James Caan profile
James Caan

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ALSO: See how James Caan’s Sonny Corleone fared in our Badass Bracket!

Playing football for the Spartans of Michigan State University, young Jimmy Caan exuded masculinity with charm to spare. Naturally, he pursued acting, and under legendary teacher Sanford Meisner freely admitted he was influenced on Brando, as all upcoming actors were at the time. These young rising talents: Pacino, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, and Caan himself worked with the Method actor in “The Godfather” in 1972. It was as eldest son Sonny Corleone that James Caan established himself, but a look at what led up to landing the role for Francis Ford Coppola is impressive in itself.

Starting in TV, his first screen role was for Billy Wilder in “Irma la Douce” in 1963 – Caan only 23 years old. He worked for Howard Hawks alongside John Wayne in “El Dorado” and has the lead in the little seen Civil War film “Journey to Shiloh.” Fledgling director Francis Ford Coppola cast him as a football player with brain damage in “The Rain People” in 1969. The football player role would not be his last. In 1971, James was Brian Piccolo in the acclaimed TV film “Brian’s Song,” for which he was nominated for an Emmy. “The Godfather” followed – and so did an Oscar nod.

Thus began an interesting road for James Caan. He lived in the Playboy mansion for a time in the 1970s, took roles in “Rollerball” and “The Killer Elite,” directed his only film “Hide in Plain Sight” in 1980, and was Michael Mann’s lead in “Thief” in 1981. A growing cocaine problem and a bout with depression in the 1980s sidelined James for awhile, but a return with roles in “Dick Tracy” and “Misery” brought him back to the spotlight. He tried comedy, offbeat indie pictures like “This Is My Father” and “Bottle Rocket,” and returned to TV with the NBC series “Las Vegas.” He’s been married four times, and his son is Scott Caan, the reliable actor from the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies. James Caan knows it’s been a wild ride – and is never one to conceal it. Now in his late 60s, he shows no sign of slowing down. Let’s just hope he doesn’t have to stop for too long at a tollbooth.

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James on the Web

The starting point in your web journey of all things Caan.

Medium sized-bio with an interesting “Caan in pop culture” section.

James on the Screen

He’s Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song,” Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” and again in the flashback scene at the end of “Part II.” He also voices Sonny years later in the acclaimed “The Godfather” video game. He stars and directs in “Hide in Plain Sight,” is Frank in “Thief” for Michael Mann (his second favorite role next to Sonny), and works again for Coppola in “Gardens of Stone” in 1987. He’s Spaldoni in “Dick Tracy” for Warren Beatty, and is the injured writer in “Misery” the same year. He’s Coach Sam Winters in “The Program,” head U.S. Marshal in “Eraser,” and is Philip Marlowe for the HBO movie “Poodle Springs” in 1996. He spoofs the mob in “Mickey Blue Eyes,” is part of the impressive cast in “The Yards,” and is The Big Man in “Dogville” for Lars Von Trier in 2003. That same year, he returned to TV full time as Ed Deline in “Las Vegas.”

James Says

On faith:
“I think we have to believe in things we don't see.”

On indifference:
“My least favorite phrase in the English language is ‘I don't care.”

On sleep:
“You're the only one who's closing your eyes at night. There's no one else who can do it for you.”

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