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Brando was never naked on set - he kept undies on: miffed director Oz

BRENDAN KELLY, Montreal Gazette

Southam News contributed to this report

Monday 2 July 2001

The marketing hook for The Score was supposed to be the all-star cast featuring three generations of acclaimed Hollywood talent, including Edward Norton and the first-ever pairing of multiple-Oscar-winners Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro. But, to the dismay of most everyone associated with the Montreal-shot production, the big talking-point surrounding The Score is the lingering controversy over Brando's eccentric behaviour on the set here last summer. The Paramount Pictures crime thriller, due in theatres across North America July 13, continues to be dogged by questions about the legendary American actor's antics on the set, including suggestions that Brando strolled around naked from the waist down and repeatedly clashed with director Frank Oz.

Last summer, there were numerous media reports across the continent that Brando raised eyebrows among crew members by showing up for his scenes wearing nothing but a shirt. The word was that he was doing this in order to force Oz to shoot only from the waist up in a bizarre attempt to hide his rather wide girth. There were also reports that the 77-year-old thespian refused to work unless all of his scenes were directed by co-star De Niro rather than Oz. Brando was also said to have fought with De Niro over Brando's desire to have his lines of dialogue fed to him via a hearing aid.

In the film, De Niro plays Nick, a veteran criminal who is about to retire and settle down with his girlfriend, played by Angela Bassett. But Max, portrayed by Brando, steps in and persuades Nick to mastermind one last heist, a multimillion-dollar score at the Customs House in Old Montreal. To pull off the job, Nick breaks his own cardinal rule of always working solo and teams with ambitious, young thief Jackie (Norton). Unlike so many visiting Hollywood productions, The Score is actually set in Montreal and does not try to have our city stand in for some other burg.

Toward the end of the shoot last September, Oz took a break from filming to talk about the controversy. The film-maker - whose previous credits include Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Bowfinger - admitted that the star of The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris had ruffled some feathers during the course of the production.

"When you deal with someone like Marlon, you expect quirkiness," Oz said. "That's what happens with genius. They're not normal people. But he was gracious and very caring. Was it perfect? No. It was just out of differences of opinion on the creative aspect. Marlon's not the only person I've ever differed with. Marlon gets better press because he's more well known."

Last week, Oz told Southam News that there was some truth to the tales of Brando in the buff. Brando did not strip down all the way, a la Richard Hatch in the first Survivor series, but Brando did cavort in his underwear, according to Oz. The acclaimed actor dropped his pants one hot day when they were shooting a night-club scene and proceeded to play the piano in his underpants. Oz insisted there really wasn't anything all that unusual going on.

"He's lived in Tahiti for God's sake," Oz said. "Marlon was just playing the piano. He had his underpants on. He had his shirt on. The costume lady was with him, waiting for the take to start. He was playing the piano and when we said, 'We're ready to shoot the take, Marlon,' he put his pants on, and we shot the scene. That's all there was to it."

Peter Silbermann, the publicist for The Score, said Oz was not all that concerned about the nudity rumours but was tremendously hurt by the allegations that he was not the film's sole director. Silbermann said Oz directed every scene in the flick. But the publicist also confirmed that all was not well on The Score set.

"It's been a very difficult film, thanks to all kinds of egos and quirkiness of actors," the seasoned Hollywood publicist said last summer. "(Brando) is 76 and he has a mind of his own. He's prickly and people let him get away with it. He's hard and it slows things down. When things don't go well and you have someone behaving badly, everyone feels the fallout."

During a visit to the set in Mel's Cite du Cinema studio last summer, it was clearly a fairly tense place - even though Brando had left town several weeks earlier. Oz was shooting a scene in which De Niro, wearing all-black commando gear, scaled a tall wire cage, and, as soon as De Niro appeared, everyone tensed up considerably. Silbermann insisted that the Gazette photographer hide all her cameras, saying that De Niro might just walk off the set for the day if he even saw a camera within shooting distance. Oz was just as high-strung, glaring at a reporter when he heard rustling of a notepad.

The stressed-out atmosphere might just have been due to the fact that all concerned have so much riding on The Score. Critics and audiences will be expecting dramatic fireworks from the teaming of Brando, De Niro and Norton, and the flick is a major league roll of the dice for Oz. He first made his mark as the voice of Miss Piggy and is best known for churning out light comedies like What About Bob? He's been trying to expand his range beyond comedy for years and The Score is his first real opportunity to make a high-profile drama. So it's only natural he's miffed that most of the talk about The Score remains focused on Brando's on-set exhibitionism.

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