A 2001 report from EW's archive shows that Marlon Brando still had the power to make costars (and unlucky producers) laugh...and cry

By Josh Young
Updated July 20, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Marlon Brando, Matthew Broderick, ...
Credit: The Freshman: Everett Collection

Marlon Brando isn’t just Hollywood’s greatest living actor; he’s the town’s greatest source of conversation. Most might think of the 77-year-old Oscar winner as an enigmatic recluse, but close encounters of the Brando kind are increasingly common (especially since he’s made seven movies in the last 11 years) and extremely coveted. And since everyone who’s anyone has a wild story about the wild one (or would like to), it’s getting harder to separate the man from the myths. (Brando could not be reached for comment.) A recent report, for example, that he spent a weekend at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch appears to be true. But don’t believe those stories that had him strolling onto the set of a film naked from the waist down so the director couldn’t shoot his rotund midsection. On the eve of his latest film, ”The Score,” we couldn’t refuse offering up the best Brando bits and how they rate.

THE PRACTICAL JOKER, PART 1 After writer-director Andrew Bergman flew to Brando’s Tahiti getaway and persuaded the hibernating star to revisit Don Corleone for 1990’s ”The Freshman,” he worried about what to expect once the actor arrived on set. Things were going smoothly until one afternoon, when the movie’s producer Mike Lobell rushed up to Bergman to say that Brando had called from Frank Sinatra’s jet: He was headed back to Tahiti for the weekend and wouldn’t be back in time to shoot on Monday morning. Lobell was panic-stricken. Later that night, however, he got another call. This time Brando was laughing. ”The entire thing had been a ruse,” Bergman recalls. ”Marlon had even rigged up a tape recorder with jet noises and the static of an air phone fading in and out.” THE SCORE: B- Who knew the Godfather was such a cutup?

THE METHOD ACTOR It was the last week of shooting on 1995’s ”Don Juan DeMarco” in Hawaii, and Brando donned a crisp white linen shirt for his final close-up. Annoyed that Faye Dunaway was still in makeup, Brando grabbed costar Johnny Depp and headed for a local watering hole. One of the producers found them and begged the actor to return. Brando was unmoved, going so far as to smear tortilla chips, salsa, and guacamole on his shirt, ruining any chance of shooting without a costume change. Depp persuaded Brando to return, but before leaving the bar, Brando ordered 160 margaritas for the crew. (He gave the bill to the producer.) Back before cameras, Brando refused to change, so a costume designer threw a scarf around his neck to mask the stains and filming got under way. No wonder Dunaway seems to keep her distance in this scene. THE SCORE: B+ His ”Island of Dr. Moreau” costar Val Kilmer would have been proud.

THE INFOMERCIAL STAR Perhaps you’ve heard the stories about the troubles on the set of 1996’s ”The Island of Dr. Moreau,” but here’s what happened when a few New Line suits went to Brando’s Los Angeles compound to enlist the publicity-shy star’s help in promoting the film. Brando greeted them at the door (barefoot and in a kimono), served them a platter of cold cuts from Jerry’s Famous Deli in the Valley, and began outlining his promotional vision. Brando offered to star in a 30-minute infomercial, in which he’d play the drums and talk about the ”manimals” created by Moreau, while Don Rickles hosted. Brando followed up the meeting with faxed instructions: Once he released the video to them, the studio would wire $1 million to a numbered escrow account. Needless to say, the studio went with a more traditional campaign, though one former New Line executive kept and framed the fax. THE SCORE: A Just for the Don Rickles part alone.