I met Brando in his suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he has lived since his house was damaged in a widely discussed fire. “I was making popcorn but then I fell asleep,” explains Brando. Like much about the reclusive star, the popcorn fire is shrouded in mystery. All Brando will say is that he doesn’t make popcorn at night anymore. That job falls to one of the twenty plus members of his entourage, one of whom is named James.
His on-set demands have attained Hollywood infamy; he only responds to his character’s name, or, if being addressed by a social inferior, sir; his assistant gets her own golf-cart, and it must always be referred to as “the scooter.” Brando’s co-stars say that, with the exception of this one thing having to do with pudding, his quirks are outweighed by his talent. Indeed, Brando is an artist like no other, raging against the conventional limits acting like a beautifully drunken Prometheus. Yet Brando says he doesn’t even consider himself to be an actor. “I am a person,” he says. “If I don’t breathe then I will die.”
This philosopher-genius has a reading list as broad as his acting range. On Brando’s nightstand, I glimpse Nietzsche, Hemingway, and a prodigious number of takeout menus. He is the most respected man in cinema and claims he cannot remember the last time he drank water. His vulnerability comes to the surface when he shows me his beloved stick col-
lection. “I like the sharp ones the best,” he confesses. “But also the really big ones.”
On screen, Brando is pure energy, except for the part of him that’s pure sex. But in private, Brando-the-beast is surprisingly docile, twice pausing our interview to nap on the floor. When he awakes, Brando asks who I am, and then begins to talk about his family history in his trademark mumble. He says that he thinks his mother is dead and that his father, his mumble especially unintelligible here, invented the ballpoint pen. I ask Brando if I’ve heard him correctly. He says he doesn’t know. I ask when he was born. He doesn’t remember. I ask if he can remember anything about his childhood. He goes silent. After several minutes, it becomes clear that Marlon Brando has defecated on the hotel room floor. The world is his stage.