“Warner Bros. wanted two major stars, so I went to Jack Nicholson to play Ed [i.e., Jon Voight‘s role]. He agreed to do it and asked, ‘Who will you get to play Lewis [i.e., Burt Reynold‘s role]?’ I said, ‘I don’t really know yet.’ He said, ‘What about Brando?’ So I went to see Marlon Brando, spent the day with him. Finally, he said he’d do it. I asked, ‘Who’s your agent?’ He said, ‘I don’t have an agent.’ I said, ‘Well, what’s your price?’ And he said, ‘I’ll take the same as you pay Jack.’ I went back to Nicholson’s agent and said, ‘What do you want for Jack?’ He said, ‘Half a million.” [Except] Nicholson had never got more than $75,000.
“So I [informed] Warner Bros. studio head Ted Ashley. ‘Brando? Oh, God. He doesn’t mean anything anymore — he’s box-office poison,’ he said. Well, I thought Nicholson and Brando would work very well together. Ashley asked, ‘What does Jack want?’ I said, ‘Well, he wants half a million. ‘Half a million?” Ashley almost went through the roof. Then he kind of calmed down and said maybe they would pay him that money because everyone in town wanted Nicholson. He said, ‘What does Brando want?’ ‘I agreed to pay him the same as Jack.’ Ashley then exploded, ‘I’d be laughed out of this town if I paid half a million for Brando.”
“So I said, ‘Look, you asked me to get two stars. I got them. Now you’re saying you don’t want to pay them. What happens now?’ He said, ‘Well, you make it for a price, go with unknowns, and let’s see what happens.'” — John Boorman talking to Garden & Gun‘s John Meroney in a just-published issue.