Even at the time, it was a coup. Journalist Lawrence Grobel persuaded Marlon Brando to agree to an extended interview in 1978 on Brando's Tahitian island, Tetiaroa. It took six months of cajoling, plus an agreement to stick exclusively to the plight of Native Americans. The wide-ranging interview ended up lasting 10 days. This was the year before "Apocalypse Now" came out, at a point in Brando's life when he was, depending on the moment, brilliant, beguiling or seriously weird.
Three decades later, movie director Brett Ratner's publishing house, Rat Press, has repackaged the sprawling encounter as a book called "Conversations With Marlon Brando." The bulk of the book is an edited transcript of the 10-day visit: a meandering, occasionally contentious discussion, with nearly equal proportions of the profound and the mundane. "You think 'Marlon Brando' and you think of the mystique," Ratner says. "But you read it and you say, 'Oh, he's a real guy'." Some readers might disagree. Toward the end of their fortnight, Grobel asks Brando what repulses him. "The most repulsive thing that you could ever imagine is the inside of a camel's mouth," the screen legend replies. "That, and watching a girl eat a small octopus or squid … The viscosity of some people's saliva is remarkable." Brando's powers of observation are tremendous. And alarming. Reading the book, you're hardly surprised that his genius often tipped into madness.
Ratner says the long-ago interview offers a rare opportunity to "learn from" an icon. It's also a monument to a level of access that would never happen today. Stars now are managed, handled and packaged like products rather than people, and A-list interviews rarely last more than a few hours. A 10-day visit (at the subject's home, no less) is unthinkable. There will never be another movie figure like Marlon Brando—and if there were, thanks to the current laws of Hollywood, we'd never find out.