"Followers of the Bran-Dao believe that you don't gotta be running your mouth to prove how macho you are. Just gotta be confident and put your all into what you do, and people will fill in the rest themselves. We believe if you live your life right, you reach a state of Nirvmana where the whole universe is in complete recognition of your masculinity."
Marlon Brando (1924-2004) was a legendary American method actor who broke out in the early 1950s, appearing in two Elia Kazan films, A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, as well as less arty projects such as The Wild One and the screen adaptation of Guys and Dolls. He later created and forever owned the role of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, as well as performed notable cameo roles in several high-profile films, including Jor-El in Superman and Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.Brando eventually became regarded as something of a joke for his exorbitant demands and prima donna behavior on film sets, which put many directors at odds with him. He eventually went into a self-imposed seclusion, from which he emerged only to appear in films far below his demonstrated talent.He was voted in the UK's Empire Magazine in 1997 as one of the five greatest living actors. He passed away in 2004.
Tropes associated with Marlon Brando and his characters include:
Brilliant, but Lazy: Al Pacino said that he would work his ass off in acting only to come short of what Brando could do in his sleep. The man was also famous for refusing to memorize lines and often had cue cards on set or just improvised.
Elia Kazan admitted that this was Brando's style. Give him a part and attract his curiosity and tell him what you want from the scene. He would then go in a corner and come up with something unique and brilliant, and better than the original idea. Some directors accepted this, others who preferred total obedience to their directions had problems accepting this and this created conflict on some of his later films.
Case in point: Superman. He was only there for the money, read his lines off cue cards (refusing to learn them) and had a fairly small role. And it is one of the best performances in the film. Moreover, he was the one who suggested that Superman's logo be the family sigil, which eventually became part of the Superman mythos.
Doing It for the Art: Claimed he only made films to fund a sadly never made project about Native Americans. His own approach to acting was driven by this, tending to believe it wasn't serious enough or didn't make a difference, which apparently drove his bad behaviour, especially on the Money, Dear Boy films. On a film like Last Tango in Paris or The Godfather, he was a committed professional and beloved of his cast and crew. Apparently it was driven by his Noble Demon instinct more than anything.
Also, he refused to do sequels. This was the reason why he turned down reprising Vito Corleone in the sequel to The Godfather, even a cameo that Coppola tried to interest him which he backed down on the last moment.
Follow the Leader: Brando, along with James Dean and director Elia Kazan, redefined what it meant to be an actor and started to create the template of what made film acting so much different than theater acting. Instead of presenting your role to the back seats and speaking with perfect diction at least half of your performance was in your physical stance and a quarter of it is the tone you give the lines. Kazan created the Actors Studio and Brando was sort of the figurehead, even though he is sometimes teased for his unique quirks most actors today without realizing it emulate the techniques Brando pioneered, a fact noted and perhaps lamented by Clint Eastwood amongst many others.
However it's important to point out that Brando admired traditional actors like Laurence Olivier and worked with the likes of John Gielgud on the film adaptation of Julius Caesar, working hard to pull off the Shakespearean diction. He had a strong grounding in stagecraft and was a student of acting teacher Stella Adler (who later taught Robert De Niro), which is what allowed him to explore the Method so well.
Hey, It's That Voice!: Unarguably one of the most recognizable voices in film history. You'd know it even if you have never seen his work.
Hidden Depths: His activism for the Civil Rights Movement and Native American rights. He also studied with a voice teacher and did his own singing in Guys and Dolls. He's not mind-blowing, but he more than holds his own against his co-star, Frank Sinatra.
Money, Dear Boy: Most of his movies from the mid-70s on. He demanded, and got, $3.7 million up front and 12% of the box office for Superman. He also demanded to work no more than a week and a half and had cue cards on set so he wouldn't have to memorize his lines. And he was worth every penny.
Older than They Look: For much of his life. Much makeup had to be applied to him in The Godfather though he was only six years younger than Vito Corleone. In Superman, he certainly doesn't look like he's nearly thirty years older than Christopher Reeve.
Unkempt Beauty: Famously portrayed a very masculine and attractive man who was constantly sweaty and dirty.
Wag the Director: After his dual roles in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris in 1972, Brando became a real challenge for any director, constantly improvising and arguing on set. On of the more infamous cases was One Eyed Jacks, where his gerrymandering of the script lead to Stanley Kubrick being fired as director and Brando taking his place.