way on that, and then I met the man and he came to the meeting and he had his two young daughters with him who obviously idolized him. And what was interesting was learning and understanding that these people are real. And although that sounds like a trite thing to say, it’s also very important that you find a way of handling that subject matter in a way that, even as sometimes you are telling a story and things are heightened and it could be comedic or tragic, or triumphant, or whatever, there’s a certain responsibility that you have towards this person and the people who love them. It sounds like a heavy-handed thing, but it is important.

And that makes complete sense, but I keep thinking if, say, Al Pacino is not happy about The Offer, he can afford better lawyers than anyone involved with Eddie the Eagle, and that’s what I would be concerned about.

Yes, yes. I mean, I tried not to get into those chopping balls.

But like I said, you seem to navigate it well…

I mean, I think it’s about just a certain level of respect that you afford people and you’ve got to think about why you’re telling that story. Are you telling that story in order to hurt them and vilify them? Or are you trying to elevate their achievements, and them, and what they’ve done and simply sort of tell that story about people that you respect? And I think as long as you just stay true to that, and not overly reverential, because that, again, can also have the same effect. They’re real people.

Well, that’s interesting because, other than literal killers, you humanize every character. Even Barry Lapidus, the Colin Hanks character, who butts heads with Al Ruddy and Robert Evans the whole time, by the end you show he’s just trying to do his job, too.

Yeah, exactly. And look, there are people in that corporate machine who run those studios and are there as a necessary evil, if that’s what you want to take them as. Without the creatives, there’s that question about, how does the machine run on both sides? It’s not straight forward, it’s not cut and dry, there are people like Barry who need to, or are equally a part of, an important part of that machine and mechanism. And equally as well, you think about Giovanni Ribisi as Joe Colombo.

Right…

He was a decidedly shady, dark character. Now, we are looking at a certain aspect and part of his life where that was sometimes put into play…

Joe Colombo’s a good example. Did you worry about making him too likable? By the end, he feels like, “Yeah, this guy doesn’t seem too bad.” And you’re right, he’s probably done some things that aren’t good.

But I think as you discover as that goes along, that is a relationship that’s a dance with the devil, it really is. And as the scenes develops, it’s very clear that’s a huge part of why Al got himself into this very dark place with these people who operate in a very dark way. And that seemingly on the surface, it is all sort of sweetness and light, but actually it costs Al a lot, and that deal with the devil plays itself out. And although Colombo met the end that he did, a very violent end, it didn’t mean that Al was out of that world or out of the gravity of that.

Did you hear anyone that was involved in the making of The Godfather? Did you hear from any of them that had any concerns? Did James Caan call you and be like, “Hey man, I want to know what you’re doing”?

No, is the straightforward answer. I know Al Pacino from a long time ago, we worked together as father and son in a movie over 30 years ago [in Revolution].

Right.

And so, I took the liberty of calling him and sitting down with him and I thought, if I’m going to start anywhere with finding out if there are issues, I suppose Al would be a good place to start.

That seems smart.

Yeah. They’re smart, they’re generous, and I think they understand that we are telling a story. And we’re not there to vilify them or kind of try and make villains out of anybody. It’s based on facts, but of course it’s a TV series, it is a streaming series, and it has 10 hours to run and it needs to be entertainment as well as informative. So, these guys, they’re smart and they get it. I personally didn’t get any phone calls from James Caan that scared the life out of me.

If James Caan called me and wasn’t happy, that sounds terrifying.

Exactly, exactly. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I know Miles spoke to James. I think they know each other personally anyway. And I think, look, there’s an incredible amount of pride. I know if it was the other way around, that’s the way I tried to look and think about it: 50 years from now, someone is making a 10-part mini-series about the making of Eddie the Eagle, for example, or Rocket Man. Then I’d be flattered and it would be fine.

Let’s say it’s Rocket Man and they’re digging into the nitty-gritty of every little argument that happened, you wouldn’t feel like there are a couple things you wouldn’t want to share?

I personally know I wouldn’t.

Okay.

I kind of find it fine. I understand your point, but I think they don’t have anything to hide. All they have is an incredible seminal movie. And these things are never born of ease. It’s not like everyone skips around and it’s all wonderful. I’ve yet to work on a film where everything goes perfectly every day and there’s not one sort of clash, or argument, or ringing of hands. It’s just the nature of it.

Speaking of not going perfectly, I’m curious from your perspective from a production standpoint, The Offer had a high-profile casting change right at the beginning of this. The lead character had to be recast.

Well, I mean that happened before or I was involved. But I understand your point and, look, even along the road of production, stuff happens and it does mirror a lot of what those guys went through. And there may be casting choices that I wanted that studio didn’t and vice versa. You still get into all of those dramas that are very real because there’s a lot of people who have vested interest in it, creatively, financially. There are all sorts of angles that people are coming from.

I think in 40 years they could do a mini-series about this mini-series.

Well, that would really be a mess, wouldn’t it?

You’ve got a pandemic right in the middle of it. A lot happened.

It did. But we were very fortunate that we weathered that and planned, and we didn’t really get derailed by the pandemic. And there was a lot of really good fortunate stuff. And it’s seemly what can be really difficult, but cast changes or whatever, actually, we think and we feel that it all turned out really well and it’s a great homage to Ruddy, and the film, and Coppola, and Pacino, and Brando, and all those people involved. So, makes me proud of that.

You’re making a series about Paramount, produced by Paramount. Are you ever worried about hearing from the high ups at Paramount going, “We’d rather that information not come out”? That seems like an interesting dynamic you have to work with.

It is. It is. But look, Robert Evans is well documented…

Right, a lot of that information is out there.

Yeah. And I don’t think we were ever going to go some of the places that Evans even went himself with his own confessions, in The Kid Stays in the Picture, for example. The great thing about it is, it’s half a century ago and there’s enough distance and time for these stories and these moments to become legends. And so, once something becomes a legend, it gets into the public psyche and it’s this kind of retold story after many, many times. And we get to kind of play around and tell our version of the legend. And so there’s something really kind of exciting and powerful about that.

What part of this story were you even like, “There’s no way that happened”? And then you looked into it and you’re like, “Oh, wow. That actually happened.”

Well, the horse’s head story is incredible. In fact, it is a real horse’s head, and how they came about they came about it, and how they got it. It plays out in one of the latter episodes.

I saw that one. So the actual mob was involved in helping them get that?

Exactly.

I knew it was a real horse’s head, but I didn’t know how they got it, specifically. That’s wild.

Yeah. It is. It’s a really cool scene. It wasn’t in one of the episodes I directed, but obviously, exec producer, I was there. And I was like, wow, I had no idea. But there’s all sorts of things, like the rat in Robert Evans’s bedroom in the hotel.

So that really happened?

Yeah. How this all mirrors what was going on. But even Ruddy’s friendship with Colombo as well. And he speaks about it now, to this day, and he’s like, “That was one of the real close friends. It was a scary friendship.”

I bet.

So there’s a lot of really good stuff in it that comes literally from the horse’s mouth.

That’s a good pun.

Yeah, from the horse’s mouth. So, that’s the beauty of it. And we are telling a story, but I think we tell it with great care and affection. And yeah, it’s got that edge in it as well that the film has. That’s what that gives us.

‘The Offer’ will be available to stream on Paramount+ beginning April 28. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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