His daughter was just hopping into the shower the next morning when an assistant director phoned Eleanor Coppola to say that Sofia had to leave immediately for costume fitting a the Cinecittà studio. Excited at first, Sofia grew anxious as she realized she would have to shoot her first scenes in just a few hours. Yet the notion of playing Mary Corleone was hardly alien.
''When my father was writing the script, he based a lot of the character on me,'' says Sofia. ''I did even read-throughs of the script before they cast Winona Ryder. But when I got it, I was worried. Did I just get it because I'm his daughter?'' She sought family counsel. ''I was upset, so I asked my Aunt Tally (Coppola's sister, Talia Shire, who plays Michael Corleone's sister), and she said, 'He's not going to put his movie and you in jeopardy, no one would do that to their kid.'''
''I reached out to my own child because she was the one Winona was like,'' Francis Coppola would later explain on the Today show. But even Aunt Tally had misgivings. ''I said 'Hey Francis, I'm not so sure. This is a big film, I'm real scared for her,''' recalls Shire. ''When it was a fact, and he really wanted her, and she knew he wanted and needed her, I said, 'You are going to be fine, don't worry.'''
Roos was also concerned, ''This was a far bigger part that she had ever handled,'' he says. In fact, Sofia had appeared only in cameos in a few of her father's other films beginning with the original Godfather, in which she played the baby boy christened a the film's conclusion. ''I also knew that the press would jump on it, and that in itself is a lot of pressure for Sofia, for Francis, and for the movie,'' Roos says. ''But once the decision was made, we all kind of jumped on and gave Sofia all the support we could.''
The role put visible strain on Sofia. Eleanor's diary entry for January 10, 1990, reads in part ''Every moment Sofia isn't on the stage she is at costume fittings or the hairdresser or with her diction teacher. Several times she has burst into tears.''
The criticism was also starting. ''She couldn't pronounce the name Corleone,'' says an extra who was there during the scene in which Mary presents the Catholic church with a $100 million check. ''Her father had to keep cutting and retaking the scene. She was in over her head.''
''I didn't realize how much pressure I would be under people want to see Francis' daughter fall on her face,'' Sofia told Entertainment Weekly shortly before Godfather III's release. ''My whole life I've had to prove myself harder. But any time you are under a lot of pressure, you do try harder. Catching up on years of acting training was the most difficult.'' One special challenge was toning down the Val Gal accent. ''I had people telling me, like, ''Vincent has t on the end,' and when you are doing the scene, you don't think about things like that. I was trying to be as real as possible.
The movie's steamy kitchen love scene, in which Vincent and Mary progress from making gnocchi to making whoopee, was especially tricky for the teen. ''I was pretty crazed that day when I had to kiss Andy at 7:00 in the morning, '' she says. ''I wasn't feeling very romantic, and also the script supervisor, who I've known since I was twelve, was standing a foot away saying 'Oka, saliva under his left ear, Sofia' I mean, all this flirting and kissing I'm doing with Andy, I'm doing in front of my father, of all people!''
Although many of the movie's other actors reportedly objected to Coppola's decision to cast her, Sofia herself describes the cast as supportive. ''Al Pacino was so funny, he always kept me entertained. He told me, 'Whenever you get the urge to act, lie down and wait for it to pass.' That was the best advice I learned the whole time. And Andy taught me that the most important work for an actor is being off-camera for the other actor. And it's true, when the camera was on me, he was always there helping me.''
Whatever the strengths or weakness of her performance, criticism of Sofia has begun to take on a life of its own, and the reports that she had to do an abnormal amount of dubbing are a good example. Even one of her defenders, New Yorker critic Kael, complained that ''her voice (or a dubber's voice) lacks expressiveness.'' Contrary to Kael's conjecture, though, no other voice was substituted for Sofia's. And dubbing dialogue eliminate background noise from busy scenes called looping is routine on most pictures. According to one of the movie's ADR (automatic dialogue replacements) editors, Tom Bellfort, all the Godfather III actors had to loop many of their lines. ''To say Sofia was such a problem that she had to be looped is really blown out of proportion,'' says Bellfort. ''What wound up on the soundtrack was about 70 percent of her original track.''
Another false report stalking Sofia is that her father, after the press screenings, edited the performance down and then wrote selected critics urging them to see the film again. The Hollywood Reporter stated that ''the version now in the theaters...includes noticeably less screen time for Coppola's daughter...whose performance has been roundly criticized.'' New York Post film critic Jami Bernard wrote that Coppola ''has snipped between two and four minutes in his epic, presumably to improve the flow and perhaps tangentially to allay the Sofia Problem,'' and went on to say that ''Sofia seemed a tad less annoying'' on the second viewing. ''It looks like Coppola has cut away from Sofia more quickly after her scenes.'' Variety's Lawrence Cohn has said. ''She doesn't curl her lip or sneer so much after her lines.''