Lawrence of Arabia: When David Lean’s hero was to have the features of Marlon Brando

Tonight, Arte will feature Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean’s cult masterpiece, followed by a documentary on Omar Sharif.

Rarely did life seem to be so romantic and political as that of Thomas Edward Lawrence, a British liaison officer who helped the Arabs during the First World War in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire. In the world of the late 1950s, in full decolonization, a filmmaker, David Lean , dreams of adapting his autobiography, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom . His ideal for playing Lawrence of Arabia is called:   Marlon Brando . The actor with such a particular phrasing and a sex symbol look is not an obvious choice to interpret the British steed of his Majesty. However, David Lean does not budge: Marlon Brando will be the best. Since he saw it in Le Bal des mauditsEdward Dmytryk in 1958, he has the feeling that he will look like a God in his djellaba floating in the air. From then on, he uses all his energy to convince the star. On October 17, 1960, producer Sam Spiegel held a press conference to announce the event. For Spiegel, Marlon Brando is perfect because he shares with TE Lawrence, a mysticism and the tortured side of the man who doubts his destiny. Faced with the disbelief of the journalists gathered before him, the producer insists: Marlon Brando is the same age (31) as TE Lawrence in 1917.

Jordan or Tahiti

In truth, Brando hesitates. Spending a year away from Hollywood at this point in one’s career can be fraught with consequences. The shooting is in fact planned between Spain, Jordan, Morocco and Syria. And then, he finds it difficult to understand the complex personality of TE Lawrence, adventurer and writer. But the real reason is David Lean’s personality. In his autobiography, years later, he wrote: ” Lean was a very good director but he was taking so long to make a film that I was afraid of drying in the desert like a puddle .” by renouncing and choosing, on the contrary, to shoot Les Révoltés du Bountyunder the direction of Carol Reed, then Lewis Milestone, who offered him the opportunity to discover the atoll of Tahiti which had always attracted him. This decision will turn his life upside down. It is ultimately to a quasi-unknown, theater actor, that Lean and his producer Sam Spiegel decide to trust: Peter O ‘Toole. The film also bears the mention “introducing Peter O ‘Toole” in the credits. This did not prevent Lawrence of Arabia from collecting seven oscars.

A final role in Nostromo

David Lean has never given up working with Marlon Brando. He proposed Ryan’s daughter in 1970, which the star also refused. At 81, in 1989, the filmmaker finally convinced the actor, who now lives in seclusion, to play a role in his new project, Nostromo , an adaptation of Joseph Conrad. Filming was even planned in Almeria, on the very site of some legendary scenes of Lawrence of Arabia . ”  He is for me the best film actor of all time, confided the filmmaker to the New York Times in 1989 . He should play a villain called Montero, whom he can do with his eyes closed and make both interesting and funny. The filmmaker died two years later without being able to start his film. And without ever having toured with Marlon Brando.

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