Marlon Brando was an American actor with a career spanning 60 years, and is well-regarded for his cultural influence on 20th-century film. Brando’s Academy Award-winning performances include that of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) and Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972). Brando was an activist for many causes, notably the civil rights movement and various Native American movements. He is credited with helping to popularize the Stanislavski system of acting, having studied with Stella Adler in the 1940s. He is often regarded as one of the first actors to bring Method Acting (built from the Stanislavski system) to mainstream audiences.
What is your greatest fear? Corporations have no sense of social responsibilities. They tell lies from morning till night. You see advertisements of the petroleum outfits, everybody wants to take care of the environment, so they show you a doe taking a sip of water in a marsh and in the background we see an oil derrick, and Exxon wants us to know that even the doe is being looked after. They give you all this claptrap that Madison Avenue cranks out. There’s an art form: advertising. Making people do what you want them to do, that’s what Americans are good at. They can manipulate anybody at any moment. And it makes precious little difference whether we’re manipulated by the state, as in Russia, or by big business, as we are through advertising. Look at terrorism. We’ve had more than 100 derailing incidents, and almost always it’s a tank car with flammable substances in it. We had about five major grain-elevator disasters in one year. That’s put down to coincidence. We’re not told they’re acts of sabotage. I would assume that the Government has gotten together with the news people and said, “Listen, don’t broadcast alarming stories about terrorists in the the United States.” I don’t know whether or not it was a conspiracy, but there are enough industrial executives who have gone to jail over the past 20 years for price fixing that you wouldn’t be going wide off the mark if you said they were manipulating us. For example, if the power companies would quit fighting solar energy and quit leaning on the legislatures and get behind it, it could happen. But the oil and steel companies’ interests are allied, manufacturers of cars, plastics—which means oil companies—steel companies, metal, rubber companies, don’t want to alter, to retool, it will cost them too much. They say it’s going to hurt them, wreck the economy, they’re not making enough in profit. The way they piss and moan about their profit ratings, it makes you think over the years they’d have gone out of business long ago. The Godfather said that a man with a briefcase can steal more money than a man with a pistol.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Perhaps hating too readily. Everybody ought not to turn his back on the phenomenon of hatred in whatever form it takes. We have to find out what the anatomy of hatred is before we can understand it. We have to make some attempt to put it into some understandable form. Any kind of group hatred is extremely dangerous and much more volatile than individual hatred. Heinous crimes are committed by groups and it’s all done, of course, in the name of justice. I don’t see anybody as evil. When you start seeing people as evil, you’re in trouble. The thing that’s going to save us is understanding. The inspection of the mind of Eichmann or Himmler…Just to dispense with them as evil is not enough, because it doesn’t bring you understanding. You have to see them for what they are.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Nobody wants to think about social issues, social justice. And those are the main issues that confront us. That’s one of the dilemmas of my life. People don’t give a damn. Ask most kids about details about Auschwitz or about how the American Indians were assassinated as a people and they don’t know anything about it. They don’t want to know anything. Most people just want their beer or their soap opera or their lullaby. This idiot part of life has to go in the forefront of things as if it’s of major importance.
What is your greatest extravagance? I believe there must be some order in the universe. So far as there is order, there is some force in the universe. It’s hard for me to conceive it’s just happenstance or a confluence of disorder that makes the universe what it is.
What is your current state of mind? Why do people hate blacks? Why do people discriminate against Indians? Why is AIM referred to as Assholes in Moccasins in South Dakota rather than the American Indian Movement? People have unconscious fears and floating anxieties, maybe guilt, and they will attach themselves like a raindrop to a speck of matter. People have built-in prejudice, they’ve got hatred piled up in a very neat place and they don’t want to have it scattered by logic. I think, essentially, men fear women. It comes from a sense of dependence on women. Because men are brought up by women, they’re dependent on them. In all societies, they have organizations that exclude women; warrior societies are famous the world over for that. It comes from fear of women. History is full of references to women and how bad they are, how dangerous. There are deprecating references to women all through the Bible. The mere fact that a woman was made out of a man’s rib, as a sort of afterthought. Men’s egos are frightened by women. We all have made mistakes in that respect. We’ve all been guilty, most men, of viewing women through prejudice. I always thought of myself not as a prejudiced person, but I find, as I look over it, that I was. The lack of rights that apply to children are the ones that appall me. That’s head and shoulders above any other rights group. Down here in Tahiti, and in many places, children are treated with respect, like small adults without much of a frame of reference. But for some reason, we feel superior to children, and we also feel a sense of ownership. Mothers feel about their children the way husbands feel about women. It’s my kid. Women who are in the women’s movement, some of them say they are not their husband’s possession, but then they’ll unconsciously refer to their child as a possession. They use the same kind of language about their children as they would hate for their husbands to use about them.
On what occasion do you lie? I’ve regretted most interviews, because they don’t write what you say or they’ll get you out of context or they’ll juxtapose it in such a way that it’s not reflective of what you’ve said. I don’t know a fucking thing about economics, mathematics or anything else. You can say something in a certain spirit, with a smile, but when it appears in print, there’s no smile. I’m not going to lay myself at the feet of the American public and invite them into my soul. My soul is a private place. And I have some resentment of the fact that I live in a system where you have to do that. I find myself making concessions, because normally I wouldn’t talk about any of this, it’s just blabber. It’s not absorbing or meaningful or significant, it doesn’t have much to do with our lives. It’s dog-food conversation. I just don’t believe in washing my dirty underwear for all to see, and I’m not interested in the confessions of movie stars.
What do you most dislike about your appearance? The fire coming out of my nose.
Which living person do you most despise? People believe what they will believe, to a large degree. People will like you who never met you, they think you’re absolutely wonderful; and then people also will hate you, for reasons that have nothing to do with any real experience with you. People don’t want to lose their enemies. We have favorite enemies, people we love to hate and we hate to love. If they do something good, we don’t like it. I found myself doing that with Ronald Reagan. He is anathema to me. If he does something that’s reasonable, I find my mind trying to find some way to interpret it so that it’s not reasonable, so that somewhere it’s jingoist extremism.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Life is about something other than sitting and reading books about yourself.
Which talent would you most like to have? Talent is overrated. Look at Charlie Chaplin.Chaplin was a man of sizable talent and I was not going to argue with him about what’s funny and not funny. He tried to do some shit with me. I said, “Don’t you ever speak to me in that tone of voice.” God, he really made me mad. I was late one day, he started to make a big to-do about it. I told him he could take his film and stick it up his ass, frame by frame. That was after I realized it was a complete fiasco. He wasn’t a man who could direct anybody. He probably could when he was young. With Chaplin’s talent, you had to give him the benefit of the doubt. But you always have to separate the man from his talent. A remarkable talent but a monster of a man. I don’t even like to think about it. He was a mean man, Chaplin. Sadistic.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Guilt’s a useless emotion; it doesn’t do anybody any good. A healthy sense of conscience is useful.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? I always remind myself of the Congressman with his hand in the till. Where can you get paid enough money to buy an island and sit on your ass and talk to you the way I’m doing? You can’t do anything that’s going to pay you money to do that. If you aren’t good at what you do, you don’t eat, you don’t have the wherewithal to have liberties. I’m sitting down here on this island, enjoying my family, and I’m here primarily because I was able to make a living so I could afford it. I hate the idea of going nine to five. That would scare me.
Where would you most like to live? The island of Tetiaroa. It’s very elemental here. You have the sky, the sea, trees, the crabs, the fish, the sun…the basics. Once, I was the only person here, absolutely alone on this island. I really like being alone. I never run out of things to think about when I’m here.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I think I would have liked to be a cave man, a neolithic person. It would have been nice to see what the common denominator of human existence was before it started to be fiddled with.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Good God, one of the most awful places in the world to be is the cutting room. You sit all day long in a dark place filled with cigarette smoke.
What is your favorite occupation? There are people who aspire to being artists, but I don’t think they’re worthy of the calling. I don’t know of any movie actors, or any actors…There are no people…We can call them artists, give them the generic term if they’re comfortable with that, but in terms of great art—magnificent art, art that changes history, art that’s overwhelming—where are they? Where are the great artists today? Name one. When you look at Rembrandt or Baudelaire or listen to the Discourses of Epictetus, you know the quality of men is not the same. There are no giants today. I don’t think any movie is a work of art. I simply do not. But you can call anything art. You can call a short- order cook an artist, because he really does that—back flips, over and under his legs, around his head, caroms ’em off the wall and catches them. I don’t know that you can exclude those things as art, except you know in your bones that they have nothing to do with art. So we’ve somehow substituted craft for art and cleverness for craft. It’s revolting! It’s disgusting that people talk about art and they haven’t got the right to use the word. It doesn’t belong on anybody’s tongue in this century. There are no artists. We are businessmen. We’re merchants. There is no art. Picasso was the last one I would call an artist.
What is your most marked characteristic? Hope. You can’t live a life saying, Well, this is the end, so we might as well get out the banjo and the rowboat and get it on, just go laughing and scratching along until Gabriel blows his horn. Whatever the circumstances are, one has to keep trying to find solutions. Even if it seems impossible. They have never invented a system that worked: Religion didn’t do it, philosophy didn’t do it, ethics didn’t do it, economic systems won’t do it. None of the systems that deal with man’s problems have ever worked. But to live a life of hopelessness, it’s not possible.
What do you most value in your friends? Laughter. I like to laugh. Mel Brooks makes me laugh. They had a Laurel and Hardy festival on television; boy, I laughed at that. It went on all night long; I was up half the night laughing.
Who are your favorite writers? Kafka and Kierkegaard are remarkable souls; they visited distant lands of the psyche that no other writers dared before—to some people, they were the heroes, not Elvis Presley. People talk about great writers, great painters, great thinkers, great creators, but you cannot fully understand what a great writer is writing about unless you have some corresponding depth, breadth of assimilation.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? We won’t see the likes of Malcolm X again in our lifetime. He was a man of extraordinary talents, capacities, abilities. If he had lived, America would have been far better off. Our consciousness, who we are, what we do, what we intend…instead of believing the claptrap that we read about ourselves, and listening to The Marines’ Hymn and all the romantic jingoistic jargon that we’re shook to death with every day. I’m often amused when I read American history and I read what great things America was going to be, what great things we were going to produce, the magnificent life we were going to have. We were determined to be an impressive and strong nation that needed a lot of people and a lot of land. And all those people who came: “Give us your great unwashed.” Well, we got all the great unwashed there were. From every prison, we certainly got a lot of scum and dummies. We didn’t get the cream of the crop. We got people from the lowest echelons of society who couldn’t make it or weren’t happy where they were. Or who were taken from Africa, brought to America in chains and turned into animals.
Who are your heroes in real life? Stella Adler and Elia Kazan were extremely important to me. I don’t think I would have been able to ply my trade as well had I not been with them.
What is it that you most dislike? We’re money-bound people and everything we do has to do with money, more or less. People are interested in people who are successful.
What is your greatest regret? I am ashamed to be an American and to see fellow human beings who, if human rights mean anything at all, have every right to the land they live on, and more land than they have. There were 10,000,000 Indians, according to theEncyclopaedia Britannica, at the time of Columbus. There are now about 1,000,000. They owned all of the United States; they have precious little to call their own now. They were independent; they have nothing now. Any time a white man wanted a piece of land from an Indian, he was able to get it. So they took all the river valleys, they took all the fertile land, they took almost all the forests, they took everything and left the Indian nothing. Nothing but memories, and bitter ones at that. When the Government didn’t do it militarily, it did it with documents and promises. We lied, we chiseled, we swindled; swindle, swindle, swindle, nothing less than swindle. Swindled the Indian. And we now will say we did not swindle. We did swindle. We did kill. We did maim. We did starve. We did torture. We did the most heinous things that could be done to a people. We will not admit it, we do not recognize it, it is not contained in our history books, and I want to pull my hair out when I read high school textbooks that deal with the destruction of a people in two paragraphs.
How would you like to die? “Of all the wonders I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
What is your motto? Always show less than you have. Stella Adler, who was my teacher, a most remarkable woman, once told me a story about her father, Jacob P. Adler, a great Yiddish actor who brought the European tradition of theater to this country with him. He had said that if you come to the theater and you feel 100 percent inspiration, show 70. If you come to the theater another night and you feel maybe 50 percent, show 30. If you come to the theater feeling 30 percent, turn around and go home. Always show less than you have.