This Actor Only Made Five Films And They Were All Best Picture Noms


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John Cazale’s first film job on Line introduced him to Francis Ford Coppola, who would go on to cast him as Fredo Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather. Before then, John was a theater actor who went on to do odd jobs, including cab driving and running errands for Standard Oil, during which he met Al Pacino.

John appeared in only five movies that would define his career, and all earned him Oscar nominations for Best Picture. The actor, who was romantically involved with A-list actress Meryl Streep before his death, also appeared in Dog Day Afternoon, The Conversation, and The Deer Hunter, where he co-starred with Streep.

‘The Conversation’ (1974)

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THE CONVERSATION, John Cazale, Gene Hackman, 1974

After delivering excellently on The Godfather two years before, John became a favorite of Coppola’s who cast him as Stan in The Conversation. Due to the popularity of The Godfather sequel in the same year as The Conversation’s release, the latter did not get as much attention; however, it got its Oscar nod.

‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (1975)

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DOG DAY AFTERNOON, John Cazale, 1975

John worked alongside Pacino on the Christmas day release of 1975, Dog Day Afternoon. The heist film showed both actors’ characters, Sonny and Salvatore, attempting to rob a bank to finance the sex reassignment surgery of Sonny’s partner, amongst other expenses. John’s role as Salvatore was arguably his most intense and like the others, earned him another Oscar nomination.

‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978)

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THE DEER HUNTER, John Cazale, 1978. © Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

John was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 41. However, he continued to appear on the set of The Deer Hunter in 1978. While the studio wanted him off the film due to his condition, director Michael Cimino and Streep insisted that it would be incomplete without him, and Robert De Niro covered his insurance policy.

John died before The Deer Hunter premiered with Streep by his side and did not live to see their win for Best Picture at the 51st Academy Awards ceremony, where Streep also earned her trophy for Best Supporting Actress.

‘The Godfather’ Part I & II

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THE GODFATHER, from left: John Cazale, Al Pacino, 1972 godfather1-fsc47(godfather1-fsc47)

Director Fred Roos needed a “meek and insecure” actor to play Fredo and counter Pacino’s hot-headed and dominant character, Michael in The Godfather. John’s character eventually evolves into a more confident persona, raising questions from Michael, who doubts his loyalty to the Corleone family.

The 1974 sequel, The Godfather II, saw the exposure of Fredo’s betrayal and the famous conversation with Pacino’s Michael at Lake Tahoe, where Fredo declared, “I can handle things. I’m smart! Not like everybody says. Like dumb. I’m smart, and I want respect!” The audience connected to that moment which John’s underestimated movie character is well remembered for.

Both parts of The Godfather were Oscar-nominated, with the original winning Best Picture in 1973, as well as Best Actor for Marlon Brando and Best Adapted Screenplay by  Mario Puzo and Coppola.


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