The Godfather of Cinema Yearns for Youth

"Youth Without Youth" is Francis Ford Coppola's first film in a decade.

Dec. 5, 2007 — -- Thirty-five years after "The Godfather," director Francis Ford Coppola wants to turn back time — and be a little less legendary.

"I didn't count on being so successful so young," Coppola told ABC News. "Suddenly I had some money and status and 'The Godfather' just started to be a much bigger deal than I had thought, so it naturally bent my career out of shape."

Reflecting on his legacy seems timely for Coppola, who releases his first film in a decade next week. "Youth Without Youth" stars Tim Roth as a 70-year-old professor who finds his youth miraculously restored after he is struck by lightning.

Coppola admits he too wants to tap into his youth. But this time, he wouldn't win his first Oscar at age 31. At 68, he's approaching filmmaking like the budding, struggling director he never got to be.

"I didn't think suddenly I was going to be a big deal Hollywood guy," he said. "I would have liked to be that kind of young European-style director. I never got to do that so I thought why can't I just be that now?"

"Youth Without Youth" is Coppola's passion project. He personally adapted the script from the Romanian novella by religious historian Mircea Eliade. Thanks in part to the success of his business ventures, which include a thriving winery in California, Coppola also financed the film.

"What else do I have to do with the money ?" he said. "You always ask yourself, 'Well, if I won the lottery, what would you do with the money?' If I won the lottery, I would make personal films."

The film's $5 million budget is a scant sum for a director of his status, but it allowed him to shoot a grand film in Romania, with the close-knit, almost entirely Romanian crew he desired.

Roth says Coppola's exuberance certainly seemed like that of a much younger filmmaker.

"He had more energy than all of us," Roth said. "I think he found it quite liberating."

Romanian-born actress Alexandra Maria Lara, who plays the object of Roth's affections in the movie, says an older director can indeed learn new tricks.

"I was often wondering what a feeling that must be for him to stand there after 10 years," she said. "I think that love and work can keep you young."

Coppola recalls journeying to Romania with the "attitude of an 18-year-old."

"I was just so enthusiastic about moviemaking, as are the other people my age who are my friends," Coppola said. "They haven't gotten over what a kick it is."

Two years after shooting this labor of love, Coppola is forced to act his age with the theatrical release of "Youth Without Youth." After all, a new Coppola film is a cinematic event, especially when 10 years have passed since his last movie. But Coppola claims he's not worrying about the commercial and critical success of his latest film, which he calls "the craziest story I ever read."

"I knew that any unusual movie is going to have a tough go," he said. "I'm sort of used to films that are not of the type that are the mainstream."

Whether he likes it or not, Coppola remains a director beloved by the mainstream for that trilogy.

"I am aware that when I am invited somewhere … and I walk on the stage, they play the 'Godfather' theme now," he said. "But I kind of want to beg permission to go try to discover new things and fumble around."