Actor, Icon, Inspiration: Reflections on Marlon Brando

A Hollywood legend remembered in quotes on what would've been his 95th birthday.

April 3, 2019 5:00 am
Marlon Brando in a scene from "On The Waterfront." (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Marlon Brando in a scene from "On The Waterfront." (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

According to Marlon Brando, the star of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Wild One, On the WaterfrontThe Godfather, and Apocalypse Now (to name but a few his Hollywood classics), having some knowledge of acting is a very important character trait.

But Brando, who made his living as an actor and won multiple Academy Awards while doing so, felt it was important on a personal, not a professional, level.

American actor Marlon Brando in 1950. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Getty Images

“Knowledge on acting is very important for television and movies, but it’s ten times more important when you’ve been out with one woman all night till 5:30 in the morning and you have to go home to your wife,” Brando once said. “And that’s what makes it important.”

An intriguing sentiment from the man who, had he not died in 2004 at the age of 80, would have turned 95 today.

But far from the only interesting opinion Brando voiced about acting during his life as he at one point said: “An actor is at most a poet and at least an entertainer.”

And: “Acting is the expression of a neurotic impulse. It’s a bum’s life. Quitting acting, that’s the sign of maturity.”

As well as: “An actor’s a guy, who if you ain’t talking about him, ain’t listening.”

If that’s the case, Brando still would have had plenty of reason to listen to his Hollywood peers because they talked about him quite often, especially after his passing. In honor of what would’ve been Brando’s 95th, here some of the best of what they had to say about the iconic actor.

James Earl Jones on Brando’s Stanley Kowalski: “When Marlon did his work, when he did his Stanley Kowalski, every truck driver in New York said, ‘Hey, I could do that! That’s me, I could do that!’ And that was very important. And I think that’s what sort of opened life up for me, opened up that artistic life up for me.”

Marlon Brandon and Jack Nicholson on the set of “The Missouri Breaks.” (Photo by STILLS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Jack Nicholson on Brando’s lifelong greatness: “As an artist, I equate Brando with Picasso. I’ve seen Picasso’s early drawings and so forth in the museums in Barcelona. I always thought if you took the first thing Picasso ever drew and continued to show everything he did until the day he died, you would see that some people are incapable of not being brilliant. When people are that way, it’s very hard for them to gauge their own position. I think Marlon knew he was the greatest. I don’t think he dwelled on it, nor did he ever say as much to me. But, come on, there was a reason people expected so much from him right to the end. That’s why people always expected him to be working. And believe me, there were times when he told me he wanted to work and couldn’t. It disturbs me that toward the end, all some people could speak about was his weight. As I’ve said, what Mr. Brando does for a living ain’t done by the pound.”

James Caan on Brando’s influence on others: “People always ask me who was the most influential guy to us young guys back then. Anyone who doesn’t tell you Brando was the man, they’re lying. He influenced more young actors of my generation than any actor. Anyone who denies it never understood what it was all about. I loved him.”

Al Pacino on emulating Brando’s work: “It was incomprehensible how good Brando was. He was just a phenomenon. I was acting before I ever saw a Brando picture—I’m very proud to be able to say that—but I’ll be imitating him until the day I die.”

Marlon Brando in 1957 in Paris, France. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Edward Norton on Brando’s personality type: “He’s incredibly funny and he’s a practical joker. Meeting him brought home for me what he has been saddled with on some levels. He’s the kind of person, personality-wise, who’s least suited to being venerated by others. And it must be so frustrating for him, because it walls you off from just the pure experience of people and things. He’d love to sit in a café and watch people walk by on the street.”

Ryan Gosling on Brando as an idol: “You can’t help but be affected by him. I think all of us are.”

Quincy Jones on Brando’s dancing (and other pursuits): “Brando used to go cha-cha dancing with us. He could dance his *ss off. He was the most charming motherf–ker you ever met. He’d f–k anything. Anything! He’d f–k a mailbox. James Baldwin. Richard Pryor. Marvin Gaye.”

Martin Scorsese on Brando’s lasting impact: “For my generation and for generations to come, he virtually defined truth and honesty, as an actor and then as a public persona. Everything that we know about the power of great screen acting relates back to him: when you watch his work in On the Waterfront or Last Tango in Paris, you’re watching the purest poetry imaginable, in dynamic motion.”

Sir Laurence Olivier on Brando’s craft: “[He] acted with an empathy and an instinctual understanding that not even the greatest technical performers could possibly match.”

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.