Who's the Next Brando? Nobody.

Intuitive and intense, Marlon Brando rewrote the rules of acting and inspired generations of imitators. Where did they go?

Who's the Next Brando? Nobody.
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Note to subscribers: Starting this month I'll be writing regular pieces – movie reviews and commentary – for The Washington Post while their staff critic, Ann Hornaday, is on book leave for a year. I'll be making those articles available for paid subscribers a few days after they run in the WaPo, starting with this think-piece on the legacy of Marlon Brando, pegged to his centenary. Thanks; I hope you enjoy it.

(Originally published in The Washington Post, April 3, 2024)

On Oct. 19, 1944, a play titled “I Remember Mama” opened on Broadway. It was a sentimental drama, centered on a Norwegian immigrant family, that had a smallish role played by a 20-year-old newcomer: Marlon Brando. Bobby Lewis, a veteran of Lee Strasberg’s legendary Group Theatre, was in the audience that night, and years later he described to a biographer the scene in which Brando first enters: “Suddenly, in the back, down the stairs comes this kid munching an apple. … [Brando] started to say his lines, and I said to myself, ‘It’s a stagehand. Someone’s just wandered onstage, or maybe it’s an understudy. The fellow that’s supposed to play the part isn’t here, and this guy, he’s not acting.’”

He’s not acting — there it is, right there: the Brando revolution that reinvented stage and screen performance and recalibrated male stardom for all time. Almost.

April 3 marks the 100th anniversary of Marlon Brando’s birth — the centenary of one of the most important figures of 20th-century popular culture. But where are his descendants: the brooding, mercurial, ultra-male actors who pull performances out of their guts and refuse to talk about it afterward? They were everywhere for decades — and now they’re hardly to be seen.