For many, Richard Donner's Superman films are the definitive take on the mythos. What went on behind the scenes though was just as entertaining as the film they put on screen.
In one such case, Donner talks about his interactions with Marlon Brando (via THR) who played Kal-El's father Jor-El. In addition to being one of the most revered names in the business, Brando had a reputation for being more about the money than the craft. When Donner called well-known agent Jay Kanter, he gave him some advice.
"He's going to want play it like a green suitcase." I said, "What does that mean?" "It means he hates to work and he loves money, so if he can talk you into the fact that the people on Krypton look like green suitcases and you only photograph green suitcases, he'll get paid just to do the voice-over. That's the way his mind works." I said, "F—," and then I called Francis Coppola. He said, "He's brilliant. He's got a brilliant mind. But he loves to talk. Keep him talking, and he'll talk himself out of any problem."
Donner recounts the first time he met with Brando at his house about the role of Jor-El.
"He said, "Why don't I play this like a bagel?" I was ready for him to say "a green suitcase" and he said "bagel." He said, "How do we know what the people on Krypton looked like?" He had good logic. He said, "Maybe they looked like bagels up there in those days?" I said, "Jeez, Marlon, let me tell you something." He'd just told us the story about a kid [and how smart he was] and I said, "It's 1939. There isn't a kid in the world that doesn't know what Jor-El looks like, and he looks like Marlon Brando." And he looked at me and smiled [and said], "I talk too much, don't I?" He said, "OK. Show me the wardrobe."
Corraling one of the biggest talents in film was no small feat, and thank God he was able to make that whole "Bagel" thing disappear. The whole article is well worth a read, as Donner goes into significant detail about how the film was cast, and the beginnings of his work on the project.
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