In a 2000 on-camera interview with Scene by Scene, now available on YouTube via Eyes On Cinema, Steiger reminisced about working on “On the Waterfront,” particularly the famous cab scene. Steiger revealed a strange technique that he used to aid his co-star. In order to keep tension in the scene high, Steiger claimed that some off-camera overacting — as well as some well-placed insults — can help a co-star. This is what Steiger did with Brando. He said:
“[N]obody knows what really goes on in a scene … [W]e did Brando’s close-up, and I was off-camera. When you’re off-camera working with another actor, you do your nut. You overdo it to help them with reaction. And in that scene, you might say ‘I gotta tell you something, I hate your guts. Do you understand? I hate you.’ Off-camera, to help the actor, ‘You’re no good, you’re a stupid. You couldn’t act if your life depended on it, how did you get in this film?’ You know, like that.”
While this may seem cruel, given the tone of the scene, one might understand Steiger’s technique. Charley is trying to shake down Terry, to intimidate him. There is a power dynamic in the scene that leaves Charley with the upper hand. Terry, meanwhile, hits rock bottom in the scene. He gives into a wave of wistful self-pity. He knows he could have been better than a mod-connected dock worker — he could have had class — and regrets his stolen life. Steiger seemingly understood the tone of the scene, and berated Brando to help him out.
Brando, however, was unwilling to return the favor.