Inside the Insanity of Marlon Brando's Absolutely Bonkers Secret Celebrity Acting Seminar
Back in 2002, less than two years before his death, acting legend Marlon Brando taught a 10-day acting seminar for 20 students, who were a mix of young actors and A-list celebrities. Among Brando’s students were Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Edward James Olmos, Whoopi Goldberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robin Williams, and Harry Dean Stanton. Why the hell isn’t this a thing we know more about?
The amazing part of this seminar is that the idea of a Marlon Brando master class is an actor’s dream. The man revolutionized acting in A Streetcar Named Desire. He (and James Dean) changed young actors’ ideas of what acting could be. How could a class with the man be anything less than spectacular? Well, it was spectacular. In a beautiful exploding meltdown sort of way. Apparently the whole thing was a get-rich-quick scheme intended to sell DVDs on acting on QVC. He rented a warehouse, invited a bunch of his famous friends, didn’t have any sort of syllabus, and said he planned to just talk about his work process and “the feelings that I get from acting.” Here are a few of the most bonkers things to happen during the class, as told by The Hollywood Reporter.
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.
The special guests
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… 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.He also brought in a police officer and a car salesman to improvise scenes with the actors.
“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.”
That time Brando’s videographer dressed up like Osama bin Laden.
Brando hired Tony Kaye, the director famous for saying Edward Norton “raped” his American History X, to film the class for the QVC DVDs.
Only 13 months after 9/11, [Kaye] came dressed as bin Laden, complete with turban and tunic. “[President] 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 tells THR, explaining his thinking at the time. “So I thought, ‘I’ll dress like Osama bin Laden.’ Because doing something that ridiculously stupid — that’s me being myself.” Kaye always has been a grenade-thrower — he once “exhibited” a homeless man in front of the Tate art gallery in London — but the bin Laden costume went too far. Voight particularly was offended and threatened to leave the seminar. Brando made Kaye change clothes.
Well, pretty much everybody. Tony Kaye stormed out after Brando screamed at him, and took most of the young students with him. They then retreated to their own studio where they staged a “mock trial” of Brando, charging him with “repression in the theater.” Leonardo DiCaprio, then 27 and about to star in Catch Me If You Can, asked if he could run the video release form by his lawyer and Brando kicked him out. Only Sean Penn, Robin Williams and Edward James Olmos stayed to the end.
Tapes of the seminar still exist, but a producer named Mike Medavoy now owns all of them (via Brando’s will), and he says there’s no way they’ll be released.
“It was a later period in Brando’s life,” he says, suggesting the actor would be better remembered for his more youthful body of work. “If Marlon were around today, he’d tell you not to write about the seminar. He’d tell you to write about something more important. He’d tell you to write about war or about the environment …”
Vivian Kane thinks if she ever has a full mental break, it will be over distress of knowing she will never, ever see these tapes. Please let her see the tapes. Please?
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