TV hosts love to ask actors about their favorite co-stars. A standout example is when Robert De Niro appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert back in 2019. The host started with a simple question:
“Greatest actor you’ve ever worked with?”
“Myself” quipped De Niro before naming his actual favorite co-star: Marlon Brando.
Brando was one of the most influential actors of the 20th century and is known for films like A Street Car Named Desire, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, and On the Waterfront. A star in his own right, he’s also ‘your favorite actor’s favorite actor.’
“All actors of my generation loved Marlon Brando…” De Niro explained with pride before diving into a story about working with Brando. The two starred together in the 2001 heist film The Score. Frank Oz, the movie’s director, told Robert that he was thinking about getting Brando for the movie and De Niro loved the idea but warned Frank that “what you get is what you get.”
De Niro knew that Brando’s best days were behind him and that the older actor would have trouble remembering his lines. And that’s exactly what happened when production started. “He’d come on, he’d say this, he’d do that. We loved him, so I didn’t care. Whatever he did, we’ll go off of that.”
“Did it have a vague relationship to what the lines were?” Colbert asked to give Brando the benefit of the doubt.
“Not really,” replied De Niro with a smile. The comment section of the Late Show clip pointed out how De Niro gave his longest answer when talking about Brando. The question was part of a “lightning round” segment that got completely sidetracked by De Niro’s love for the late actor.
De Niro had to direct Brando
There were more problems on the set than just Brando’s memory. Brando was notorious for being difficult to work with. He didn’t like Frank Oz and refused to be directed by him. The two had very tense disputes on set and production halted. Since Brando liked De Niro, Robert had to step up as Brando’s personal director. De Niro had previously directed A Bronx Tale but he admitted that he was nervous directing someone as legendary as Marlon Brando, one of his heroes.
Ultimately, they got through the issues and made a quality film that shows off their chemistry.
While The Score was a big deal for De Niro, his most iconic connection to Brando doesn’t involve the two actors sharing the screen together. Brando played the crime boss Vito Corleone in The Godfather and De Niro played the younger version of the character in Godfather, Part II.
Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor for playing Vito in the original and De Niro won Best Supporting Actor for Part II. This makes them the first actors to win academy awards for playing the same character in different movies. This has only been repeated once, with Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix both winning Oscars for their portrayals of the Joker. In a fun coincidence, De Niro starred alongside Joaquin in the 2019’s Joker.