Actor Gianni Russo, who played Carlo Rizzi in “The Godfather,” said that once filming on the cinema classic wrapped, he had no contact with James Caan — until the late actor wanted a part in one of his movies.
When the Little Italy native helped produce the 1999 football drama “Any Given Sunday,” he said, he got a call from Caan’s agent while they were casting.
“He said, ‘You know, Jimmy would be great in this movie. He’s a great sports buff,’” Russo, 78, told The Post of the Al Pacino-led flick, in which he had a supporting role.
“I said, ‘Do you think I would hire James Caan? I wouldn’t give Jimmy Caan a part in anything.’ He was so rude to me,” the Upper East Sider explained.
Russo claims that Caan, who played Sonny Corleone, the brother-in-law of Russo’s character, was not friendly to him from the first “Godfather” rehearsal at Patsy’s restaurant on West 119th Street.
“The biggest thorn in his side was, ‘Who’s Gianni Russo?’ This guy, he studied with Stella Adler, you name it. He was never nice to me from day one. But I’m thinking he was in character cause he’s a thespian,” he said.
Russo said he quickly discovered that he was wrong, because Caan, who grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, really did have beef with his castmate.
And it didn’t help that Russo, who was 27 when he was cast, had ties with real-life mobsters such as Frank Costello, Joe Colombo and Carlo Gambino.
“’Cause he’s hanging around with mob guys, like Carmine Persico, and mob guys all know me already. I came from Mulberry Street, how do you live on Mulberry Street and not know mob guys?” he said.
He said that Caan “fell in love with mobsters” through his experience on the 1972 set. “’Til the day he died, he thought he was a mobster. He thought he was Sonny Corleone,” he said.
Russo also claims that Caan went too far in an infamous “Godfather” fight scene where Sonny pummels Carlo for hitting his sister.
Although Russo said that a stunt double was used, particularly when Carlo was thrown over a railing, he also was in the scene and was injured by Caan.
“That’s me. He’s biting my hand; he’s banging my elbow with that steel garbage pail. He chipped my elbow,” he said. “When I crawled out and he lifted me in the air, he broke two of my ribs, which was not in the rehearsal. That was me laying there.”
Caan never admitted to hurting his co-star, saying that he worked with a stunt double that day.