Strapped to a cup of coffee in which he occasionally buries his Homeric nose while chatting with ICON from the house in Los Angeles where he woke up this Wednesday, Adrien Brody (New York, 48 years old) is doing something usual for him: talking by Wes Anderson. Brody, the youngest performer to win the Oscar for Best Actor (in 2002, aged 29, for The pianist, by Roman Polanski), has worked with the Texan filmmaker more than anyone else in his career. This was true when they accumulated three titles together, including the Oscar nominee El Gran Hotel Budapest (2014). This fall they will release the fourth, The French Dispatch, recently unveiled in Cannes, and they are already preparing the fifth, still untitled, and which will be filmed in Chinchón no less. “It is something remarkable, having a friend who inspires you so much. Bring out the best in everyone, ”he enunciates, pausing before the important words and looking at the interlocutor after pronouncing them as if to check their effect.
That Brody fits so well in Anderson’s hyperstilled world seems even inevitable. In his films everything is governed by a closed aesthetic principle and Brody also seems to live connected to some higher and invisible power. He acts, yes, but in such an intense way that, more than a vocation, he denotes a monastic self-denial for his art. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing a Jew in Holocaust Poland in The pianist; of sensitive playwright in King Kong (2005), the giant blockbuster directed by Peter Jackson; gangster in the best season of the acclaimed Peaky Blinders (2017, BBC and Netflix), or joining, this fall, the best cast on television in the new season of Succession (HBO).
And if acting already works the contradiction, with that aura of a cult interpreter that nevertheless shines in such massive projects, outside of it his life is even more full of facets. He paints (and exhibits), writes (and keeps it), drives cars (he participated with his Porsche 911 in the controversial car race on the Gumball 3000 public highway), and answers interviews where each answer seems like a short story. Something in his gaze seems to reveal the spirit of the rebellious teenager that he was, whom his mother put in the interview to keep him away from the bad company he hung out with in Queens.
It is the look that will be seen in The French Dispatch, where he shares the bill with Timotheé Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson or Elizabeth Moss, and where he plays a pretentious gallery owner. “I had no obligation to resemble anyone who exists in reality, it is just an amalgam of people I know,” he admits. “It helped me to get to know the artistic world.”
The movie invents a magazine inspired by The New Yorker in the sixties. His mother, award-winning photographer Sylvia Plachy, worked at another New York newspaper at the time, The Village Voice. Have you not been able to exploit that coincidence? That aspect of the movie doesn’t affect my character much. But go to the offices of The Village Voice In the seventies visiting my mother, when I was four or five years old, was a unique educational experience. Many ideas that have accompanied me all my life were formed there, in those offices. My mother had a partner who loved magic and did tricks on me, like taking a coin, asking me to take a bite, and then it looked like the coin was bitten. Those things fascinated me. That love for magic was surely a first step towards understanding what acting is, the rush of capturing the audience’s attention, of attracting it, of creating a character. [Se le va mirada, como sobrevenido por un recuerdo]. Then my mother was commissioned to photograph the American Academy of Dramatic Art, and if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be an actor today. She saw something in those young people that reminded her of me. It was very fortuitous but definitive. Who knows where it would be if not.
Painting, perhaps? In addition to the artist mother, her father, the historian Elliot Brody, is quite well known for his painting. You too are now moving into the world of art. Maybe I was painting, yes, and starving. It is true that painting touches me quite closely from a very early age. But they didn’t admit me to the art department with my high school sketches and they did admit me to the acting department, which put me on a path that led me to act professionally from a young age.
At what point does someone as much from New York as you decide to go to Hollywood? He had a friend who he had acted with in a commercial when he was 16 or so. I sold him my Mustang, well, a knockoff I had … then we had an affair and I had to pay him back. But we became friends. He moved to Los Angeles and he said, ‘You have to come, here is everything. I was 19 years old, I was acting and studying drama at university and I felt that another class was not going to contribute much more to me. So I gave myself a semester and went there, to sleep on a futon on my friend’s floor. I stayed for a while, rented a cheap apartment, bought a motorcycle and went from test to test. New York is pure contact with humanity. In Los Angeles you have to have friends. And that takes time. I have them now, but when I was young, being so introverted, it was a very lonely experience.
Has being an actor changed your personality or vice versa? I am a very passionate person. This is what makes me a good interpreter: I am reactive but I also connect in a very clear way with the emotional side of things. I am very, very sensitive. And I am always aware of the emotional subtext of each situation, I take charge of what people may feel. Partly it is something innate in me, I inherited it from my mother, another extremely sensitive person. Having given my life to being an actor, to always putting myself in the shoes of others, has defined my way of understanding the world and my place in it. I am aware of the potential for tragedy around every corner. And not just the tragedy! Complexity, which is the common thread of our lives. I am not in the clouds, away from the enormous suffering that exists on this planet. I feel very connected, very part of humanity, and I want to express it in my work.
It must be raffled off at Christmas Eve dinners. I have a sense of humor! When acting, I do what the script allows me, but when I paint I am more of a thug. I reflect the complexity of America, where life is beautiful and violent at the same time. I did a series of works on fast food and how easy it is to get despite its low nutritional value. As a kid in Queens, I grew up on pizzas, burgers and fries, because it was the practical and cheap. It seems to me violence that we exert on ourselves. But I did it with humor.
It’s 20 years in Hollywood. Does glamor leave a mark? King Kong It is by far the biggest movie I have ever made. There have been wonderful independent films, but none had such a huge promotion, nobody comes to you years later saying: “I saw you in The teacher (2011) and it changed my life ”. King Kong Yes. They closed Times Square to preview it. There I was in New York, my city; the mayor introduced us on stage. You saw my face in the McDonald’s paper cups. They synchronized multiple cinemas to show the film. I have not seen myself in something like that again. There were armies of people on the street, everyone likes King Kong. And there were street vendors with unofficial prod- ucts from the movie, made by themselves. Caps, T-shirts … One was selling some great caps and made the effort to cut through the crowd and give me one as a gift. What a generous gesture. And what a perfect cap! It was camouflage and had a King Kong patch sewn into it. It had a little pocket inside. I put it on and didn’t take it off for years. That cap went around the world with me. One day I lost her in a lake and asked the boat to reverse until I found her. I simply lost it … But I still have that gesture, which I will never forget. The preview of King Kong.
Has fame also changed the way you see the world? Fame is not what most people think of. My life has filled me with the love of perfect strangers. Many people have been kind to me just because they have felt a connection by seeing me. And it is not false. I have exposed something of myself and they have connected with it, they see the man that I am without having known me. We are united by a confidence, an awareness of how far my soul reaches, that most people do not have with friends, acquaintances or with people with whom they work for years, because people live very on guard. The degree of exposure that a celebrity offers is only obtained in intimate relationships, when you feel that you can share certain things, or you have no option to hide them.
What does that translate to for those of us who are not famous? Some time ago, in New Zealand, I did a huge hike. I ended up completely lost, hours away from my starting point. The landscape was so beautiful that I got carried away. Two girls appeared, I asked them where I was and how to get back to Wellington and they told me it was miles away. Clearly, they recognized me. They took me home, I sat in the back seat of the car and on that trip there was no talk of movies, no one asked anyone for the phone, no selfies were taken. They left me at the door, said goodbye and that’s it. That is not what happens to most people who go to the other side of the world, unfortunately. We should be able to interact with each other with that level of trust, treat each other as neighbors.
He has been the youngest actor to win the Oscar for 19 years. Does it frustrate you that it is inescapable to talk about it yet? No, it is the peak of every actor’s career. Anyone would want the opportunity to come across such deep work on multiple levels, and with so much weight. The pianist it is far above many cinematographic works, and I do not say it because of what I have contributed. It is necessary to know enough about the pain and suffering in this life to understand them, reformulate them in the form of art and show a time and a loss on that scale that a generation that did not experience it can understand. It doesn’t matter if I win ten more prizes or none at all. Nothing is going to change the important thing, which is that.
You know that your life as an actor, pilot, painter, etc., is not very common, is it? I have seen many things and lived through it all, but only now do I see it all with renewed enthusiasm. When you are young, your whole life revolves around what you want. It was very clear to me and I went for it very emotionally, almost unconsciously. Now I am not saying that I am more conscious, but I see myself choosing better what I dedicate my energy to. And doing so gives more value to what is chosen.
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Adrien Brody: “Fame is not what people think. It has filled me with the love of perfect strangers ”| Culture | ICON