Marlon Brando (born April 3, 1924) is an American actor who brought the techniques of method acting to prominence in the films A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, both directed by Elia Kazan in the early 1950s. His acting style, combined with his public persona as an outsider uninterested in the Hollywood of the early 1950s, had a profound effect on a generation of actors, including James Dean and Paul Newman, and later stars, including Robert De Niro.
Brando was raised in the Omaha, Nebraska area. His mother, a kind and talented woman with an drinking problem who was involved in local theater, first interested him in stage acting. Brando was a gifted mimic from early childhood and developed a rare ability to absorb the tics and mannerisms of people he played and to display those traits dramatically while staying in character.
Brando had a tumultuous childhoood, in which he was expelled from several schools. His father was largely critical of his son, but encouraged him to seek his own direction. Brando left Nebraska for New York City, where he studing method acting at the New School, then enrolled at the Actors' Studio run by Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler.
Brando used his method acting in summer-stock roles, then made it to Broadway in the bittersweet drama, I Remember Mama, in 1944. He achieved real stardom, however, as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947, directed by Kazan. Brando sought out that role, driving out to Provincetown, Massachusetts where Williams was spending the summer to audition for the part.
Brando's first screen role was the bitter crippled veteran in The Men in 1950. True to his method, Brando spent a month in bed at a veterans' hospital to prepare for the role.
He made a much larger impression the following year when he brought his performance as Stanley Kowalski to the screen in Kazan's adaptation of "Streetcar" in 1951. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for that role, and in each of the next three years for his roles in Viva Zapata! in 1952, Julius Caesar in 1953 and On the Waterfront in 1954.
Brando finally won the Oscar for his role of Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront. Under Kazan's direction, and with a talented ensemble around him, Brando used his method training and improvisational skills to produce a performance that continues to display new facets on each viewing. He improvised much of his dialogue with Rod Steiger in the famous, much-quoted scene with him in the back of a taxicab.
Brando followed that triumph by a variety of roles in the 1950s that defied expectations: as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, where he managed to carry off a singing role; as Sakini, a Japanese interpreter for the U.S. Army in postwar Japan in The Teahouse of the August Moon; as an Air Force officer in Sayonara, and a Nazi officer in The Young Lions. While he won an Oscar nomination for his acting in Sayonara, his acting had lost much of its energy and direction by the end of the 1950s.
Brando's star sank even further in the 1960s as Brando turned in increasingly uninspired performances in Mutiny on the Bounty and several forgettable comedies and westerns. His career had gone into almost complete eclipse by the end of the decade thanks to his reputation as a difficult star and his record in overbudget or marginal movies.
His performance as Vito Corleone in The Godfather changed all that. Brando once again had to beg for a part, forcing a screen test in which he did his own makeup. Francis Ford Coppola was electrified by Brando's characterization as the head of a crime family, but had to fight the studio in order to cast him. Brando won an Academy Award for his intelligent performance; once again, he improvised important details that lent more humanity to what could otherwise have been a clichéd role.
Brando was the second actor to refuse an Oscar (the first being George C. Scott). When he declined the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Godfather in 1972, Brando sent actress and phony Native American Sacheen Littlefeather (nee Maria Cruz), who was booed as she denounced Hollywood's portrayal of her people.
His career since then has been uneven: in addition to his quirky performance as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and his intensely personal performance in Last Tango in Paris, Brando has also played Jor El, Superman's father, in the first Superman movie--a role he agreed to only on condition that he did not have to read the script beforehand and his lines would be displayed somewhere offscreen. Other roles, such as his performance in "The Island of Dr. Moreau", are, if possible, even worse. Yet Brando continues to turn in intereting performances--despite his announced plans to retire--in movies such as A Dry White Season (for which he was again nominated for an Oscar in 1989), The Freshman in 1990 and Don Juan DeMarco in 1995.
Brando's notoriety, his family's troubled lives, his self-exile from Hollywood and his obesity have, unfortunately, attracted more attention than his acting career in recent years. He has also earned a reputation for being difficult on the set, often unwilling or unable to memorize his lines and less interested in taking direction than in confronting the film director with odd and childish demands. On the other hand, most other actors have found him generous, funny and supportive.
Filmography as actor includes