The Visible Man: An interview with Adrien Brody
Adrien Brody’s career has gone from good to great since winning the Oscar for his portrayal of Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. Having initially struggled to cement his name into the lights of Hollywood, Brody absolved any doubt with his award-winning performance. He currently stars in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest vehicle The Village, and is set to appear in the upcoming features The Jacket, and Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Both slated for release in 2005.
So you … hate to make this sound bad … but you make a pretty good village idiot.
Brody: Oh yeah? Thank you. Does that sound bad? It¹s a compliment I guess. I mean it doesn’t bother me, that is why I took the job. I did a lot of research for that. It’s a complicated role and its more than just playing a guy who is, um, I felt like there was a number of elements to that character and I couldn’t just attribute it to being, you know mentally retarded, I think there were a combination of things. So I researched a lot of characters that didn’t adapt to society well. And then, created my own within that.
Describe your experiences of 19th century boot camp.
Brody: Well it was really, really a lot of fun. I did a real boot camp once with The Thin Red Line which was nothing but MRE’s and learning military exercises. And this was far less strenuous. It was kind of refreshing to spend a week or so without my cell phone. You know, I really had a blast. I mean, we were all thrown into the woods and we didn’t have any of the modern conveniences that we take for granted and learned how to survive without anything. No matches. And because of the rebellious nature of my character, any excuse I could find I would go and like get into trouble and go steal food from the kitchen and wine and go out camping in the middle of the woods. They have to send a search party out for me in the morning [*laughs*], but it was all appropriate.
You said it was refreshing not to have the cell phone, but what was almost maddening not to have?
Brody: The cell phone [*chuckles*]. Uh what was maddening not to have? It was tough, you’d be surprised how difficult it is to relinquish a cell phone. But I think we really take for granted how just our meals are prepared or to be able to go to the super market and grab something we wanted, whether you were craving caffeine. Or if you want to start a fire, you better get to work and keep it lit. And learn how to make rope with a certain kind of tree bark. You fray it and bray it. It was amazing.
What was Night like working with actors? Like, does he give you a lot of freedom?
Brody: Yeah, I think, Night manages to do a remarkable thing. He makes most of his actors feel comfortable and free and yet maintains his vision quite specifically. He storyboards a lot. And when you have things that are storyboarded, you generally know how things are set up for the day, and then you can stray from that, but basically, you have a good sense as an actor, how things are going to play out. And the way certain scenes will be set up, which I think is really helpful. Night gave me in particular a lot of freedom. We tried to, you know, the advantages we had from this boot camp period, where we had this kind of opportunity to rehearse and for the cast to get to know one another really well, which I think is invaluable. And then I think within the rehearsal period, I think Night saw my character in a different way than I did, and we kind of figured out a way to, um, I think he trusted me, and we were thinking along the terms of, “if you could imagine slightly odder portrayal, and perhaps a little darker.” And he let me go, and I felt emotionally free and overly joyous and sensitive.
What do you think life would be like if there was no money, no greed, if we lived like this utopian society?
Brody: It’s hard to imagine. I don’t think that that’s the only downfall of society; money and greed. I think life in general is way too complex to be harmonious at all times. I think even on a cellular level, I mean, for one part of the body or for one organism to survive, another has to lose. There is always turmoil. I think that makes life interesting, but I think life would be great if things were simpler, on a lot of levels for a lot of people.
But as you pointed out, it¹s a different time, maybe there’s still the same problems, same positions. Like when you romanticized the 50’s for being such a gentile time, “the 1950’s,” it’s really it was just more polite.
Brody: It was more repressed as well. I mean there would’ve been more issues. But people never had an opportunity to feel comfortable expressing those feelings.
Are you one to believe that we just over-romanticize the part or are you someone that belongs in different places at times?
Brody: Do I belong in different place? No I’m happy that I’m here now. I think it’s easy to look at another time or another lifestyle and see uh, you know, a prettier picture than it really is because we don’t know it well. I mean, I can tell you that people see me and have a whole bunch of expectations or feelings that my life must be run, and I may even have those feelings until I experience them firsthand. And so you know, the grass is always greener. But I think we live in a pretty amazing time right now, in modern medicine and technology and it may be hectic, but it’s pretty phenomenal.
Night’s movies are so shrouded in secrecy, what kind of security measures were there surrounding the script? And how difficult was it to keep it a secret?
Brody: Night swore me to secrecy first of all. And I think Night even hesitated at me seeing the script if I wasn’t going to do the movie. And Night made me promise not to show the script to anyone, including my representatives, so my agents didn’t even read the script. I’ve been loyal to that, none of my friends, my family, no one has seen it. I haven’t really discussed much of even my character or the research I did. I did lot of that on my own.
How difficult was it?
Brody: It is difficult when you’re doing press. Because I’m really about the work and I want to talk about the process and I want to talk about all the interesting people I met along the way and how it shaped me. And I think there’s been a little concern about that and they asked me to be very general and vague. And I don’t like to answer questions in a vague way. I like to respond honestly, especially when it comes to what I do, which is I work at creating a character and that’s what it’s about. And if even discussions of my character become difficult to do, it makes it difficult. In general, its kind of fun to keep a secret, its not, you know, as long as no one is getting hurt, its fun. And I think, people go to the movies and they know too much about the movie before they go into it, whether it’s the advertising or they’re reading too many stories about it, and they don’t know, I mean, they know the essential elements of the story before even going into it and I think that sabotages a thriller.
It’s an interesting comment to make because you’re involved now in revisiting a character, or at least re-imagining a character that’s sort of iconic in Hollywood history; Jack Driscoll in King Kong. How do you approach that?
Brody: Well, it’s interesting. I guess it takes on the life of its own when you do a project like that. I mean, I couldn’t see myself revealing that actor’s interpretation in the 30’s. I think there¹s a lot to be improved upon. I also feel like stylistically it was really fantastic and there are elements of that behavior that I would incorporate but not necessarily that character’s interpretation. And I think that character will change to some degree. And, there’s a lot of room for change with a movie like that. You know, you have the same problem, I think more so with playing a real life character, like in The Pianist, I think I have more of a responsibility to be true to characteristics to [Wladyslaw] Szpilman than I would to another actor’s interpretation in a movie that may be recreated.
Talk about the challenges of creating a character almost without dialogue.
Brody: Yeah, I mean, I had a good chance to learn that on The Pianist, actually there were extensive amounts of time without dialogue. Its interesting you feel, on one hand we understand people from what they say, and in another sense, so you think that you’d be able to convey more through dialogue, but I think if you understand the character you¹re going to play and you can truthfully connect to the emotions that you’re experiencing, then it might almost be easier to connect as an audience member with a character that’s not saying so much because you’re making your own interpretation of what is going on in that person. I think, um, I mean, there’s advantages and disadvantages. It’s a different approach. I try to be less concerned about my physicality and my physical appearance even though I think in retrospect; it’s a very physical performance. When I was playing the role, I kind of thought less about how I looked and how I behaved and more of the state of mind and the loose-less and the child-like essence I was trying to touch.
I was just wondering, where we are living that sort of time, so how did that affect you in terms of dealing with the subject matter?
Brody: Part of what attracted me to The Village was that it had a lot of parallels with contemporary issues, like fear and the way fear controls us in a way governments or the governing body of a village or a town or a nation controls us through fear. They might even mean well by it, but we are conditioned to be afraid of things. Fear of the unknown, fear of terrorism, and its unfortunate. Realistically, there are things to be afraid of in this world, but I kind of, I was attracted to those parallels, I as attracted to a film that on one level that will, I think make a large audience excited and feel the ride of the thriller. But there’s a little deeper commentary about what is going today in today’s world, even though it’s taking place in a different time.
Can you tell us a little something about The Jacket? And what has it meant to you, how has it changed your life winning the Oscar?
Brody: The Jacket, what can I tell you about The Jacket. The Jacket is a story about a soldier who survives the Gulf War but is injured and has a memory problem and implicated in a murder. And he’s sentenced to a mental institution. And in the mental institution, he¹s experiencing some pretty intense treatment, so to speak, and kind of has outer-body experiences. It’s a very complicated story, but along the way there’s a love story in there with Keira Knightley. I think it’s a fantastic role for me, and it was a dramatic piece and that too had elements of a thriller. And with regards to my life – it is similar, but just a little more visible. I don’t feel like I’ve changed all that much. I still do what I like to do. And I had the same goals and I try to be the same kind of person and grow. Just a little more visible.
Make sure you check out our second special on The Village this Friday; an interview with director M. Night Shyamalan. The movie opens in the U.S. July 30th.