The Greatest Interviews: Marlon Brando with Truman Capote

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Kyoto, Japan, 1957. The actor was in town to shoot scenes from the movie Sayonara; the writer was there at the behest of the New Yorker to interview him. Capote portrayed Brando, now staring down the long middle stretch of his career, as an incessant, if sleepy, talker, someone who could drone on with an almost enviable self confidence. Wrote Capote, who had met Brando years before during his star-making turn as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, "Now he looked at people with assurance, and with what can only be called a pitying expression, as though he dwelt in spheres of enlightenment where they, to his regret, did not."

Brando opened up for Capote like a tap, telling the writer about his inability to love, his complicated relationship with his mother, who, he said, "broke apart like a piece of porcelain," how he wanted a family, and how the last eight or nine years of his life had been a "mess." Among other things, Brando claimed never to have read a novel in his entire life, that his phone was being tapped, that James Dean copied him until Brando recommended Dean find an "analyst," and that his excitement about anything lasted no longer than seven minutes.

"The secret to the art of interviewing, and it is an art," Capote said later, "is to let the other person think he's interviewing you. You tell him about yourself and slowly spin your web so that he tells you everything. That's how I trapped Marlon."

But who knows? Brando was, after all, a master actor and Capote, while seductive in his ability to weave stories from people, might not have recognized the cipher that faced him. "The little bastard spent half the night telling me all his problems. I figured the least I could do was tell him a few of mine," the actor said later.

As Brando walked Capote to the door in the wee hours of the morning after the interview, he called after the writer, "And listen! Don't pay too much attention to what I say. I don't always feel the same way."

Read the entire interview here. Tomorrow: F. Scott Fitzgerald meets the New York Post.

February 24, 2009 - 7:20am
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