acting classes

Marlon Brando’s Star-Studded Acting Class Sounds Totally Insane

20 Oct 1998 --- ©1998 RAMEY PHOTO Brando & Penn Marlon Brando and Sean Penn make a public appearance in support of Geronimo Pratt. The L.A. District Attorny is trying to have Pratt sent back to jail forthe 1968 murders. Shot by JR on 12/15/1998. JR --- Image by © ©1998 Phil Ramey/RameyPix/Corbis
Marlon Brando in 1998. Photo: Phil Ramey/Corbis

Did you know that Marlon Brando hosted a ten-day acting class in 2002? Did you know that some of the biggest stars in Hollywood were there? And did you know that it sounds absolutely nuts? Now, thanks to The Hollywood Reporter, you do. The mag has the story of Brando’s acting workshop, which the actor cooked up as a scheme to help pay for the upkeep on his Tahitian island. In attendance were actors like Edward James Olmos, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Pete Coyote, Jon Voight, and Leonardo DiCaprio (who left after one day), who all mixed with young drama students. Here’s how THR sums up the sessions:

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. Michael Jackson popped in for a class. Robin Williams attended all 10 days, at one point doing a 30-minute improv rou­tine about haggling with a used-car salesman.

On another day, Brando arrived at the class dressed in elaborate drag, performing an angry monologue that climaxed with him lifting up his dress to moon his audience. “He was stressing a basic fundamental of acting,” enthused Olmos, “which is that you must be willing to show your ass and fail.” Filming the workshop was English director Tony Kaye (American History X), a close friend of Brando’s who offended Jon Voight by showing up one day dressed as Osama bin Laden. “Bush had said, ‘Don’t let [9/11] stop you from being yourself; if [the terrorists] stop you from being yourself, they’ve won,” Kaye recalled to THR. “So I thought, ‘I’ll dress like Osama bin Laden’ … that’s me being myself.

Despite the existence of hours of digital recordings from the classes, Brando’s estate says the footage will never be released. “There’s no reason to do it,” executor Mike Medavoy told THR. “It was a later period in Brando’s life … If Marlon were around today, he’d tell you not to write about the seminar.”

Brando’s 2002 Acting Class Sounds Totally Insane