Marlon Brando & Johnny Depp


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Written by Marek Martowicz (fayansiarz)

Marlon Brando, who co-starred with Johnny Depp in "Don Juan De Marco" (1995), stated that Depp is the greatest actor of his generation. And who might know better than Mr Brando himself, a man who also was "the greatest actor of his generation", and is claimed by many to be the greatest of the 20th century.

But Brando’s admiration for Depp didn’t concern only his acting skills, it was much deeper fascination. They both met filming "Don Juan" and became quick friends. Brando surely became Depp’s master conductor, and Depp his so called protégé. But didn’t have Depp something to offer to Brando as well?

Brando was an outsider for almost all of his life. At first mainly on personal level but soon he also turned his back on Hollywood, which raised him to stardom in the past. He never really cared for his early star glory, he did it because he loved acting, or as it is often quoted "just for money". What people thought about him — was he a god to them or not, was he spiritual mentor and actor’s freedom leader — he didn’t care. The beginning of Depp’s career was quite different from Brando’s. He didn’t have an easy start, although he got noticed in Hollywood quite early and some got propositions which could quickly bring him fame and money but he refused to accept such "grace". He did turn down many roles in big budget flicks which could bring him fame and glory ("Speed", "Legends of the Fall" to name few). But, didn’t he become famous anyway? He doesn’t sell himself for commercial acclaim though and never did, quite opposite from many young actors from his generation (Keanu Reeves as an example). Depp truly believes in magic of cinema, he’s a romantic type and likes challenges, so he stuck with independent films from the very start. Depp often says how he likes to test himself. Not only is he an outsider, like Mr Brando was in real life, but he often creates such image in films, something which was similar to Brando as well. Depp’s way of acting is minimalistic, which Brando adapted after his Hollywood glory days. Depp hates over dramatization, overacting that is all about impressing the audience with a ravishing performance instead of dealing with private emotions. He usually crafts his characters using softened and frugal gestures, not drowning in mannerism and becoming schematic. Such schematic image got Brando somewhat trapped, he became an icon and tried to escape it. He escaped even to Europe, where he played in Bertolucci’s "Last Tango in Paris" — quite controversial film at that time. In this movie he created an image of none else but an outsider, a lonely mature, cynical man who found his passion in much younger girl.

Of course, because of difference in age between Depp and Brando their characters can’t be compared. They represent and play different generations of people, experiencing alternate dilemmas. But their way of acting is very similar, minimalism being a main characteristic. So, when such old outsider Brando, quite controversial and eccentric person, met Johnny Depp it was quite clear they’ll get along pretty well. Depp is as much eccentric and difficult as Brando was. Both are very alike, with similar views on life, on film industry, fame. They surely share a lot in common. But there’s a difference in their development as an actors and celebrities. Brando changed his path at some point, from glorious and an easy one to unsure but more ambitious. He turned down big budget productions for more artistic side of cinema, while Depp followed such path from very beginning. And, especially nowadays, it’s a very difficult path and ought to be more appreciated. It is where talent and true love for the film matters more than money and fame. I think that is what Brando admired about Depp, he admired his choices and courage. That was what Depp could offer him, a faith in new generations. A faith in young people who were much like Brando himself and were successful. Their meeting was almost symbolic and spiritual happening. Because young Depp represented everything which Brando decided to adapt in his late years. No wonder they both were impressed by each other.

To see them working together again was just a matter of time. They met in 1997, in a scene of Depp’s directional debut "The Brave". Depp’s first, and as he claims, last directional work. Marlon Brando also had a directorial career that consisted of only one film, western called "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961). After that, he said he won’t direct again, just like Depp… a lesson from Brando? In "The Brave", Johnny plays Raphael, who’s face carries mark of inner drama, if not a tragedy, because, in order to save his family, he has to sacrifice his rather wretched life. Brando plays demonic McCarthy, a man who hides some deep and dark knowledge about human existence. He recruits suiciders who are ready to act in "snuff" films the role of their life (and death), and gives them "emancipation". For these two characters "American Dream" is nothing more than just a sarcastic slogan.

And as in film, I believe it was a message they carried in real life as well. Discussing and laughing together at all that omnipresent rat race, fake commercialism swallowing people and shallow principles being main virtues of nowadays societies where true love and spirit vanishes. They became real friends. And I’m sure it was a great tragedy for Depp when Brando died (2004), just like for many other of his devotees and fans. Brando was a master. But there’s something left after him, a part of him, I believe, in Johnny Depp. In Depp, who ought to be even more appreciated. I have faith in him and admiration. Not just because Brando had, but because he’s a damn fine actor.