Oliver Stone’s thriller movie masterpiece JFK is known for its wonderful supporting cast, featuring the likes of Jack Lemmon, Tommy Lee Jones, John Candy, Joe Pesci, and Kevin Bacon. One of the best cameos is from Donald Sutherland, who pops up for one particularly memorable scene. But his role was initially offered to Marlon Brando, and the scene would have been extremely different, and significantly longer.
Sutherland plays Mr X, who has a very similar function to Deep Throat in 1976’s All the President’s Men (which was about the Watergate scandal). He is a whistleblower from the inner sanctum of the secret service and government, who tells Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison that he’s on the right track, and gives the motive for the assassination of JFK – to continue the war in Vietnam, which makes powerful people a lot of money.
Speaking after a screening of JFK on August 26, 2023 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, director Oliver Stone said; “Donald Sutherland is amazing, because his speech was a long one, it was 13 or 14 minutes. Donald Sutherland is a very smart man, and talks very fast, thank God, because that scene could have gone on for twice that length.”
Stone says that he regrets initially offering the role to Brando, because if he’d accepted it, it would have been disastrous; “I had been dumb enough to go to Marlon Brando, we all love him, but if he’d said yes – God [implying that the speech would have taken forever]. Anyway, that’s another story.”
Brando is known for some of the most iconic speeches in movie history, including his declaration to Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), ‘I coulda been a contender’ in On the Waterfront (1954), ‘You come into my house, on the day my daughter is to be married’ in The Godfather (1972), and ‘the horror, the horror’ in Apocalypse Now (1979). While every one of these speeches is delivered wonderfully, there are plenty of pauses for effect and sometimes quite a lot of mumbling. Sutherland had a lot of exposition to get across in JFK, and his clear, rapid-fire delivery was certainly needed.