Thespians

Is Ledger the New Brando?

Can you compare Heath Ledger with the great Marlon Brando? Jeremy McCarter does while reviewing Somebody, a new life of the Godfather star by Stefan Kanfer in Sunday’s New York Times. “Thinking about Brando’s legacy now leads to one name above all others: Heath Ledger,” McCarter writes. “As an introverted gay ranch hand in ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and the quivering, maniacal Joker in ‘The Dark Knight,’ [Ledger] touched the far extremes of a film actor’s range, and made both look as natural as Brando in his prime.” Noting that “even as a novice, Brando made other actors look as if they were painting with rollers,” McCarter observes that, like Orson Welles, Brando’s greatest work was always behind him. “Brando had barely reached his 30s before he entered his Elvis-in-the-jumpsuit phase,” he writes. And though Kanfer digs up little new about the brooding, difficult superstar, the attribution of his genius to the Method, the technique Lee Strasberg adopted from the great Russian stage director Stanislavsky, is wrong. “In fact Brando despised Strasberg,” writes McCarter. “He learned much more from [the legendary actress and teacher Stella] Adler, though she knew better than to take credit for his success.”