Looking back at the career of Matthew Goode, you can’t help but wonder if he’s very brave, or simply a masochist. Of course, he’s appeared in a selection of British classics such as Downton Abbey and The Crown, as befits an English actor of his status, but it’s his choice of roles in high-profile adaptations that forces you to question his sanity.
In 2008, Goode took on the role of Charles Ryder in Julian Jarrold’s movie adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, a role that had already been immortalised by Jeremy Irons in the 1981 BBC drama — a show that revolutionised TV drama in an era before HBO and Netflix.
The following year, he played Ozymandias, the strangely loveable sociopath at the centre of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen, a book widely regarded as the "greatest comic ever written", and one that was deemed “unfilmable” by Moore himself.
Now, he’s stepping up to play Robert Evans, the Paramount Studio executive who oversaw production on The Godfather, and gave the film's producer Albert S Ruddy (played by Miles Teller in the show) his big break. The Offer is a fascinating look at the troubled making of Francis Ford Coppola's mob classic, considered by many to be one of the greatest movies of all time.
“The responsibility is huge, and it was terrifying,” Goode tells The National. “You have to remember also, I don’t mean it in a bad way, but if I was a golfer I’d be described as a ‘journeyman pro’, possibly even an amateur by some.
"Sometimes you just don’t have a choice, though, so I made this, and I still don't quite understand how they thought I could pull Evans off.”
Such disarming modesty seems misplaced when viewed in the context of Goode’s impressive CV. One person who didn’t share Goode’s reservations was The Offer’s director Dexter Fletcher.
“Sometimes you just need someone to have that belief in you that you don't have yourself, and Dexter thought that some gangly bloke from England might be able to do it. So you do your homework and you just hope you won’t be the weak link,” Goode says. “Fear will drive you to a very focused place, and Dexter gave me the confidence.
"He basically put me in a canoe and kicked me out on to the river, and we negotiated the rapids together. If I had a valet, I would have turned to him and said ‘bring me my brown trousers.’”
The Offer is a behind-the-scenes tale of what, even by Hollywood standards, was a difficult production. It’s no surprise to learn that the mafia weren’t delighted to learn that a movie was being made of Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel, but Ruddy and Evans were treated to the full gangster playbook of shootings, dead animals in their beds, and the occasional kidnapping as some of the US’s leading crime families sought to close production down.
Eventually Ruddy would become close friends with gangster Joe Colombo, who acted as his protector, and can take credit for the film ever being completed. It’s also down to Colombo’s unofficial “editorial” role that eagle-eared viewers will notice the word “mafia” is not uttered once in Coppola's film.
To add extra stress, Paramount Studio was in financial meltdown while the film was being made, and Evans himself was widely, but incorrectly, reported to have been sacked as production rolled on.
The screenplay for The Offer is based on Ruddy’s own recollections, with the Hollywood executive also serving as producer.
The irony is not lost on Goode. “It’s so weird that he’s the producer of this show,” he says. “I’m meeting him for dinner this week, and I’m so excited I’ll probably be tongue-tied.”
In the first few scenes of The Offer, it soon becomes clear that the making of The Godfather was packed with almost as much drama as Coppola's classic itself, and it’s incredible that it has taken so long for the story to be told.
Goode admits that he was aware of some of “the myths” around the making of the film — the tales of Marlon Brando’s bizarre behaviour on set, Coppola’s frequent arguments with the studio, and Puzo’s seemingly never-ending scriptwriting efforts are almost as famous as the film itself. But now that he’s entered the inner circle of Godfather historians, he admits there’s one person who stands out.
“What was really shocking was just how much Al put on the line, he just refused to quit,” he says. “There’s a quote from him that ‘every day I was producing that movie was the worst day of my life,’ just the sheer enormity and scale of what one man went through to get this film made. His life was literally on the line.
"Wouldn't you want that kind of utterly dedicated producer to be on your next project?”
The Offer streams on Paramount+ (available through OSN) from April 28