To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty, to interpret it is his problem, and to express it his dedication.
~ Marlon Brando
Actors don’t come like Brando anymore. They come like Russell Brand and Lindsey Lohan. Packaged prima donnas full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Brando was a thinker. For all of his foibles and eccentricities – and for all of his failings – he was that. Thinking didn’t make him a good man or a good father but it did make him human. More human than so many others.
He was a feeler, also. Not in the vernacular of touchy feely but rather in the literal way of a man open to the world around him. Perhaps, too open.
They are quite connected, of course – thinking and feeling. What is there to think really if one doesn’t feel – really.
Brando’s sensitivity was at the surface in his film life and in his real life when we were allowed to glimpse it. So it was that in both places his grip could be hypnotic. We are strangely attracted to things vulnerable and powerful at once.
Thinkers and feelers – the way that he was – tend toward eccentricity and tend toward failure as much as success. It’s a risky business, being so tapped into life. Too many things affect us.
Maybe that’s what the best actors do – they let themselves be affected. Maybe that’s what the best people do, too. They take the risk to feel.
In their own way and in their own time, they will absorb and process what they have felt.
Isn’t it easier to do neither. To spend a life repelling input and processing only the simple things. That’s where most people live – the simple place. It’s easier not to be hurt there.
Brando for all of his intensity and for all of his intimidating presence was hurt. The hurt that comes from breathing in too much of the world. The hurt that comes from empathy. His foibles, his eccentricities and his failings were all the more compelling for it.
To his audience, acting seemed his vehicle for engaging life, exploring it. And, we through him.
Interestingly enough, Brando didn’t see it that way. For him, he was over appreciated for doing something that we all do to survive. We act.
In this clip with Dick Cavett in 1973, Brando discusses what he thinks of acting – what it is and why we do it, all of us.
There are different kinds of acting to be sure. Acting as cover. Acting as ‘social unguent’. And then there is the acting that Brando did – full of sound and fury, signifying something. Humanity.
Maybe that’s what Dick Cavett was getting at.
We act just to survive in a world that has become a contrivance. Brando’s acting reminded us, implored us, not to.
Don’t act. Live – even if it hurts.