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Film

Michael Caine on the first time he met Marlon Brando

@SamWKemp

Did anyone ever truly know Marlon Brando? The actor brought an enigmatic charisma to his roles that simultaneously invited intrigue and denied intimacy. The overall effect was one of simmering unknowability, as though whole worlds lay behind the actor’s penetrating gaze. Here actor Michael Caine recalls the first time he met Brando in the mid-1960s.

The A Streetcar Named Desire star was a full ten years older than Caine, but had walked a similar path to the up-and-coming English actor. Recalling his first meeting with Brando in his memoir What’s It All About?: An Autobiography, Caine wrote: “Sidney Furie, who had directed me in Ipcress, was also working at Universal on a picture called The Appaloosa, a western starring Marlon Brando,” Caine began. “Sidney came to my dressing room one day almost in tears with horror stories at how badly things were going over on his set. The main problem seemed to be that Brando would not take him seriously.”

Even in those early days, Brando was notoriously difficult to work with. While valued for his acting, he was also regarded with suspicion and, occasionally, outright fear. Thankfully, Caine wasn’t put off: “I had some free time so I went back with Sidney to the set and met Brando, who was sitting on a horse at the time,” he continued. “We said hello and then Brando asked me what I thought of Sidney as a director. I told him that I thought he was excellent, and Brando said, in front of Sidney, ‘I don’t think he can direct traffic.’

Suddenly, Caine realised was in the middle of one of Brando’s infamous diva moments. “Sid just stood there terribly hurt,” Caine continued, “and I found myself saying, ‘It’s a western — there isn’t any traffic.’ This got a slightly tense laugh after a moment while everybody waited to see if Marlon laughed, which he did and things lightened up a bit.”

As you would expect, Caine wasn’t the only actor to cross paths with Brando. In the summer of 1955, Peter Fonda took a trip to Rome, where Peter’s dad Henry was filming War & Peace at Cinecittà Studios. On the flight, he bumped into Brando and Dean Martin, who were travelling to Europe to film The Young Lions: “I went down to the Stratocruiser lounge area and listened to Brando tell stories while Martin gave me beers,” Fonda recalled in Don’t Tell Dad: A Memoir. “It was a long flight and after many beers, I fell asleep … In those days, I wore a tie and jacket whenever I travelled. But even in my tie and jacket, sneaking cigarettes and beers, I felt like a newly whelped pup around Brando.”

To this day, Brando remains one of the most revered actors in American cinematic history. With someone that iconic, it’s easy to let the myth override the reality; with Marlon, the myth was the reality.