Johnny Depp’s call to let The Godfather: Part III’s studio know that Winona Ryder was too sick to work lost her the part in the film.
In 1990, Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder starred in Edward Scissorhands together and became one of Hollywood’s greatest-ever heartthrob romances. However, according to a 1990 Vanity Fair feature, it is largely due to a phone call Johnny Depp made that Winona Ryder lost out on the chance to star in the biggest film at that point in her young career—The Godfather: Part III with Al Pacino, though Depp had the best intentions in mind for Ryder losing out of the role. Depp called the film’s studio to report that Ryder was too sick to work.
Paramount Pictures had been pressuring director Francis Ford Coppola to create a third Godfather film for years, but the director insisted on putting the movie off, at least until his finances couldn’t afford it any longer and he needed the check. The third film in the trilogy is set years after the previous movie and focuses largely on Michael Corleone’s daughter, Mary. Coppola considered many big-name actresses at the time for the part, including Madonna and Julia Roberts, before deciding he needed a younger actress to fill the role and officially cast Johnny Depp’s then-girlfriend, Winona Ryder.
Ryder had been in a handful of films already at the time, including Beetlejuice and Heathers in 1988, but her part as Depp’s love interest in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands boosted the young actress into the attention span of many of Hollywood’s elite directors and producers. Playing Mary in a sequel to a movie as big as The Godfather was sure to spur Ryder’s career growth even faster, so, naturally, she accepted the part, and Johnny Depp accompanied Winona Ryder to Rome to film the movie.
Johnny Depp was already on his way to becoming a prolific actor, having starred in several features and having played the main character of Officer Tom Hanson in TV’s 21 Jump Street, but Winona Ryder’s career was still just beginning. Ryder arrived on the set of The Godfather: Part III immediately after wrapping her work on Mermaids, directed by Richard Benjamin, a film that would be one of five projects she worked on that year. The film crew guided the actress through fittings to get her ready for the shoot the next day, and many of them would later say they noticed something off about the Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael star, though they didn’t say anything at the time.
The next day, Ryder never showed up for her call, leaving Coppola and the crew to wait until Johnny Depp phoned in and said that Winona Ryder would not be working that day, as she wasn’t feeling well. Coppola sent doctors to examine the actress, who determined that Ryder was suffering from a nervous collapse, likely due to being overworked, and she would not be mentally fit to continue the film. Unfortunately, Ryder had to bow out of the production to focus on her mental health, but the actress had a strong support group to help her through her crisis, including Depp and her parents.
While it’s due to Johnny Depp’s phone call that Winona Ryder lost out on her role in The Godfather: Part III, the actor likely made the right choice for his girlfriend’s mental health. Coppola was able to recast the part, giving the role of Mary to his daughter, Sofia Coppola, and the film was released with generally positive reviews.