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Godfather Actor Tortured by Pablo Escobar
Gianni Russo played Carlo in The Godfather. From age 7, he was quarantined
with 20 other boys in a NYC hospital for polo and allowed no visitors. He got
out at age 13. While shining shoes, he befriended mob boss Frank Costello
and became his errand boy.
At age 26, Russo read the novel The Godfather and decided he’d be good for
either Michael, Sonny or Carlo. So, he made a 16mm acting test and sent it to
the person casting the movie. The film stock Russo used was old which gave
it the look that Coppola wanted for his movie, so everyone watched it and
learned who Russo was.
When Coppola needed to get permission from the mob to film in New York,
Russo arranged a meeting between Coppola and NYC mob bosses. Russo
suggested the bosses would get the proceeds from the premiers of The
Godfather in every major city.
Coppola agreed and got permission to film in mob neighborhoods. Russo
instructed the bosses to insist that Russo get the part of either Sonny,
Michael or Carlo to cement the deal. Coppola gave him the part of Carlo.
At the table reading for The Godfather, every script had the note on the front
page that said: ‘Do not talk or touch Marlon Brando’.
During a break, Brando tells Russo that Carlo is too important a character for
an actor with no experience to play. Then Brando tells Coppola he wants
Russo out of the movie.
Russo puts his arm around Brando and moves him to the back of the room
and says, “Let me tell you something. If you fxxx this up for me, I will suck on
your heart right here. Who the hell are you to destroy my opportunity? Just
because your Marlon Brando?”
Brando, thinking Russo was acting, says, “That was brilliant,” and tells
Coppola, “This kid is a good actor.”
Years later, Russo came to the rescue of a woman being beaten inside a Las
Vegas casino. The man stabbed Russo with a broken bottle and Russo,
licensed to carry a gun, shot and killed him. Being self-defense, Russo was not
However, it turned out to be one of drug lord Pablo Escobar’s men. With his
family threatened, Russo went to Mexico to meet Escobar and explain what
happened and possible be killed.
Russo was tortured via a bottomless chair the same way James Bond was
tortured in Casino Royale. But when Escobar found out that Russo was Carlo
in The Godfather, he was invited to dinner.
Once Russo explained why he was forced to kill Escobar’s man, Escobar said,
“I believe you. But before you leave, please act the scene in The
Godfather where Al Pacino confronts Carlo. I’ll be Pacino and you be Carlo,
like you did in the movie.” It turned out, Escobar was a big fan of the movie
and fancied himself an actor.
In his bio, Russo said:
“I did the scene with him. He had the dialogue memorized and was a pretty
good actor. During the scene, he handed me an airline envelope, just like
Pacino did to me in the movie. I looked inside, and saw tickets to Miami and
Las Vegas where I lived. It was at that point, I figured Carlo was going to die,
only this time for real.
“I figured that since acting the scene with me was so important to Escobar he
would have video-taped it. But then I figured that he planned on killing me,
just like Carlo had been and didn’t want any evidence of it.
“After we did the scene, Escobar walked me outside to a waiting car. I made
a motion toward the back door, but Escobar opened the front door. In the
back seat were the two men that had tortured me. I sat down and Escobar
closed the door. I heard a voice behind me say, ‘Hello, Carlo’, (just like in the
“I figured that I was dead, and my daughter would never know what
happened to me. I waited for the wire noose to wrap around my neck. But
then, the guy patted me on the back. Escobar and everyone laughed. And
then I was driven to the airport.”
Russo went on to act in 46 movies.
Written by Paul Kyriazi – writer / director of Forbidden Power
Note: Information came from a video interview with Gianni Russo and his
book Hollywood Godfather, now on amazon.