Marlon Brando has been a true icon in Hollywood. Starting his career with the Elia Kazan magnum opuses A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront (for which he won his first Academy Award), he went on to appear in many iconic roles in the future. He was reputed for his dramatic monologues and the display of one of the earliest forms of method acting. Later, as his hair started turning grey and age began to take its toll, Brando still made the most memorable film comeback portraying Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, a role which assured him immortality as an artist.

Naturally, Brando has been a major influence on many other actors. Here, we count down a few such actors who were inspired by his work.

10 Jack Nicholson

Reputed as one of the greatest method actors himself, Nicholson has portrayed a wide variety of multi-layered characters conveying moods from charismatic (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) to depressed (About Schmidt) to paranoid (The Shining). Nicholson has penned articles and given interviews in praise of the veteran actor, citing how stunned he felt on seeing Brando’s acting in On The Waterfront as a child. The two even shared screen space in a Western called The Missouri Breaks.

As he explained in his own words, ‘as an artist, I equate Brando with Picasso. I’ve seen Picasso’s early drawings and so forth in the museums in Barcelona. I always thought if you took the first thing Picasso ever drew and continued to show everything he did until the day he died, you would see that some people are incapable of not being brilliant. When people are that way, it’s very hard for them to gauge their own position. I think Marlon knew he was the greatest.’

9 James Caan

Back in his day, James Caan had a good-enough acting stint with roles in various 70s and 80s films, but he became a household name with Misery and The Godfather. In the latter, he plays Sonny Corleone, the hot-tempered son of Brando’s mild-spoken mafioso.

“People always ask me who was the most influential guy to us young guys back then. Anyone who doesn’t tell you Brando was the man, they’re lying. He influenced more young actors of my generation than any actor.” He says, explaining the influence Brando has had on young actors.


8 Martin Sheen

Sheen collaborated with Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam war epic Apocalypse Now. He has been vocal on Brando’s influence and being his lifelong admirer, but he has also appreciated how Brando has used his influence to take stands on issues of social relevance.

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“For most of his adult life, he was an outspoken advocate for social justice often risking his career publicly supporting Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, as well as Native American rights and universal human rights. In fact, he inspired my own activism and made me proud to be an actor.” Such was his boldness that, when he won the Oscar for Best Actor for The Godfather, he never accepted the award. Instead, he had sent a Native American rights leader and actress to urge the Academy and the industry to improve the representation of Native Americans and other minorities in cinema.

7 Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp once did a film back in the 90s called Don Juan DeMarco, a light-hearted dramedy that Depp agreed on only when Brando joined the cast. Depp is known for his immense versatility, changing the guise, accent, and physical characteristics of each character of his. But, with his recent filmography, this ability of his has been seen as overkill by critics and audiences.

The one thing aside from acting which Depp learned from his friend and mentor Marlon Brando was to follow your own spirit as an artist rather than just sticking to everyone else’s expectations. “What is really satisfying is, like Marlon, getting to that place where he just doesn’t give a f***.” This carefree mantra from Marlon Brando has helped Depp feel more liberated.

6 Paul Newman

The late Paul Newman was the quintessential American hero in his prime, playing cowboys, soldiers, hustlers, and even Doc Hudson in his last film Cars. A celebrated figure, Newman has been often heard talking about his influence from Brando, who was once the “coolest dude” thanks to roles like The Wild One.

For Brando’s ease of playing troubled characters in such an effortless manner, Newman has expressed jealousy too. “I’m angry at Marlon because he does everything so easily. I have to break my ass to do what he can do with his eyes closed.”

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5 Al Pacino

Coming back to The Godfather universe, Al Pacino played Brando’s son and eventual successor in the trilogy. Along with this character of Michael Corleone, Pacino has established himself as one of the greatest artists of the gangster genre, as well as winning acclaim for other gritty characters. Pacino did have a scuffle with the Oscars when he got nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather (while he had more screentime than Marlon Brando, who was nominated for and eventually won Best Actor), his respect for the veteran actor has never wavered.

Pacino wasn’t inspired by Brando’s style initially but he has admitted that he “will be imitating him” till the day he dies. For Pacino, he wasn’t an actor but a phenomenon.

4 Ryan Gosling

Often being called as one of the sexiest men alive by tabloids, Ryan Gosling has had some acting chops too showing that he’s much more than a pretty boy. His filmography is selective, but he ensures that all his projects are trailblazers, from Drive to Blade Runner 2049. This is similar to Brando’s choice of roles in his career (except the 1970s when he had consequent flops) as he has been selective even for his smaller roles, like Apocalypse Now or Superman.

Talking on Brando’s influence, Gosling says that even current generations can be inspired by his dedication to getting in the skin of his characters, rather than just acting. “You can’t help but be affected by him,” he said. “I think all of us are”.

3 Edward Norton

“He’s the kind of person, personality-wise, who’s least suited to being venerated by others. And it must be so frustrating for him because it walls you off from just the pure experience of people and things. He’d love to sit in a café and watch people walk by on the street.” That’s how Brando’s The Score co-star Edward Norton felt about his personality type. Norton himself is known to engage in intense method acting for roles like that of a neo-Nazi skinhead in American History X.

Norton believes that actors should learn humility and dedication to the art from Marlon Brando, the other advantages/disadvantages of stardom would come gradually.

2 Sean Penn

The two-time Oscar winner and star of films like Mystic River and Milk recalled that Brando was no less of a god even when he wasn’t doing much acting. He attended a few sessions in an acting workshop he held which was also attended by Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey.

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The workshop, very much like Brando himself, was masterful yet enigmatic. There were times when Brando would want all the actors to go nude or give them acting advice while being dressed in drag. Penn has praised him for his genuineness; the star was definitely loathsome for the cast and crew in his projects, but he has his own unconventional ways to function as an actor.

1 Robert Duvall

Character actor Robert Duvall has shared quite amusing behind-the-scenes moments with the great Don Corleone, playing the gangster’s lawyer and aide Tom Hagen. Brando was notorious for not learning his lines and reading them from cue cards instead. Sometimes, Duvall literally had Brando’s dialogues stuck on his shirt so that the Don could read and get in character.

Duvall considers Brando a good mentor for himself and his generation of actors. In press interviews, he has revealed his sadness towards Brando’s health concerns and troubled family life later. He had heard that Brando asked his children not to pick up acting and felt sad that a legend like him said that acting is a “fine profession.”

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