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The Offer’s writers on the lasting legacy of The Godfather

It’s hard to make a good film, let alone a classic, and the behind-the-scenes tale about the creation — and near collapse — of The Godfather has enough drama and suspense to fill 10 hourlong episodes. Yet The Offer is more than just a gossipy tell-all about Hollywood; it’s also about corporate politics, the pressures of commerce on art, and the changing role of the Mafia in the Age of Aquarius.

In a conversation with Digital Trends, The Offer‘s writing and producing team — Michael Tolkin, Nikki Toscano, and Russell Rothberg — talk about what drew them to make a streaming series about one of the greatest films of all time, the challenges of bringing together different narratives into one cohesive story, and whether or not any of the creatives behind The Godfather were involved in the making of the series.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity purposes.

Digital Trends: How did you all become involved with The Offer?

Nikki Toscano: I received a call from Nicole Clemens telling me about a top-secret project that Paramount+ was doing and that they wanted me to consider showrunning it. When I learned about what the project was and what the story was, I immediately jumped at the chance to do it. I started working with Michael Tolkin and then hired a writers’ room, which included Russell and two other amazing writers, Kevin J. Hynes and Mona Mira. It was a very small writers’ room, and then we broke the character arcs, we broke the season, and then we began writing the episodes.

Michael Tolkin: Nicole Clemens called me and asked if I would be interested in adapting the Al Ruddy story for a television series. I wasn’t skeptical, but it sounded like it could be interesting. So I met Al and over the course of about a few weeks, I went to his house and interviewed him. I asked him: “Why did you make The Godfather? What was it like?” And one thing Al said about making The Godfather was that every day of making the movie was the worst day of his life. So with that, I thought, “Well, I’m off and running” because it means that every character is making every other character miserable. And so that’s a combination of comedy and tragedy. I just got fascinated by the story and the anecdotes and I wanted to do it.

The series is being marketed as like the making of The Godfather, but it’s so much more than that. It’s Paramount in the ’70s, it’s Joe Colombo, it’s Al Ruddy. Was that intentional on your part to kind of encompass all these narratives?

Toscano: Yes. The way that we approached it in the writers room is that we were always dealing with three worlds: We were dealing with the Hollywood world, we were dealing with the corporate world of Gulf + Western, and then the real-life mafia world. And I think that there were a lot of decisions made, both from a storytelling standpoint as well as a filmmaking standpoint, once we got into production. There were early talks with Salvatore Totino, our cinematographer, about how you light those worlds, how you move the camera in those worlds. It all stemmed from there.

Al Ruddy and his crew meet in a living room in The Offer.

What were some of the main challenges in making The Offer?

Toscano: [Laughs] You said this was a 10-minute interview!

What were the top three then?

Rothberg: I think one of the hardest things about it is the incredible responsibility with staying true to the story as much as possible. The Godfather is an iconic film. It’s one of the greatest films of all time. For many people, it is the greatest film of all time, possibly us included. So, you have a tremendous responsibility to represent the making of the film with the people involved, but the true essence of who those people were, what their motivations were, but also in making it a story that really appeals to everyone that you feel like you’re in that story. You understand what that character is feeling. And since we were dealing with so many worlds and such a diverse group of characters, making their motivations true with each other was one of the most challenging things in setting up the series.

Toscano: I also think an additional challenge was the sort of sheer amount of material there is about the making of The Godfather. And a lot of that material is at times is contradictory to another resource. So it was really wading through the incredible amount of information that there is on the film and choosing stories that allowed us to tell a cohesive narrative in 10 hours of television.

Tolkin: The main challenge in writing is filling up a blank page, finding a story, making the characters believable, and keeping the audience and interest going. In addition, we had to deal … with something that’s historical and making sure that we’ve got the essence of The Godfather in what we’re doing.

Did you seek the involvement of any of the principal cast and crew outside of Al Ruddy? For instance, did you contact Coppola or Pacino?

Toscano: We did not. One of the things that we knew early on is that there would have been so many people to contact that were involved in the making of The Godfather. We had to tell a cohesive narrative. We couldn’t have 25 characters on screen at one time, so we had to tell the story through three  characters on screen at one time.

Tolkin: We wanted to follow Al’s version of the story. And his story was complete and interesting and surprising. We wanted to be independent.

Francis Ford Coppola looks at the camera in The Offer.

Who was your character to write in The Offer?

Rothberg: Different characters are the most fun to write for. When you want to use a voice that’s going to say something about the time period and where a woman fits into that time period, Bettye McCartt is your voice. If you want to be the everyman, it’s Al Ruddy. If you want to write someone who is a little oddball, but sort of a genius, you go to Brando, It’s really hard to pick one character and say, “Yeah, that’s my favorite person to write for.”

Toscano: Even Barry Lapidus [played by Colin Hanks in the series], a fictional character who’s based on an amalgamation of different people, writing for him opposite the real-life Evans was interesting. So much of that came from putting two people that are fun to write for opposite each other. When Al is breaking the rules and is in the same room with Lapidus, that looks different than when he’s breaking the rules and he’s in a room being supported by Evans.

Tolkin: I got to be careful. There are a lot of great actors and a lot of great characters. It’s like asking, “Who is your favorite child?” It’s a really great question. Coppola was a great character to write for. He’s such a mercurial man, so he was fun to write. Also, I liked writing Bettye McCart, the character Juno Temple plays in the show.

Michael, what was your favorite scene to write?

Tolkin: My favorite scene to write was when Andrea Eastman sits with Al Ruddy after a hard day of shooting and talks about why they are in the movie business and the notion that making movies is like being in a circus. I particularly like the line when she says, “Right now, the most important thing in your life is that a man named Al Pacino will get to play a man named Michael Corleone in a movie.”

That scene felt very personal.

Michael Tolkin: It was.

The Offer‘s first three episodes are currently streaming on Paramount+. New episodes will be released weekly on Thursdays, with the season finale on June 2.

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