Traveling with Gianni Russo, Carlo Rizzi from The Godfather

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Gianni Russo is an actor, crooner and entrepreneur. During his long and storied career, he has also been a radio personality, author, motivational speaker, restaurateur and nightclub host.

He played mobsters, mobsters and other sleazy characters in a long string of hit films (46 and counting). But the New York native is best known for his role as Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather.

As the iconic 1972 film now celebrates its 50th anniversary, Russo is busier than ever making personal appearances in the United States and abroad. A colorful storyteller, Russo shares intimate memories about the making of the film and his relationships with several of its stars, including Brando, Pacino and De Niro.

But food and his Italian heritage, part Sicilian and part Neapolitan, have always been close to Russo’s heart. His most recent business venture is licensing The Godfather Paramount Pictures brand to launch a line of specialty foods, Corleone Fine Italian Foods.

After a two-year pandemic-induced travel hiatus, this traveling star is back on the road, both entertaining audiences and making promotional appearances for Genco Olive Oil and Clemenza’s Meat Sauce.


Forbes.com caught up with Gianni Russo over the phone from his home in New York.

When did you start traveling?

Gianni Russo: I have been traveling since my early twenties. My first cruise was working on the USS Independence as a hairdresser. I was able to earn a few dollars and see the world. I have been traveling since.

Does your company often take you to Italy?

RG: Definitively. I have two passports, Italian and American

In the past, I probably traveled to Italy as often as once a month. I have cousins ​​in Naples, Sorrento and Capri, and I also own a house in Cefalu, a seaside resort not far from Palermo.

And my growing food businesses have given me reasons to travel to Italy to meet authentic, artisan producers. For example, my line of vodka, Don Corleone Organic Italian Vodka, comes from the Italian Alps. Our IGP Genco certified extra virgin olive oil is made by Barbera, a family business in Sicily since 1894.

What led you to invest in a food line?

RG: I consider myself a chef and my grandmother was also an excellent cook.

Few Italians now organize “Sunday dinners” and get together with family. I try to carry on this tradition. My dining room seats 16 people and I host dinner parties all the time.

The sauce is always an important part of the meal. I grew up with a great meat sauce and wanted to create a sauce that far surpassed anything on the supermarket shelves. Most people don’t have time to spend 36 hours making bolognese sauce.

The San Marzano tomatoes used in our sauce are the best in the world. I certify that you will think that your grandmother made it!

You are a world traveler. What special attractions does southern Italy offer?

RG: In truth, I like warm, sunny climates and I like to stay tanned. I like to cook and eat, and you can’t eat badly in Italy.

I am approaching 80 years old. I still love my life and hope to one day retire to the Amalfi Coast.

Why did you choose to buy a property in Cefalu?

RG: I wanted to take advantage of my heritage. April to September is the perfect time to visit this part of Sicily.

I spend most of my time in Cefalu worshiping the sun. And eat, of course; I really like local seafood. My place is located between Taormina and Lido beach, which is one of the most gorgeous beaches in Sicily.

Do people recognize you when you travel?

RG: Recognition only came later in my life. And I consider that a privilege.

What is your travel style?

RG: I consider traveling to be part of the journey.

I like to look good and dress smartly but comfortably. I always wear a sports jacket, often a suit. And if I wear blue jeans, they are not washed out. I even developed my own clothing line, La Cosa Mia by Gianni.

Because many of my trips tend to be long, I ship my clothes ahead of me via UPS. If I send them three days before, my hotel makes them wait for my arrival, often hanging in my closet.

Any travel tips you can offer?

RG: I consider myself a smart traveler.

I book my trips well in advance, mainly because I have a lot of appearances and I’m always busy. Planning ahead makes everything easier. I am now booking my world tour which will take place next December.

As a frequent flyer, you learn to avoid traveling on days when most people fly, such as Friday or Sunday.

How can non-famous travelers improve their experience?

RG: It comes down to loyalty. Being loyal to an airline or revisiting the hotels you love can really pay off with upgrades and perks.

You are a “people person”, but you mentioned that you usually travel alone. What are the advantages?

RG: Traveling always allows me to meet new people, share a drink or a meal with someone at the bar.

Even if you’re not famous, a table for one never leaves you alone if you look up and engage with someone else. Servers become buddies, people at the next table can tell you where to have your next great meal.


Note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


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