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Marlon Brando once named the five greatest actors of all time

Marlon Brando was one of those rare acting talents whose work actually revolutionised the craft forever, inspiring multiple generations of actors to follow in his footsteps. Remembered for his unforgettable work on iconic projects such as On the Waterfront and The Godfather among many others, Brando was a visionary.

Although Brando is regularly cited as one of the first practitioners of Method acting, the actor always maintained that he did not learn anything from Lee Strasberg. Instead, he credits the likes of Elia Kazan and Stella Adler with helping him develop a proper conceptualisation of naturalism in cinematic performances.

Brando’s focus on naturalism formed a major element of his approach to acting and he often tried to have regular conversations with the cast and the crew before delivering his lines in order to get into the natural rhythm of conversations. His definite idea of what acting is made him immune to the charms of many stars.

Since Brando had an aversion to predictability in acting which is why he did not consider the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable to be great actors. While many favoured the solidified on-screen persona of a star, Brando compared such actors to breakfast cereals because of their bland monotony.

When asked about some of the actors whose works he admired, Brando cited the likes of James Cagney and Paul Muni due to their unique approaches to acting which were embedded within the framework of naturalism. He was also impressed by contemporary acting talents such as Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson among others.

The five greatest actors of all time, according to Marlon Brando:

  • Paul Muni
  • James Cagney
  • John Barrymore
  • Fredric March
  • Spencer Tracy

During the theatrical production of A Flag Is Born, Brando was overwhelmed by the talent of Muni and claimed that it was “the best acting I ever saw in my life.” Since then, Brando maintained a lifelong admiration for the legend and always cited him as his favourite.

In his tribute to Brando, Nicholson argued that Brando surpassed Muni’s achievements: “Perhaps he would tell you he saw the same thing in Paul Muni, but the truth is, Brando was always different. The movie audience just knew that he was it. And he remained it. For my money, nothing has ever gotten near him.”

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