the unseen side of marlon brando

We talk to Rebecca Brando, Marlon's daughter, about a new documentary that reveals, entirely through his home recordings, the actor's deepest thoughts and feelings.

by Samuel Fragoso
02 September 2015, 8:50am

Halfway through Listen to Me Marlon, a mesmerising portrait of the eponymous actor, Marlon boasts that as a desirable young man he was "destined to spread my seed far and wide." As the record of time reveals, he birthed a whopping 16 children in the course of his life. On a foggy San Francisco morning, we sat down with Rebecca Brando, one of two children he had with Mexican-American actress Movita Castaneda. Now a clinical psychologist, Rebecca reflected on her time with Marlon — the loving father, consummate prankster, and deeply complex man.

Did you know about these private recordings prior to the film?
I didn't know there were so many of them, but I knew that my father had recordings, because I would walk in the room and there he would be talking into his dictaphone or talking into his little cassette tape. He wouldn't talk on them in front of me, or in front of others. As soon as he'd see me, he'd stop talking but I knew that he was doing something. And in the end, when we were taking things that were sentimental to us, I opened up a drawer and there were lots of labelled cassettes, and I took those just to hear his voice, later on, when I was ready. When I heard about the possibility [of the film], because the trustees had been going through storage and they found lots of tapes, I said, "I have some too."The ones I had were self-hypnosis and meditative tapes.

What was your initial reaction when you saw all this material in the film?
I was very, very overwhelmed with emotion because after ten years, you hear your father's voice… because he himself was a person who had a presence, just a demanding presence. Even if you didn't see him come into the room, you could sense that he was in the room. His voice on top of that was just so hypnotic and mesmerising, you would hang on every word he said. So, when you come and see him on the big screen and hear it in surround sound, it's that much more powerful. So I was really overwhelmed with emotion, and then I had to see it again to pull myself out of it and put myself in a public perspective, and see it as a film rather than as my father.

I'm not sure how you could distance yourself though
My father was very into psychoanalysis. He did a lot of self-psychoanalysis, I think that kind of helped me become a clinical psychologist. It took me a bit to compartmentalise and step away from that perspective of "Okay, Rebeca, put yourself aside." So it was difficult, but I was able to do it. And now I've seen it like five times and each time I see something new, and I pay attention, and I learn from it, I really do.

The movie is very much about memory. In watching it, did any images of him come to mind from your past?
A lot of images of him are of his younger years, so I didn't know him like that. But when it cut to the house, that was a set, the dark house, but the outside was his real house. And you see the tree and some chairs and a table, and right next to this tree is the sauna room, and that's the place where my dad and I spent a lot of time just talking. So that evoked a lot of emotion and a lot of good memories, because that was the time where you're enclosed in a small place, and you're sweating, and you're talking. He would have me talk about my siblings or my mum or ask "Are you happy? What boy are you dating now?" Really good conversations.

So he was talkative?
Very talkative. I know he comes across as very quiet. A lot of times, he was just calm. He had a very gentle, soothing voice. I don't think there was one time where he raised his voice at me. But he was talkative, he was a great storyteller, told jokes, was a big prankster, constantly playing pranks on you.

What kind of pranks?
We would all be sitting in the dining table, and he would say, "OH I forgot my reading glasses. Would you mind getting my reading glasses from my bedroom? "I'd say "Okay." So I'd hop up and go get them, and then I'd come back and find that everybody had left the table and I'm all by myself. And I'm thinking, "Where is everyone? Where did everyone go? What happened?"And they'd all be hiding in the pantry. It's that kind of thing he would joke about. Or if we were eating spaghetti, and he'd pretend he'd sneezed, and you'd see a big spaghetti noodle dripping from his nose. Or we'd be eating out and he'd have me look at the window and distract me and turn my head away and say, "Look at that woman! She's wearing such a funny hat, what colour do you think it is?"And by the time I'd look around, I'd put my fork into my food and there'd be nothing to be found, he'd have taken it away.

Are there any ideas, or values, that he instilled in you at an early age?
Yeah, there are. He lent his voice to people who didn't have a voice - he used his celebrity for that. When he says [in the film], "I am my brother's keeper"- that just resonates with me, I don't know why, because I always wanted to do something as well. I got into politics, and I worked on the Hill, and I wanted to make change. And I thought, "Why am I like this? Duh, he was a huge activist." When he wanted to help others, he was just so empathetic. All through my childhood he would always help people who couldn't get an education, because they didn't have enough money, he'd say, "I'll pay for it."Even if it's my friend, he'd say, "Don't'worry about it, I've got it."And he didn't know her very well, he would just offer the opportunity. And I remember when I was in 6th grade, he asked me, "Is there someone in the classroom who doesn't have a friend?" And I said yes. "Well, I want you to go up to that person and talk to them and spend some time with them."And I said, "I already am."But that was the kind of thing… he was always trying to help the oppressed.


Text Sam Fragoso

Marlon Brando
Listen to me Marlon
Rebecca Brando