Marlon Brando Failed To Land Star Trek But He’s Still The Contender
A recently revealed story told in a new book, Brando almost joined the Star Trek franchise. The tale coincides with another story about how Leonard Nimoy almost directed that same movie.
It is as much a sad story about the demise of a once well-regarded actor (Brando not Nimoy, duh) as it is about how lost was the Star Trek franchise in the 1990s.
Marlon Brando had his share of critics, especially within the rank and file of Hollywood, but the screen liked him, as did the investors who made big bucks off his successes.
He may have ended his career with a reputation for being unmanageable, but at one time he was something to fawn over. He was Stanley Kowalski. He was Colonel Kurtz. He was Don Vito Corleone.
Whatever your opinion of the man who almost joined the Star Trek universe (a fail for which no-one will remember him) he remains one of the most influential actors of his time.
An Actor Prepares
When Brando came up, the art of acting divided between two schools. The original school was Constantin Stanislavski’s system of acting. Stanislavski was a well-trod Russian actor and director.
Another man, Lee Strasberg, guru to Hollywood actors in early Hollywood, taught a bastardized version of Stanislavski’s system. We call Strasberg’s version the method or method acting.
The differences between the two schools are in their approaches. Stanislavski found that some of his early approaches, the ones Strasberg bastardized, created brilliant performances but left actors a psychological mess. Think Marilyn Monroe.
Although Brando studied with Strasberg briefly, he was a student of Stella Adler, a former disciple of Strasberg’s who broke away from his method. What exactly was Brando’s approach may not have fallen into either school.
Whatever is was, at least for a time, it was something to watch.
Building A Character
The big cinematic breakout for Brando was A Streetcar Named Desire, but he’d acted on stage for years. In fact, the role he played in Streetcar was Stanley Kowalski, one he played both on Broadway and in Hollywood.
No other movie better captures his raw speaking style than that one. Brando was a mumbler, barely used his lips to speak, but he also affected the non-regional cinema accent used by actors of that time.
In time, we learned that Brando could contort his voice into many accents, as he did in, “The Godfather” or “On the Waterfront.”
Like his contemporary Laurence Olivier, Brando brought something of his stage roots to the screen, but the two actors were not the same. Critics compared them both to the great John Barrymore (yes, related to Drew) but that’s where the similarities ended.
Many would say Brando’s career peaked in the 50’s, that by the 60’s he was in decline, but it wasn’t until the 70’s we saw him in “The Godfather” and the campy favorite, “Superman.”
It was the Don Juan DeMarco and Island of D.R Moreau years, the 90s, where Brando couldn’t memorize lines and looked terrible.
That was when he started sniffing around Star Trek, desperate to keep his estate from collapsing. The man literally owned an island, which was bleeding him, but working with him was not fun anymore.
He couldn’t or wouldn’t memorize lines. Instead, he wore an in-ear transmitter, and someone fed him his lines. Adding insult to injury, hiring him was not cheap.
An Actor’s Work on a Roll
When the script for the 7th installment of the Star Trek movies came about, Brando expressed an interest in playing the bad guy, Soran.
At that point, Nimoy had already passed on directing the film. The story would not include his character of Spock, but that wasn’t why he declined. Nimoy thought the script begged for a massive overhaul, and the studio wasn’t interested in a big rewrite.
Then Brando’s reps contacted the producer, Rick Berman. In Stephen Galloway’s book “Leading Lady,” he quotes Berman:
“[Brando] wanted a huge amount of money. It was numerous millions of dollars, much more than she had any interest in paying. This was also at a point when he was quite overweight, and it was an action-hero type of role.”
This wasn’t the first time Brando’s weight caused a stir. When he reported to the set of “Apocalypse Now” he’d agree beforehand that he would lose weight for the role, but he hadn’t lost a pound.
The director, Francis Ford Coppola, decided to take the character a whole different direction, shooting Brando at angles to reduce the focus on his weight.
Needless to say, Brando didn’t make the Star Trek movie. It was probably for the best. That was a fanboy movie, sloppy and as Nimoy observed, in need of an overhaul.
Brando’s last film was The Score in 2001. He passed away in 2004, leaving behind an estate valued at more than $20 million. Not bad for a guy who had as many detractors as he did fans.
We remember him for his wins, the same way we’d like for others to remember us.