Thursday, June 11, 2015

Stranger Than Fiction: Marlon Brando's Bizarre 2002 Master Class

Marlon Brando did not look like this in 2002

Hollywood Reporter today released a truly bizarre report about an 10-day acting class taught by the legendary Marlon Brando in 2002. The story is so odd and improbable that I was checking throughout for an April 1 dateline or an indication that it was a satirical story, but it seems to check out. Quotes below are from the article, which you really must read.

Though he was in poor health and seemingly mentally unstable, a whole assortment of A through C-list Hollywoodites signed up for what Branco advertised as an acting workshop in 2002. The idea was that the recorded footage of the class could be licensed and sold - possibly on QVC. Attendees included Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Edward James Olmos, John Voight, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Dean Stanton and Robin Williams, who was there for every minute of every session. Michael Jackson showed up for one class, as did Leonardo DiCaprio, who balked at signing the camera release and was ejected from the class by Brando.

Brando hired AMERICAN HISTORY X director Tony Kaye to supervise the camera crews documenting the event. Kaye reportedly showed up on the first day of shooting dressed as Osama Bin Laden. Brando himself didn't disappoint in the weirdness department either.

"When the doors flung open, the 78-year-old Brando appeared wearing a blond wig, blue mascara, a black gown with an orange scarf and a bodice stuffed with gigantic falsies. Waving a single rose in one hand, he sashayed through the warehouse, plunked his 300-pound frame onto a thronelike chair on a makeshift stage and began fussily applying lipstick.

"I am furious! Furious!" Brando told the group in a matronly English accent, launching into an improvised monologue that ended, 10 minutes later, with the actor turning around, lifting his gown and mooning the crowd."

Once the classes were in full swing, they remained odd in the extreme.

"During one of the sessions, a troupe of little people and a team of Samoan wrestlers — Brando somehow had wrangled all of them to the warehouse on the same day — did improvisation exercises together on the stage. Another time, Brando plucked a homeless man from a dumpster and brought him in for acting lessons. He had students strip naked in front of the entire class. ("The girls were shaking, like, 'What the f— am I doing here?' " recalls Olmos. "But Brando had a reason for it. He always had a reason.") While a jazz musician played Brando's favorite tunes on a rented piano, Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker who had crossed the Twin Towers, did stunts on a high-wire."

But it wasn't just a circus. Real lessons were taught. Brando, after all, was one of the greatest actors of all time.

For Robin Williams' improv, Brando brought in a real used-car salesman whom he had imported from a Ford dealership in North Hills. The salesman left the improv master speechless. "We didn't know he was a real car salesman," says Olmos. "We didn't know who he was or where he was from. We just thought it was going to be another improv. But Brando brought this guy onstage, and he tells him to try to sell a car to Robin Williams. And then he tells Robin, 'But you don't want to buy the car.' And all of a sudden, this car salesman kicks in, and he's incredible. He was so fast he wouldn't let Robin get a word in. But that was the point of the exercise. Even Robin Williams, who was an expert at improv, who was so quick he could annihilate you, had to listen and react when dealing with the truth. Even Robin Williams gets slapped in the face by reality. That was the lesson Marlon was teaching."

The footage of all of this exists, but it is likely to be held up legally and never officially released. Doubtless somewhere in the Hollywood Hills a bootleg exists and someone is laughing right now. In the meantime these videos seem doomed to a DAY THE CLOWN CRIED-style legendary status.

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