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The Real Reason Jack Nicholson Turned Down This Iconic Mafia Movie

With multiple Oscars and a career stretching back to the 1950s, few actors are as famous or esteemed in Hollywood as Jack Nicholson. He's been in countless iconic movies, from Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," to "The Departed," and inhabited a wide variety of roles from the cartoonishly insane Joker in "Batman" to the determined P.I. Jake Gittes in "Chinatown." However, there are evidently some roles which even this, ahem, Jack of all trades is unwilling to do.

While crime films certainly aren't out of Nicholson's reach as an actor, there is one iconic mafia movie that the three-time Oscar-winner turned down. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake as the film in question not only turned out to be one of the greatest films in the crime genre but one of the greatest films ever made. Even so, there's no changing the fact that Jack Nicholson turned down a starring role in "The Godfather" when he had the chance.

Nicholson felt Michael Corleone belonged to another actor

As the main character of the first "Godfather" film, Michael Corleone is downright iconic. Portrayed by Al Pacino in the final movie, his story of loss culminating in his control of the Italian Mob is one for the ages. It's also one, according to Nicholson, that wasn't made for him. Nicholson expressed this in a 2004 interview with Movieline, which can now be found on the Lebeau Le blog.

"Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians," Nicholson said. "Mario Puzo had written such a great book that if you go back to it you'll see so much of what was special about the movie. There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included, but Al Pacino was Michael Corleone. I can't think of a better compliment to pay him."

In the end, it's hard to argue with Nicholson's logic. Many would agree that proper representation in film matters. The fact that Nicholson acknowledged this in a film made 50 years ago shows how forward-thinking he was at the time, at least in this regard. There were many actors that would have taken up the role even if they weren't Italian. Nevertheless, Nicholson made his choice, and we honestly can't imagine anyone but Pacino in the role.