“I started seeing the parallels”: Josh Brolin Based His Thanos on The Godfather Star Marlon Brando’s 1 Elusive Role That Was a Filmmaking Nightmare

Taking on a character known for his menacing presence is no easy feat, but Josh Brolin’s dedication and determination paid off.

Josh Brolin in Avengers Infinity War, Marlon Brando in The Godfather

Seldom have actors in the history of Tinseltown left as much of an enduring legacy as Marlon Brando. The late actor’s legacy can still be felt in the film industry, thanks to his iconic roles in flicks like The Godfather and A Streetcar Named Desire. But one of his most elusive and challenging roles was in Francis Coppola’s 1979  epic war movie, Apocalypse Now.

Did we mention that this was the role that paved the way for one of the most enduring villains in recent superhero cinema?

Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather

Marlon Brando in The Godfather

Josh Brolin brought Thanos to life in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) in a way that had never been seen before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And according to the actor himself, his inspiration came from Brando’s portrayal in Apocalypse Now.

After all, Brando pushed the envelope with his portrayal of rebellious military officer Colonel Kurtz.

How Has the Apocalypse Now Shaped Josh Brolin’s Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War?

Josh Brolin, who previously starred in critically acclaimed films such as Sicario and No Country For Old Men, surely surprised many by deciding to take the lead in the most lucrative superhero movie franchise ever.

In 2020, Brolin discussed accepting an offer to play Thanos in a post-credit scene of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) in an interview with the Team Deakins podcast:

“I had turned down quite a bit of [comic book movies]. Again, people are like “money”. But when I said yes to [Guardians] it was basically a cameo. There was not a lot of money involved. I probably shouldn’t say this but I’m gonna say it. If [I was offered] one of the Avengers [themselves] I probably wouldn’t have done it. But the fact that it was all the Avengers against this one guy? I liked that aspect of it.”

Josh Brolin as Thanos in a still from Avengers: Infinity War

Josh Brolin as Thanos in a still from Avengers: Infinity War

Yes, Marvel Comics was not the source of Brolin’s most insightful understanding of the character of Thanos. It originated from conversations regarding Apocalypse Now with the Russo Brothers, the directors of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The Dune: Part Two actor, 56, said in the same podcast episode:

“I mentioned [Marlon] Brando in Apocalypse Now [to the Russo Brothers]. This [character] who’s very elusive and kind of insane but what he’s saying makes a lot of sense. And it’s poetical. I started seeing the parallels. I loved being able to resort to a film like Apocalypse Now when I’m doing something like Avengers.”

But what many people don’t know is that Marlon Brando’s film, also starring Robert Duvall, Albert Hall, and Frederic Forrest, was not free of obstacles. That being said, it is no secret that making the movie was a nightmare.

Apocalypse Now: A Deep Dive Into the Turbulent Filming Process

A still from Apocalypse Now (Credit: United Artists)

A still from Apocalypse Now

Film projects can be severely hindered by complexities and roadblocks, and Apocalypse Now is no exception. It was an unprecedentedly long shoot that took 238 days to wrap (see The Guardian), and during that time, it seemed like almost everything that could go wrong did.

The first of these challenges was when director Francis Coppola had to substitute one of his leading actors after going over footage that had been shot over several days (via Far Out Magazine). Next, there was an even bigger challenge concerning the movie’s lead star.

Martin Sheen, the main actor of Apocalypse Now, who was largely responsible for the film’s narrative and appeared in almost every scene, suffered a heart attack a few months after the movie’s production began—as reported by Rolling Stone. Thus, this resulted in more delays, the film’s budget soared and the shooting schedule was once again extended (per Movie Web).

Anyway, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) documents a few of these film’s challenges. All of this culminated in a ground-breaking epic that was acclaimed both critically and commercially, obtaining nominations for eight Academy Awards, with an approval rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

And despite these challenges, Brando’s performance in Apocalypse Now is still considered one of his best, and it’s clear that it left a lasting impact on future generations of actors.

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