A masculine and enigmatic actor whose life and movie career have had more ups and downs than the average rollercoaster and whose selection of roles has arguably derailed him from achieving true superstar status, James Caan is New York born and bred (the son of a butcher). The athletically gifted Caan played football at Michigan State University while studying economics, holds a black belt in karate and for several years was even a regular on the rodeo circuit, where he was nicknamed "The Jewish Cowboy". However, while studying at Hofstra University, he became intrigued by acting and was interviewed and accepted at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. He then won a scholarship to study under acting coach Wynn Handman and began to appear in several off-Broadway productions, including "I Roam" and "Mandingo".
He made his screen debut as a sailor in Irma la Douce (1963) and began to impress audiences with his work in Red Line 7000 (1965) and the western El Dorado (1966) alongside John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Further work followed in Journey to Shiloh (1968) and in the sensitive The Rain People (1969). However, audiences were moved to tears as he put in a heart-rending performance as cancer-stricken Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo in the highly rated made-for-TV film Brian's Song (1971) (TV).
With these strong performances under his belt, Francis Ford Coppola then cast him as hot-tempered gangster Santino "Sonny" Corleone in the Mafia epic The Godfather (1972). The film was an enormous success, Caan scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination and, in the years since, the role has proven to be the one most fondly remembered by his legion of fans. He reprised the role for several flashback scenes in the sequel The Godfather: Part II (1974) and then moved on to several very diverse projects. These included a cop-buddy crime partnership with Alan Arkin in the uneven Freebie and the Bean (1974), a superb performance as a man playing for his life in The Gambler (1974) alongside Lauren Hutton, and pairing with Barbra Streisand in Funny Lady (1975). Two further strong lead roles came up for him in 1975, first as futuristic sports star "Jonathon E" questioning the moral fiber of a sterile society in Rollerball (1975) and teaming up with Robert Duvall in the Sam Peckinpah spy thriller The Killer Elite (1975).
Unfortunately, Caan's rising star sputtered badly at this stage of his career, and several film projects failed to find fire with either critics or audiences. These included such failures as the hokey Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976), the quasi-western Comes a Horseman (1978) and the saccharine Chapter Two (1979). However, he did score again with the stylish Michael Mann-directed heist movie Thief (1981). He followed this with a supernatural romantic comedy titled Kiss Me Goodbye (1982) and then, due to personal conflicts, dropped out of the spotlight for several years before returning with a stellar performance under old friend Francis Ford Coppola in the moving Gardens of Stone (1987).
Caan appeared back in favor with fans and critics alike and raised his visibility with the sci-fi hit Alien Nation (1988) and Dick Tracy (1990), then surprised everyone by playing a meek romance novelist held captive after a car accident by a deranged fan in the dynamic Misery (1990). The 1990s were kind to him and he notched up roles as a band leader in For the Boys (1991), another gangster in Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), appeared in the indie hit Bottle Rocket (1996) and pursued Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser (1996).
The demand on Caan's talents seems to have increased steadily over the past few years as he is making himself known to a new generation of fans. Recent hot onscreen roles have included The Yards (2000), City of Ghosts (2002) and Dogville (2003). In addition, he finds himself at the helm of the hit TV series "Las Vegas" (2003) as casino security chief "Big Ed" Deline. An actor of undeniably manly appeal, James Caan continues to surprise and delight audiences with his invigorating performances.
|Linda Stokes||(7 October 1995 - present) (filed for divorce) 2 children|
|Ingrid Hajek||(9 September 1990 - 29 March 1995) (divorced) 1 child|
|Sheila Ryan||(12 January 1976 - 7 December 1976) (divorced) 1 child|
|Dee Jay Mattis||(1961 - 1966) (divorced) 1 child|
Played football for Michigan State University.
Born at 10:31pm-EST.
Was offered the role of McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975).
In the 1990s, he kicked a cocaine habit of some 20 years.
States that Thief (1981) is one of his favorite films.
Son of Arthur & Sophie Caan. His father was a kosher butcher.
Briefly lived at the Playboy Mansion in the 1970s.
One brother, Ronnie Caan, and one sister, Barbara (deceased c. 1981--leukemia).
Some sources give his birth year as 1939.
Was originally tested for the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather (1972) (director Francis Ford Coppola had worked with him and Robert Duvall in The Rain People (1969) and wanted them in the movie), but then was slated to play Michael Corleone after Paramount's initial choices (which included Warren Beatty, Robert Redford and Ryan O'Neal) did not pan out. When Al Pacino came on board, Caan was switched back to Sonny.
Spent 9 years on the pro rodeo circuit.
Is a 6th Dan in Karate.
Was a drama major at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York.
Sons with Linda Stokes: James Arthur Caan (b. 6 November 1995) and Jacob Nicholas Caan (b. September 24th 1998).
After being turned down by Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino, Julia Phillips inquired of Caan's agent if he would be interested in taking the lead role of Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Caan's agent responded that he would read the script for a guarantee of $1 million plus 10% of the gross if he accepted the role. Phillips went with the original choice, Richard Dreyfuss.
Two generations of his family and the Coppola family have worked together. He worked with Francis Ford Coppola most memorably in the first two Godfather films (The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974)) and in Gardens of Stone (1987). His son, Scott Caan, appeared in Sonny (2002), which was directed by Nicolas Cage and featured Cage and his brother, Marc Coppola. Sonny was also the name of Caan's "Godfather" character.
Grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, New York City.
In his youth, his nicknames were "Shoulders" and "Killer Caan".
While on sabbatical from acting he coached a Little League baseball team, there was one incident where his team's weakest player hit a home run that won a game. This incident is claimed by Caan as one of the greatest moments of his life.
His film contracts during his rodeo days had written in them that he could not compete in rodeos during filming. This was for fear he would injure or kill himself.
According to the British documentary The Godfather and the Mob (2006) (TV), Caan was regularly seen with Gambino family underboss Carmine Persico (aka "Junior") during the filming of The Godfather (1972). As Persico was under surveillance by the FBI at the time, Caan came under almost equal scrutiny.
Has a son named Alexander James Caan (b. April 10th 1991) with Ingrid Hajek.
Studied in Rhodes High School in New York.
Studied in The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater in New York.
Studied Economics in Michigan State University.
Tested for the role of Ted Henderson in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969).
Lives in Beverly Hills, California.
Is of Jewish-German ancestry.
Has a daughter, Tara A. Caan (born November 5, 1964), with first wife Dee Jay Mattis.
Frequent guest/player at celebrity golf events.
[on being voted "Italian of the Year" in New York twice, after his role as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather (1972)]: I'm a Jew from the Bronx. I feel guilty about accepting these awards, but they wouldn't let me turn them down.
I have an agent I trust professionally more than anybody else, but with the best intentions he could put me in the shithouse just as fast as somebody who wanted to ruin me.
I'd rather get sloshed than stoned.
Anyone of my generation who tells you he hasn't "done" Brando [Marlon Brando] is lying.
My acting technique is to look up at God just before the camera rolls and say, 'Give me a break.'
I never did anything else. In college I switched majors every two weeks and acting was the only thing that held my interest. The reason I started was to stay away from the meat market. That's where I was headed -- to be with the guys who lug beef all day long.
Quite often I'm misunderstood when I say, 'It's not my life, it's my job.' People think that means I don't give a shit. Sure, I want to be the best actor in the world. But my life is my family, my son, my friends. I don't know how anyone can find fault with that. For some reason when you say, 'It's my job' it sounds like 'Who gives a shit?' Well, that's not it at all. What I do quite honestly and seriously and not in any way being humble is not as important as what the garbage collector does. People make actors important. I go to the movies, I stand on line minding my own business and the manager goes, 'Mr. Caan, Mr. Caan.' And I say, 'No, no, no, I'm OK. I'll stand on the line.' 'Oh, you can't.' So, finally they take you through the line and the other 40 people go, 'Hey, Mr. Bigshot.' And I was just minding my own business, I just wanted to stand there. But other people make it very important that I'm an actor.
I loved Funny Lady (1975) for whatever reason. People say they didn't know I could sing and dance. Well, nobody ever asks me - it's always "Punch this guy".
[on recent big-budget Hollywood films] [They] absolutely stink. All those pictures, those big extravaganzas - you can't remember any characters. Either they had an animal head on them or walked funny . . . If they want me to work, I'll go, "Sure". Basically, I'm a whore.
[on Zabriskie Point (1970)] It was the worst fucking - and I have to curse because there is no other way that I can express myself - picture that I ever saw. I got so angry about it. I was in love with a girl. We went to the movie and it ended the whole affair. He [Michelangelo Antonioni] hired cardboard, the worst actors, and it was a conscious effort - that's what pissed me off.
If it was up to them, I'd be playing Sonny Corleone my entire life. Usually, if there weren't eight people dead by page 11, they wouldn't send me the script. People say, "Gee, you do a lot of mafia movies". I think I've done two, out of 60.
[about living at the Playboy mansion] Actually, it was for medicinal purposes - I was just getting divorced. This doctor wrote me a prescription to live there because he thought it would help me get over the pain of my divorce. My God, it worked. I got over it pretty quickly.
I'll see a beautiful girl walking up to me and I'll think, "Oh, my God, I can't believe my good luck". But then she'll say, "Where's your son?" or "My mother loves you."
I had great, great times as a Little League coach. People were talking about me quitting acting, and they would say, "What about your creative juices?" Coaching is creative, because you could take a kid who thought he wasn't any good and, within four minutes, change his mind. And I didn't have to wait six months for them to put music to it. How good a Little League coach was I? I was a little hyper. One thing I learned was that talent comes from everywhere; it doesn't have to come just from the ghetto. But in Beverly Hills, because Daddy has a grocery store, the kids lack a lot of try.
There's a big difference between wanting to work and having to work. And I had to learn that the hard way. Now money is very important to me, because I ain't got it.
[on being confused with his character from The Godfather (1972)] I'll bump into a guy in a bar, and he'll say, "I'm sorry, Sonny!" It's surreal.
You know those actors who say, "I want to be alone" or they're walking around with their friggin' bodyguards? A bodyguard! I'd never have a bodyguard. I mean, who wants to hurt me? But the point is that they have the bodyguard so that they can say, "Leave me alone!" It's this revolving door thing. If somebody didn't recognize them, they'd have a heart attack, the bastards.
[on fans confusing him with his characters] Look, you only pray when you start in this business that you get to the point where people recognize you or quote you. I mean, I've got a lot of people who are like, "Hey, your ankle OK?" from Misery (1990). I get that a lot. It's harmless. Or they'll say, "Hey, don't go through that toll booth again" or "Have the right change". That's great! First of all, it means that they remember the picture. There's nothing not to like about it . . . No, I hope they never stop.
I did this picture last year with Nicole Kidman and Lars von Trier, Dogville (2003), and it's supposed to be a trilogy, but now that she's walked away from it, I'm walking from it. He is very anti-American, so screw him. I'm very pro-America. I'm a conservative, basically.
I went through some bad times, some very self-destructive stuff, you know, when I was on top. I'd got involved in partying and doing all that and I lost my sister and, basically, I got all screwed up in my head. She was like my best friend and I lost her to leukemia and I was just a mess. I had a lot of money because I'd worked a lot and saved it. I had it in a pension plan and then I lost all my money. My accountant. I just woke up one morning and I didn't have a dime. We're talking about tons . . . I mean, a lot of money, and I was flat broke.
[His advice to younger actors] The main pearl of wisdom I give these young kids is that you shouldn't make your career your whole life. No matter what heights you achieve, even if you're Brad Pitt, the slide is coming, sure as death and taxes. So if you put everything into that one basket - acting - you'll wind up hurting yourself, either with drugs or any other self-destructive thing you can think of.
[on figuring out how to play Sonny Corleone] I didn't have to work on an accent or anything, but I couldn't quite get a grasp. I was shaving to go to dinner or something, and for some reason I started thinking of Don Rickles. Because I knew Rickles. Somebody was watching over me and gave me this thing: being Rickles, kind of say-anything, do-anything.
I won't mention names, but in my career, the most talented people invariably are the easiest and nicest to get along with. The ones that are difficult try to camouflage the fact that they haven't got shit to offer. So they complain about frilly things that really don't mean a shit, like their dressing rooms, makeup.
(On turning down One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)) Four or five different directors came to me with that at different times. I go, 'It's not a movie. Who wants to look at four institution walls?' Milos Forman made it great. Jack was great in it. I made a flat-out, fucking mistake.
(On turning down Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)) I was first, Dustin [Hoffman] was last on the list of five guys they wanted. The director [Robert Benton] kept it up with me for three months. I said, 'This is middle-class, bourgeois horseshit.' I mean, 'Cut to kid crying.' Oh, please. Fuck you!
|The Godfather (1972)||$35,000|
|The Godfather: Part II (1974)||$35,000|
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