Brando blissful on ‘Don Juan’ set

GOOD MORNING: “I’ve never felt as well and never been happier,” Marlon Brando told me between takes of “Don Juan De Marco and the Centerfold.” He greeted me with a bearhug as I arrived on the set, his (psychiatrist) office, where he was assuring patient Johnny Depp that he is indeed “Don Juan.” The “stage” has been created from a section of the large corporate h.q. of C&R Clothiers in an industrial park in Culver City. The space is more than adequate for this movie office set — plus an airplane mock-up being readied for another scene. “Don Juan,” also starring Faye Dunaway, is an American Zoetrope pic produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Fred Fuchs with Patrick Palmer exec producing, Jeremy Leven directing (first time) his screenplay. After watching the young Depp and 70-year-old Brando in a moving scene, director Leven noted, “It’s like watching the passing of the mantle.” Leven thanks Brando for “saving my ass” with his frequent suggestions in scenes and dialogue … Brando reminds, “When the audience looks up at that giant screen — what they see is the blink of an eye — they don’t necessarily hear the words.” He knows how to blink those still-sharp, piercing blue eyes. And his voice — it still makes the most of the simplest of lines. His profile remains unmistakable, formidable, his face unlined. His hair (“I wish it were mine,” he laughs) is light brown-ish and appropriately sparse for his role’s age 65. He long ago lost his ponytail and decided not to be bearded for the role of a shrink. How refreshing. Depp, speaking with a Latin accent throughout — except for one sequence — wears his hair long, a Don Juan-like Van Dyke beard, dashing Spanish officer’s knee-high boots, tight trousers and widely opened white silk shirt. Brando’s in a black sweater-shirt and slacks. “I’ve lost 40 pounds,” he volunteers, “and I plan to lose 30 more.” When the scene is over in one take, director Leven compliments ’em, “Excellent!” Brando answers, “‘All right’ would have been good enough!” During a break, I asked Marlon why he was doing this picture, his first since his brief outing in “Christopher Columbus” in ’91 and the very funny “The Freshman” in ’90. “For the money,” he laughed. He is not getting the million-$ a day that he gets for one-week roles — but he has his usual percentage of the gross.

THE SIGN ON BRANDO’S TRAILER DOOR reads: “Please Enter, Do Not Knock.” He led Depp and me into the normal-sized star’s trailer — nothing out of the ordinary — but Depp, as a joke, had decorated the place with bizarre, giant scarves, which made it look like an “Arabian Nights” house of pleasure … Brando compliments Depp’s acting and the young thesp thanks Brando for his invaluable help. “How do you follow working with Marlon Brando?” Depp asks. Marlon believes Depp should have the opportunity to study at RADA to further his abilities. Brando deplores the fact that actors in the U.S. do not have the same opportunities English thesps have — to work regularly in small stage roles — especially in Shakespeare. Brando quotes copiously from Shakespeare on almost every subject during our conversation — which covers almost every subject. At 70, Brando is full of plans for the future — and the present –“as soon as I get in shape,” he adds as he sips a diet lemon drink … He wants to open a museum in L.A. dedicated to the American Indian. He still has hopes to do films about the Indians. “I have such wonderful stories,” he says sadly, recalling plans with a major TV producer and a network that went awry a few years back. I suggested he talk with Jane Fonda and Ted Turner — TBS aired a six-hour, three-part “The Native Americans” in November ’93 and Jane has plans for further stories. “I’ll call her,” said Brando … He has plans for two of his Tetiaroa islands in Tahiti, one to be devoted to preserving Tahitian culture, the second as a natural reserve. He just visited Nicaragua, calls it a great country in which to raise children (he has three youngsters — 11 altogether).

THERE’S ALREADY OSCAR TALK for “Don Juan” and New Line plans to release it at year’s end in order to qualify. I asked Marlon if he’d attend should he be nominated again. You recall he did not attend on March 27, 1973, when he won for “The Godfather”– Sacheen Littlefeather accepted for him, explaining Brando’s feelings about treatment of Indians in movies. “No, I wouldn’t attend,” he said softly, “I don’t believe in any awards — for myself. Look at that man,” as a set worker walked by. “He works 14-16 hours a day, drives an hour or two to his home. He doesn’t get any award. Everyone on a movie deserves an award — not just one person. But I don’t believe everyone should believe as I do — it’s just my opinion.” (It’s no secret he’s been offered countless “industry” awards) … His opinion of TV fare is low — except for the programming on the Discovery Channel. At home, Brando spends most of his time reading or — working at his computer — getting information as well as using it for artwork. He believes the future is in the information superhighway and in genetic engineering. He is confident movie sets will, “in four years,” be computerized, permitting the actor to work minus old-fashioned movie stage restrictions. He interrupted his serious conversation to laughingly ask, “How can you stand listening to actors, like me, talk about themselves year after year?” “Well, it’s only been 49 years,” I said. I got another Brando bearhug and I said goodnight, hoping to hear more about this actor from another movie set — soon.

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