Having a movie nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture is a huge deal. With the number of movies that are produced every year it can be a long time in between actors being involved in a nominated project. For the late actor John Cazale, he went a perfect five for five on his movies.
Cazale was an Italian-American actor born in Massachusetts. He wanted to be an actor from the time he a little boy, but acting jobs were scarce even for the Boston University grad. He worked a series of jobs to support himself while he tried to make his dream come true, including working as a cab driver, and as a messenger for an oil company. It was during his time at the oil company that he got his big break at the same time as making one of his best friends, Al Pacino. Pacino also worked for the oil company, and he saw great potential in his new friend.
“I instantly thought he was so interesting when I first met him,” said Al Pacino. “He had a very congenial way of expressing himself.”
When Pacino finally landed his breakout role in The Godfather, he knew that Cazale would be perfect for the movie, and he helped him land the role of Fredo Corleone. This was only the first of three movies that he would act in alongside Pacino.
After The Godfather, he went on to reprise his role as Fredo in The Godfather: Part 2, following that up with a co-starring role in Dog Day Afternoon.
“One of the things I loved about the casting of John Cazale was that he had a tremendous sadness about him. I don’t know where it came from; I don’t believe in invading the privacy of the actors I work with or getting into their heads. But my God, it’s there–every shot of him,” said Sidney Lumet, director of Dog Day Afternoon.
Cazale met Meryl Streep when he was cast alongside her in Measure for Measure. Something special started to bloom between them with them quickly falling in love.
“He wasn’t like anybody I’d ever met. It was the specificity of him, and his sort of humanity and his curiosity about people, his compassion,” said Streep.
It was during the filming of Cazale's final film, The Deer Hunter, starring alongside Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken, that tragedy struck. Cazale was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, right when he was becoming one of the greatest actors of his generation, and shortly after he had found the love of his life. Streep even scooped up a smaller role in the movie just so she could be close to him during the time.
He kept getting sicker and sicker during filming, and studio executives were trying to find any reason that they could cancel his contract and replace him. De Niro and Streep trumped that move by threatening to quit if they did that.
On March 12, 1978, a doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center woke up Streep to let her know that Cazale had passed away.
His death brought the end to what was going to be a wildly successful career and fulfilling life. When it was all said and done, he had acted in five movies; The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter, all of which were nominated for best picture, with three of his films winning the award.
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