Charming and enigmatic, James Caan, who is famous thanks to his role of Don Corleone’s eldest son, Santino ‘Sonny’ Corleone, in The Godfather, has had more ups and downs in his career than any other actor of Hollywood.
Caan was born in Bronx, New York, in a family of Jewish immigrants from Germany. His father, Arthur Caan, was a butcher and a meat dealer. First, he became interested in playing football and doing karate, however, while studying at Hofstra University, acting became his passion. He was accepted at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse and won a scholarship to study under acting coach Wynn Handman. Then he started appearing in off-Broadway productions.
His screen debut was a sailor in “Irma la Douce” (1963), followed by "Red Line 7000" (1965) and “El Dorado” (1967). The audience was in tears over his amazing play as cancer-stricken Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song” (1971).
Santino "Sonny" Corleone
But his enormous success came when Francis Ford Coppola cast James Caan as a quick-tempered gangster Santino "Sonny" Corleone in the Mafia epic “The Godfather” (1972). The saga, in which Coppola portrays the dark side of America, has left a long-lasting footprint in the movie industry. It set the level of standard that could hardly be surpassed by other movies. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards including four acting ones, which mean the director made the right choice by casting James Caan, Al Pacino, Marlon Brando and Robert Duval to play the main characters.
The four of them were a huge success worldwide. But James Caan’s character Sonny has been named as one of the most favorite by many viewers. What is his secret? What makes him so irresistible? Being impulsive, hot-tempered and sometimes even silly, he cheats on his wife. He is completely the opposite of Don and Michael.
But despite all his flaws, Sonny is a generous man who does everything to protect his family. When Carlo Rizzi hit Connie, he was about to kill him. Due to being so emotional, Sonny easily becomes angry. But the family is sacred to him, and, sadly and ironically, it leads him to death.
Non-Italian “Italian of the year” in New York
Caan won a Best Supporting Actor nomination and, even years later, he is still identified with the role, which is one of the most remembered by the film’s fans. He has ever since been cast as mostly a tough guy. Caan says,
People say they didn’t know I could sing and dance. Well, nobody ever asks me! It’s always ‘Punch this guy!'
His outstanding hot-tempered performance as Sonny Corleone brought him even more awards. Amazingly, James Caan has won Italian of the Year twice in New York, not even being Italian himself!
2017 marks the 45th anniversary of The Godfather. Please watch the video to see the reunion of the saga’s cast on TODAY’s show, including Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Talia Shire, as well as Robert De Niro.