At a very young age, I knew who Marlon Brando was. Everybody knew who Brando was. My father, James, who was also an actor, talked about him like he was a god. To him, Brando was the best actor ever. I remember seeing On the Waterfront when I was 8 or 9, while I was visiting my sister at college. I was too young to really understand, but I remember his ”I coulda been a contender” scene, and how exciting that was. He was always that interesting, even in movies that weren’t so good. There was something lasting about his performances. Maybe it was an accent or some funny little thing he did with his mouth. When he got on camera, he always turned ”on,” whether he wanted to or not. I watched him again recently in Superman, in a silly part, really — Jor-El, Superman’s father — and he’s only in the movie for a few minutes. But even there, he’s totally unique and unforgettable. There’s a surprising amount of passion in that performance. He’s just this big, fat guy from another planet, yet he’s fantastically good.
I remember so clearly the day I first met Marlon. We were in The Freshman together in 1990, and we were rehearsing at director Andrew Bergman’s apartment in Toronto. Marlon was a little late, and his way of apologizing was to be on his knees when we opened the door. He crawled into the room, saying, ”I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
After that we were off and running. He was more outgoing than I would have expected, really friendly to Bruno Kirby and me. We would sit in his trailer talking. He didn’t like to talk about acting much, but he loved to talk about history or politics or biology. A leaf would fall from a tree and he’d tell you what kind of tree it was. He was very interested in his surroundings — people, plants, things. He liked to know how things worked. I think that’s part of what made him interesting to watch — he liked watching.
But as much as he put down acting, my impression was that when he was actually doing it, it delighted him. He really rehearsed with us, and enjoyed himself. I’ve heard that other actors have found him hard to work with, because he wasn’t there. I found him extremely there — more there than anyone.
We have lost someone who won’t really be replaced. There will be other actors as good in their way, but there won’t be anyone who will break the ground he did. Who can have the influence he had? There’s just nobody like that out there. (Brando died of pulmonary fibrosis in Los Angeles.)