Between 1972 and 1978, John Cazale appeared in "The Godfather," "The Godfather: Part II," "The Conversation," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "The Deer Hunter." Collectively, the films hauled in 40 Oscar® nominations, including 14 for Cazale's co-stars, and hundreds of millions in box office receipts. But while even casual film fans can name many of the stars of Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 Oscar®-winning masterpiece "The Godfather," many draw a blank when it comes to the actor who played Fredo Corleone. Notes director and producer Richard Shepard, "It's amazing how many young actors and filmmakers revere Cazale's work, because he's not generally known to most people. Part of the reason for doing this movie was to rectify that."
Along with clips from Cazale's movies and rarely seen photos and home video, 'I Knew It Was You' features candid interviews with a pantheon of Hollywood royalty, including Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert De Niro, Richard Dreyfuss, Meryl Streep and Sidney Lumet, many of whom befriended and worked alongside the Massachusetts-born actor, and one of whom - Streep - fell in love with him. The film also includes insights from younger actors and filmmakers inspired by Cazale, among them Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell, Steve Buscemi and Brett Ratner, one of the documentary's producers.
In addition to exploring Cazale's stellar filmography, 'I Knew It Was You' revisits his roots in theater. Cazale was discovered by Fred Roos, casting director of "The Godfather," in a 1971 off-Broadway revival of "Line." Francis Ford Coppola immediately saw in Cazale the potential for what would become his most memorable role, Fredo in "The Godfather" films. (The title of the documentary is derived from Michael Corleone's famous line, "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.") Coppola recalls, "He had all the qualities I had hoped for in Fredo, and there was no hesitation to cast him." Although Cazale himself was never nominated for an Academy Award®, his peers say his acting prowess brought out the best in their own performances. Coppola wrote a role for Cazale in "The Conversation," and Cazale's trademark intensity reached new levels as the tragicomic Sal in "Dog Day Afternoon." Cazale played his final role in Michael Cimino's Best Picture Oscar® winner "The Deer Hunter." When shooting began, he had already been diagnosed with lung cancer and was deemed uninsurable, but his friend Robert De Niro put up his own money to ensure Cazale could act in the film. Cazale went on to give another standout performance, but died before the film was released in 1978. He was 42.
Director-producer Richard Shepard and producer Stacey Reiss spent three years making 'I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale'. "John was always my favorite actor," says Shepard, who also wrote and directed "The Matador," starring Pierce Brosnan, and won an Emmy® for directing the "Ugly Betty" pilot. "But when I wanted to read something about him, I found nothing. It was like he was forgotten."Producer Brett Ratner, director of such blockbusters as the "Rush Hour" trilogy and "X-Men: The Last Stand," adds, "It's astonishing how many Academy Awards® were given to John Cazale's peers in the five films he acted in, yet none were bestowed on him. It's about time that John got the recognition he deserves. I'm so proud to be a part of a film that reintroduces one of the greatest actors of our generation to a whole new audience." "It was amazing to me the outpouring of A-list actors and directors who all agreed to participate in this film," says Reiss. "It is a testament to how much John was loved and admired among his peers."
Brett Ratner Presents A Richard Shepard Film; producers, Brett Ratner, Stacey Reiss and Richard Shepard; line producer, Stacey Reiss; executive producers, Bryan Furst, Sean Furst and Jay Stern; editor, Adam Lichtenstein; visual design, Howard Nourmand and Eileen Bertumen; archival produced; Prudence Arndt; music by Adam Gorgoni; camera, Jim Mullen and Kort Waddell; directed by Richard Shepard.