Marlon Brando was known for his ravishing good looks, his outstanding performances, and his supreme skills as a method actor.
Some of the greatest known performances on the silver screen from the 1950s until the 1970s were by this inimitable actor. Though his mannerisms have often been replicated, none have ever been able to replicate the true essence of his style.
One of the most profound influences Brando has had on his peers and successive generations is his acting style, which is known as ‘method’ acting. This style of acting refers to an approach where the actor immerses themselves so deeply into the role of the character, that they emulate real and powerful emotions. Method acting conjures such an emotional response from the audience, that they tend to momentarily forget that the performance isn’t real.
Marlon Brando’s Early Acting Career
Brando’s childhood friends and family would argue that his acting career began long before any proper schooling. He was known as a talented mimic in his early years, mimicking mannerisms and voices of his classmates and family, which he dramatically acted out.
In the 1940s, Brando set off to New York to study theater under the influential German director, Erwin Piscator. From the get-go, Brando took acting very seriously, studying the craft with the utmost care and rigor.
He later moved on to study under legendary teacher Stella Adler. It is she who taught him the Stanislavsky System of acting, or ‘method’ acting, as it is popularly referred to today. Adler, when asked about Brando, claims that he was one of the earliest proponents of this system and even in her class, she knew there was something special about him.
A natural master of bringing realism to acting
Despite the complexity of this method, Brando was a master of conveying his method-style performances with a natural approach on the screen.
One of his most notable roles is that of the recent widower in the 1972 film, ‘Last Tango in Paris.’ The film gained extreme notoriety because of its apt portrayal of sexual violence and extreme emotional distress. The movie was extremely controversial for its portrayal of human behavior and Brando was criticized for the realism he brought to the character.
Sometimes method acting performances take it too far
Although though the audience is a big fan of method acting performances and appreciates the actor’s dedication to the craft, it tends to leave a deep emotional impact on the actor. Brando, for example, used to become so immersed in his character that he was unaware of the impact that his behavior was having on those around him.
Heath Ledger was in such a disturbed headspace after his performance as ‘The Joker’ in ‘The Dark Knight’, that many claim it was the reason that led to his death, which occurred only a few months after filming.
Other method acting performances
Some of the most notable students of his ‘method’ craft are Daniel Day Lewis, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Dean, Christian Bale, and Heath Ledger. Each of these performers has given sublime performances, like Heath Ledger’s ‘The Joker’ and Christian Bale in ‘The Machinist’. These performances are eerily similar to Brando’s style from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (1951), ‘On The Waterfront’ (1954) and ‘The Wild One’ (1953).
Realism in Hollywood is owed to method acting
Every great performer must tap into their inner reservoir of torment and emotional vulnerability to conjure their best possible performances. This was something that Brando was a master at.