“They used to call me ‘Baby Brando,'” he says, honored by any resemblance to legendary actor Marlon Brando. “I looked more similar to him when I was young and when he was younger. So I hadn’t heard the ‘Baby Brando’ reference in quite a while.”
That will change after Chambers steps out as Brando in Thursday’s episode of “The Offer,” the Paramount+ series about the making of the classic 1972 drama “The Godfather.”
USA TODAY reveals the first look of Chambers as Brando in “The Offer,” his first role since departing “Grey’s Anatomy” after 15 seasons in 2020 to diversify his acting career. Playing Brando as he prepares for his Oscar-winning role as “Godfather” family head Don Vito Corleone came with some trepidation.
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“These are very big shoes to fill. This guy is definitely more handsome, more charming, and more talented,” says Chambers of Brando, who died in 2004. “But I thought, ‘Why not?’ I had wanted to push myself and do something different. This was a whole new territory.”
“Godfather” fans have been waiting to see Brando since “The Offer” kicked off with its first three episodes on April 28 – detailing the epic struggle by director Francis Ford Coppola (Dan Fogler), author and screenwriter Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo) and producer Albert Ruddy (Miles Teller) to make one of the greatest movies of all time.
“When you say the word ‘Godfather,’ you just think Brando,” says Chambers. “This is like going to Disneyland and (finally) seeing Mickey.”
Executive producer Nikki Toscano says producers were inundated with taped auditions from actors, including Chambers, eager to take on the iconic Brando role.
“Everyone was putting themselves on tape for this role,” says Toscano, who weeded out simple impersonations. “We were blown away by Justin’s audition. He subtly captured (Brando’s) essence.”
The casting is even age-appropriate for the 51-year-old Chambers: Brando was 47 when he darkened his blonde hair with shoe polish and placed tissue paper in his mouth for the bulldog jaw look to instantly become Corleone for his “Godfather” screen test. The transformation floored Puzo and Coppola, the creative duo who fought a resistant studio to cast Brando.
Chambers’ first appearance as Brando replays the audition, with Brando greeting his guests at his home in a kimono. Seeing his co-stars’ acting starstruck during the scene boosted Chambers’ Brando mojo.
“These characters are in awe of Marlon Brando, one of the greatest actors ever,” says Chambers. “That energy, along with the kimono and the setting, definitely helped feed the scene.”
Chambers had an orthodontic prosthetic to capture Corleone’s famous jaws (Brando also has a dental implant made to shoot his scenes). But there are no recreations of famous “Godfather” scenes in “The Offer,” which focuses on the before and after.
During an “Offer” cast dinner scene before “The Godfather” starts filming, Chambers was wowed looking at the faux famous faces around him, including Al Pacino (played by Anthony Ippolito). “I was just looking at his eyes thinking, ‘That’s Al Pacino. It was like, ‘Wow,’ ” says Chambers.
He will be nervously watching his own full Brando reveal Thursday, even if he’s “not really crazy about watching myself. Some people are going to take to it, and some people won’t. You’re never going to live up to Marlon Brando,” says Chambers. “But I’m going to watch, for sure. And I’ll probably walk out of the room before my scenes.”