LOS ANGELES — A friend from the motion picture academy left a message, but Francis Ford Coppola didn’t want to return the call.
“Well, I am always nervous when I get a phone call from folks where I am living,” explained the director of such classics as The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now. “(It’s a) ‘Why are they calling me?’ kind of thing and ‘Who’s sick?’ or ‘Who’s passed away?’ But it was happy news.“
Indeed. Former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Sid Ganis was on the line to inform Coppola that he would be honoured with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, to be presented at the academy’s second-annual Governors Awards Saturday night in Hollywood.
“It is sort of the ultimate award for producing,” noted Coppola. “I’ve been a writer, a director and I have gotten more than my share of those honours. The Thalberg award for me is kind of a trifecta.”
The Academy has handed out five Oscars to Coppola: for co-writing Patton (1970), for co-writing The Godfather (1972) and for co-writing, producing and directing The Godfather: Part II (1974).
The Governors Awards dinner will honour Coppola, and preservationist Kevin Brownlow, director Jean-Luc Godard and actor Eli Wallach — all of whom have some sort of Coppola connection.
Godard (“Breathless”) did some shooting at Coppola’s Zoetrope film studio in Hollywood, and “I knew (him) from Paris and got to hang out with him,” Coppola said. “He is a very intriguing man.”
After seeing Brownlow’s restoration of director Abel Gance’s 1927 silent epic “Napoleon,” Coppola arranged for a gala screening with musical accompaniment by a live orchestra, which resulted in a theatrical re-release of the film. Oddly enough, Coppola and Brownlow never connected personally. “I never got to work with him,” Coppola said. “I never met him.”
Veteran actor Wallach (“Baby Doll”) played a key role in “The Godfather: Part III” (1990). “He speaks Italian very well,” Coppola recalled. “He said when he first went to Italy, he asked where the bathroom was and they said ’Laggiu’ (which sounds like, ”The Jew“). And he said (joking), ’Don’t get personal. I am Jewish.’ Laggiu means ’Down there.’ Lassu means ’Up there,”’ Coppola continued, laughing. “He was a neat man.”
At 71, Coppola remains active. In addition to overseeing his Northern California wineries, he supervised the painstaking digital transfer and contributed hours of new bonus material for Lionsgate’s recent Blu-ray release of “Apocalypse Now” (1979). He served as an executive producer on Oscar-winning daughter Sofia Coppola’s upcoming feature “Somewhere.” And he’s by no means finished with filmmaking, himself.
Coppola’s a revered director, and Saturday he will be honoured as a producer. But, he says, “my dream always was to be a writer who made films of the stories and the writing that I did.”