GQ, Mar 2004
Adrien Brody has a cold.
“Once, I was having dinner at a restaurant in LA, and some girl ran over to our table and said ‘I’m sorry, I just have to do this’ – and she stuck her tongue down my throat!” Adrien Brody makes a face as if to say: ‘Some people!’ and then he returns to his skirt steak. We’re having lunch at the Bel Air hotel.
“I know most people would go ‘Damn! Girls are running up to kiss you in restaurants and you’re complaining?’” he says. “I mean, if it was my type of woman, then that would be interesting, but she was…” He shakes his head – too much of a gentleman to say ‘moose’. “It happened so quickly, I couldn’t even tell you what she looked like. All I know is that the next day I woke up with a cold.”
Perhaps the cold was karmic. After all, Brody is hardly innocent when it comes to assault snogging. On the night of the 2003 Oscars, before the world’s cameras, he sprung his own French surprise on an unsuspecting Halle Berry who had done nothing to deserve such a tongue-mugging beyond pronouncing him Best Actor for his performance in The Pianist. With a statuette in one hand and the delicious Ms Berry on your lips, you might think that your work for the night was done. But not Brody. He not only became the youngest Best Actor in history – at 29, he pips Richard Dreyfuss who was 30 when he won for The Goodbye Girl – but he also made the speech of the night, eloquently addressing the discomfort of celebrating movies at a time of war. Heartfelt and unrehearsed, it was a feat akin to strolling across a tightrope in a gale without even looking at your feet.
March 23rd 2003 was such a momentous night for Brody that he is still reeling fifteen months on. “I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to the Oscar,” he says, thoughtfully. “It’s still strange. It’s great.”
Pre-Pianist, Adrien Brody was one of a hundred character actors distinguished only by being frequently better than the films they were in. He played a lovestruck Jewish kid in Liberty Heights, and then a bisexual rocker in The Summer of Sam. He might have shot to early fame as the lead in The Thin Red Line, but Terence Malick left him mostly on the cutting room floor, a typically Hollywood rite of passage.
Now, however, he’s the face of Zegna and he drives to meetings with Big Kahunas in his “rap fantasy” Hummer. His opinions are sought by men like Peter Guber of Mandalay Entertainment, who is such a honcho he orders Bel Air hotel room service from his house. And though Brody has become a magnet for infected girl fans at dinner, there is a flipside: he can fly for hours to a new part of the world and still be treated like a local. “I get a friendly hello when I go in the store, and they don’t think I’m stealing something,” he beams. “It’s a miraculous thing.”
Well, perhaps, but not really. ‘Miraculous’ is stretching it. After all Brody looks not so much like a shoplifter as an unfed aristocrat – erect and gaunt, with a nose so high-born and swooping it might have been designed by a kindly caricaturist. His eyes exude ‘earnest sympathy’ as a default setting and he has a rich, actorly way of speaking about “the work” and “the journey”. You could leave Brody in charge of your shop, you’d be fine. Take a lunch break. He is the serious type, a moral animal and sober. Not given to frivolity if he can help it. And after the experience of The Pianist, it’s all you would expect. You can’t begrudge the man for his gravity after what he went through. He shed 30 lbs from his already skeletal frame for that role, and spent months holed up in the Warsaw Marriot learning to play Chopin from memory. For half a year he played a Holocaust survivor under the strict direction of a real Holocaust survivor – Roman Polanski has a reputation as a strict taskmaster. Then for the other half he discussed the Holocaust with the press. All in all, it was a grim immersion indeed.
So it’s refreshing to see him laugh, this lunchtime, about the time he tried to send himself up on Saturday Night Live, immediately following the Pianist. “My favourite sketch didn’t get in,” he says, “I guess it’s a tricky thing to poke fun at the Holocaust. But it was great. First you see a family, they’re all freezing and the mother’s crying. The daughter says ‘don’t worry mother, Stanislav is just practicing.’ Then you see me in the next room, in full hip hop regalia and I’m rapping. I had a whole rap down, it was a proper proposal.
“So eventually we get separated, but you know, I find a little record player in the rubble, so I can scratch and lay down a rhyme. Then a German soldier finds me and asks me ‘what were you before the war?’ And I tell him: ‘I was a rapper!’”
For Brody, who is a professed “hip hop junkie from Queens”, it’s the perfect sketch. He loves the music so much he has made it for over a decade now. He has a vast library of beats and soundtracks that he produces himself in his home studio. “I’m as passionate about that as I am about acting,” he says. “And I’m good at it, too. I’ll release it one day, maybe as a film soundtrack to an urban role I do in the future.”
But all in good time. He’s too busy for his music right now. He says that “I’m OK about playing now, more than ever before in my life” – hence the Hummer, with the Playstation and DVD in the back seats, an extravagance he says “I had to get out of my system” – but by the same token, he hasn’t had the downtime to let his hair down. Not that he’s particularly taken by the traditional wahey of young Hollywood success – all the stuff you can buy, the women you can have, the whole Colin Farrell of it all. Instead, Brody remains loyal to his pre-Pianist girlfriend and, more importantly to his principles. “There are other things you could be doing that are inspirational,” he says soberly. “As opposed to just sitting back and taking.”
He developed this commendable attitude growing up in Queens, New York, where he was raised in neither splendour nor strife, by a teacher father and a photographer mother. It was his mother – a staff photographer for the Village Voice for as long as Brody can remember – who enrolled him in the American Academy for the Dramatic Arts, or the (Kids From) ‘FAME’ school. And Brody fixed swiftly on his chosen career. Come his second year of college, he dropped out to join the teeming ranks of jobbing actors in Los Angeles.
Back then – this is a decade ago – his first worry was the dearth of work. Now he has the opposite problem – which of a thousand offers should he take? He pictured for himself a romantic lead to follow the Pianist. “I wanted to explore the connection between a man and a woman,” he says. And the advice came flooding in, invited and otherwise, about how he might avoid the so-called Curse of the Oscar, or the Roberto Benigni effect (remember Life Is Beautiful?). In the end, he ignored all the voices, even his own and took a bit part in M Night Shymalan’s new film, The Village which opens this month. “I didn’t even discuss it with my representatives,” he says, “which is very rare. But Night wouldn’t let me show anyone else the script. I just went with it because I’ve always liked his work.”
His reward for disregarding conventional Hollywood wisdom was the role of his dreams landing in his lap only weeks later. He describes The Jacket, which comes out next spring, as “my Jacob’s Ladder”. And sure enough, it sounds like an actor’s dream. He plays an injured GI with a memory problem who is then wrongly implicated in a murder and confined to a mental institution where he’s abused. During the abuse, however, he experiences a series of out of body experiences in which he witnesses his own death. Just talking about it has got Brody all worked up. He’s talking about the range of drama, how the film could meet both commercial and critical acclaim. But I’m wondering – what happened to the romantic lead?
“Oh, that’s covered. Part of the movie is a love story with Keira Knightley.” He grins. “Which is tough.”
Adrien Brody. He’s all about “the work”.