Marlon Brando might be gone, but the legends about him are still told in Hollywood to this day. We asked some icons of the film industry to share their favorite Brando stories, and this is what they told us.
“We were holding auditions for The Godfather, and it was not going well. We were trying to cast Vito Corleone, and none of the actors auditioning for the role were doing the character justice. All of a sudden, in walks Brando, and he’s got this stuffed deer head with him. A hush falls over the room as Brando walks over to the far wall and hangs the stuffed deer head on it. Then he stands with his hands on his hips and grins at us. He doesn’t move or say anything; he just stands there with his hands on his hips, grinning the widest grin I’ve ever seen. After a few minutes of silence, the stuffed deer head opens its mouth and says, ‘Hey! I know you! You’re Vito Corleone!’ and Brando says to the deer head, ‘You’re goddamn right I am!’ It was the best audition I’ve ever seen, and Brando got the role on the spot.”
“My favorite memory of Brando was when we were filming that famous scene in Apocalypse Now where Brando’s character, Colonel Kurtz, dies. In the original script, Kurtz’s final words were supposed to be, ‘Welp, that’s it for me, ol’ Colonel Kurtz. My only regret is that I never got to see myself naked.’
“But Brando knew his character so well that he realized that Kurtz almost certainly had seen himself naked, because it’s very easy to see yourself naked. So, at the last second, Brando got rid of those original dying words and replaced them with the improvised lines ‘The horror. The horror,’ which, of course, became famous for being the first time in movie history that the same sentence was repeated twice in a row. It was a masterful piece of acting, and I think it ultimately improved the movie.”
“When we first started filming Star Wars, I originally cast Brando in the role of Darth Vader. At first, he was absolutely brilliant, but then one day he takes me aside and says, ‘George, I’ve been doing some thinking about the Darth Vader character, and I believe that Darth Vader knows the Star Wars theme song and hums it to the Stormtroopers to lull them to sleep in a big bed that all the Stormtroopers sleep in.’
“And I say to Brando, ‘No, that’s not true,’ but Brando refuses to budge on this, so we shoot multiple scenes with Brando marching around the Death Star in the Darth Vader costume belting the theme song at the top of his lungs, and we film over a dozen scenes where all the Stormtroopers get into a big bed on the Death Star and Darth Vader sings them to sleep by humming the theme song to them. Later, we had to cut all of his dialogue and replace it with James Earl Jones’ voice.
“Looking back on it now, though, I know that Brando was right. Darth Vader definitely knows the Star Wars theme song. I should have listened to him.”
“I was playing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, and of course that’s the role that made Brando famous. So, I called him up and I asked him if he had any advice for playing Stanley, and Brando told me, ‘When you truly understand Stanley, the way that I did when I was doing Streetcar, you’ll realize that his actions in the play are motivated not by cruelty, but by the fact that he once saw a dog-sized centipede eat a wedding dress. This traumatic event has made him distrustful of marriage as an institution, and that’s why he mistreats his wife. It has also made him distrustful of dog-sized centipedes, and that’s why he always sleeps with a hammer under his pillow. That’s the secret to playing Stanley Kowalski.’ That one-minute phone call was the greatest acting lesson I’ve ever received.”
“One time, while we were filming The Godfather, we were shooting a scene where Vito Corleone gets shot. Brando was so committed to realism that he insisted we shoot him with real bullets during the scene. Everyone agreed that this was an amazing idea, so we pumped Marlon Brando full of bullets, and he died.”
“I only really got to work with Brando when he was portraying Darth Vader on the set of Star Wars, but there was one interaction I had with him that I’ll never forget. Brando called me into his trailer, and he says to me, ‘Harrison, I’ve been thinking about your character, Han Solo, and the friendship that he shares with the Wookiee Chewbacca. I think that Han Solo is Chewbacca from the future, after he has gone bald. If you really explore the character, I think that you’ll see that Han Solo and Chewbacca are the same person from different time periods, and also I think you’ll see that what Han Solo wants more than anything is for Chewbacca to get nice and fat so that he can eat him in space.’
“I thought about what Brando said, and I realized that he was right. Han Solo is bald Chewbacca from the future and he wants to eat Chewbacca, who is the younger version of himself. That revelation informed my entire performance. Brando was a genius. The best there ever was.”