Marlon Brando Was A Menace On The Set Of Desirée

Every once in a while, you'll hear the story of an actor being an absolute disaster to work with. Something like Jared Leto's behavior when he was the Joker in "Suicide Squad," pulling countless disgusting and offensive pranks on cast and crew all for the pursuit of "Method acting." Now, when a middling talent like Jared Leto pulls that kind of stunt, society as a whole mostly agrees to laugh at him, and dislike him for treating crew members so poorly. But what happens when the person childishly tormenting everybody is a genuine generational acting talent?

Marlon Brando, the iconic star of films like "The Godfather” and "Apocalypse Now," was known and respected for his great talent as an actor. But it was because of this remarkable talent, that he was often able to get away with on-set antics that other performers could not dream of. From making ridiculous demands of producers to mooning an entire set of extras, Brando's services came at a price, and often an absurd and annoying one.

These hijinks were only exacerbated on the set of "Desirée," a 1954 film about Napoleon and his lover, with Brando portraying the diminutive general. Brando had not signed onto this film of his own free will, and because of that, he was going to make every single person involved in the production pay.

Difficult to work with

According to "Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando," Brando was slated to be in the epic "The Egyptian," alongside Bella Darvi, the alleged mistress of studio executive Darryl Zanuck. Brando dreaded the film, and believed that alongside what he saw as a clearly untalented co-star, the whole affair would be a massive waste of his time. And so, like any mature adult, Brando went into hiding. That's not a joke, he actually went on the run for a while. Zanuck had to hire people to find him. Brando went from hotel to hotel to friend's apartment until, finally, he made the mistake of stopping back at his apartment to grab some things. It was there that he was caught by U.S. marshals.

With a lawsuit from Zanuck incoming, and the filming of "The Egyptian" delayed, a deal was worked out that Brando would star in Zanuck's next film, "Desirée."

While Brando probably should have just felt lucky to have not been sued, he was extremely defiant on the set of "Desirée." He showed no respect for the director, Henry Koster, whom he saw as inept and untrustworthy. So he would intentionally forget his lines, use a weird pseudo-British accent in takes, and even spray extras with a fire hose. He continued these bouts of rebellion until producer Julien Blaustein threatened to have him fired and removed from the production. Brando finally calmed down after this threat, and turned in a lazy, but reasonable, performance in the film.

The price to pay

For a lesser performer, perhaps this behavior gets them blacklisted throughout Hollywood, or labeled as "difficult to work with." But clearly Brando's career came out of this just fine, with him continuing to be one of the biggest stars in the world for decades.

You'd like to think that the reason Brando was able to get away with these sorts of things, and even more heinous acts on set, was simply a product of the times, with 1950s Hollywood being a corrupt place that treated crew members and extras like garbage at the expense of the big movie stars. But modern actors like Jared Leto and Ezra Miller show that sort of attitude hasn't actually changed much.

I know I joked earlier that it seems worse when an average actor does it than when someone as clearly gifted as Marlon Brando does, but that's really not true. In fact, it's likely the idea that some of the "great actors" of history pulled these kinds of stunts that newer actors feel emboldened to do the same. Would Jared Leto be doing his "Method acting" if Daniel Day-Lewis wasn't famous for doing so, in ways that he has admitted himself were going too far?

Brando's shenanigans read as more charming than malicious at certain points, but the reality of him as an on-set tyrant is hard to ignore. If that's the kind of sacrifice we'll make for a great actor, I suppose that's that. It's just another indictment of the culture of Hollywood and filmmaking in general, that sometimes everybody's at the mercy of the unhinged artist.