Seven years ago, he became the youngest actor ever to lift the Best Academy Award for a physically and emotionally brutal role in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, for which he emaciated himself to look convincing as a Holocaust survivor. Then came the Halle Berry kiss, stolen in front of the world. It’s always tempting to peg him as a handsome, elegantly wasted upstart felled by his own charisma. But Adrien Brody is from New York. And you know what they say about New Yorkers Words Justin Tham Photographer Bleacher + Everard / Unali Artists Styling Robert Bryan Grooming Anthony Isembert / Halley Resources Production Stephanie CarCanciello Set design Peter Lentz Location 632 on Hudson, New York City
T Jacket, shirt and tie, all Black Label by Ralph Lauren
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hey say real actors camouflage themselves. They walk incognito among men, soaking up the lives of others ─ the joy, pain, triumph, misery, et al ─ and project them on screen through their vessels. But what do you make of a 37-year-old actor from Queens, New York, who bookended his amazing Oscar win with a high-profile role as the village idiot in M Night Shyamalanʼs The Village? Clearly, unlike in the constellation of other Oscar winners, glory was far from his mind. Unlike typical alpha males in Hollywood, Brody doesnʼt easily fit the bill for leading men. In a world of DiCarprios and Clooneys, heʼs handsome in a strange, fey way, with a gangly frame that says ʻextravagant art school educationʼ. But all that ─ the droopy eyes, that prominent nose and quiet confidence ─ naturally helped when he methodically shed 13 kilos to play the aforementioned tortured Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist. The offspring of photojournalist Sylvia
Plachy and history professor Elliot Brody, Brody spent some 15 years in the Hollywood wilderness before ascending the slippery slope of fame. He developed a habit of entertaining at his neighboursʼ birthday parties as a teen, calling himself “The Amazing Adrien”. Wellknown to be a fan of hip-hop and a prolific music producer (heʼs made music for 15 years under the moniker of A Ranger) and a graduate of New Yorkʼs Fiorello H LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, which also produced careers of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Jennifer Aniston, Brody took on many bit roles in the ʼ90s, including Corporal Fife in Terence Malickʼs war epic The Thin Red Line and the conflicted Ritchie Tringale in Spike Leeʼs Summer of Sam. This summer, in an uncharacteristic turn, Brody piles on the muscle to play Royce, a soldier-turned-mercenary in Predators. August Man shoots the breeze with him during some downtime in New York.
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AM: When you won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2003, people thought you came from nothing to win it. But you had appeared and acted in many films before that. Let’s talk about your journey, starting from LaGuardia. Adrian Brody: My father once said it takes 15 years to become an overnight success in my profession. It took me 17. Itʼs interesting that some people perceive that I just came out of nowhere, but in a way you could say that I did. Not many actors are ever lifted out from obscurity, so I have tremendous appreciation for my good fortune, as well as all the struggles that preceded the Oscar win. I respect hard work and those who have discipline, focus and integrity. And I strive for that in love and life. Itʼs been a long road but I love acting and that makes all the difference. I made the move to Los Angeles at 19 knowing only one friend. I took two suitcases and a break from university to pursue my dreams. I guess you could say itʼs paid off. What is the most misunderstood thing about the acting profession? Actually, one should do their best not to ʻactʼ. The goal of an actor is to make a true connection to the character and exist as such. To be transported to an emotional or psychological state that is far from your own; essentially, to ʻbeʼ. Acting implies ʻacting likeʼ rather than connecting and feeling like. Itʼs detached and would require you to remain very self aware in order to imitate your character. You should only have to act when all else fails and you cannot find the truth that aligns you with the essence of the man you are asked to portray. You’re the youngest person to win that Oscar. How did it feel to receive it? And how did it feel to kiss Halle Berry? Beautiful. There was such an outpouring of love and positivity towards me that night. Iʼve never been so relieved and elated. Words couldnʼt begin to describe the emotional roller-coaster ride it was to experience that... Iʼm truly grateful. What were some of the sacrifices you made to win that Academy Award? It’s hard to look at it from that perspective. Life deals you many things, positive and negative. The beauty of acting is that even the negative experiences can be useful. Pain and loss can give you empathy and a greater understanding of yourself and others. I took steps I felt were important to remain connected and give a truthful portrayal of a survivor, and honour the memory of Wladyslaw Szpilman and the poor men and women who had suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Thatʼs not sacrifice, rather it allowed me to be more present and aware than I had ever been. I also had the honour of being
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guided by one of the greatest survivors I know, Roman Polanski, a man who has lost more than most, yet whose spirit has survived. The recognition I received was the reward for all of our discipline and collaborative efforts. You were the brand ambassador for Ermenegildo Zegna – a brand with a very clean-cut image with business-like suits. Do you identity yourself with that image? Itʼs many years since Iʼve been connected with Zegna, however that campaign came at an ideal time, right before The Pianist. We both benefited from that relationship enormously. They presented me to the world in a very elegant fashion, and the success of the film created tremendous awareness of me, therefore promoting their brand unlike anyone had ever done for them before. I, of course, like wearing elegant suits for the right occasion, but I like the freedom to have a sense of humour with my clothing. And I dont give it too much thought. Do you still DJ as A Ranger? Actually, I've never been a DJ. I compose and produce music ─ often using a computer and other equipment in the studio. Since I havenʼt really pursued selling my music Iʼve had lots of freedom with it (it only has to appeal to me). Making ʻbeatsʼ is almost a form of meditation. The repetitive, rhythmic nature of sequenced music can put one in a trance-like state that is both peaceful and inspirational. You have always played serious roles like in The Pianist and King Kong. Do you reckon these are best for you? Would you like to try something different? Creative freedom, humour and a degree of risk taking are important when I select a project. Itʼs how I live life too. Mainly, this is in order to maintain my own enthusiasm (and hopefully yours when you see my films. I look forward to making unexpected choices. I like the challenge of the unknown. Even with Predators, which is a big Hollywood action movie, Iʼve tried to incorporate depth and truth into the role. I set out to create a very flawed anti-hero who is both intelligent yet extremely brutal and shut- off from his emotions. A man whose strength comes more from within rather than just from his physicality. A leader. Were you disappointed when the role of Spock in Star Trek went to Zachary Quinto. There will always be opportunities that you wish had been given. Looking back in disappointment does nothing. I believe things happen for a reason, and you donʼt have to always like it. You do have to learn from it though. I try to count blessings rather than the missed opportunities.
You lost 13kg in six weeks for The Pianist and bulked up for your role in Predators. How do you get into the look for your roles? Physical transformations are necessary. On a superficial level they allow you to look different, but with that comes feeling different, which helps you zero in on the character. For example, true hunger provides insight into the desperation and emptiness that comes with not having food when you want it. If youʼve never experienced that, how could you propose to express it? You would be forced to act without understanding. Real hunger changes you. You start to obsess over food and behave in ways that might surprise you. Romantic comedies, action films, heavy dramas, name your order of preference. Heavy dramas, action films, romantic comedies.
“If you've never experienced (hunger), how could you propose to express that? Real hunger changes you. You start to obsess over food and behave in ways that might surprise you”
What is the best advice anyone has given you? My Dad is a very wise and conscious person. When I was just starting to act professionally, he told me something on the way into one of my first really important auditions: “Go in there as if you already have the role” he said. “You are just going there to show them, but itʼs already yours.” Those words alleviated some of the pressure to prove myself and I booked the job. It was my first lead role in a film made for public television that was about orphans in the late 1800s, called Home at Last. Unlike your previous films, Predators has heavier action sequences that require you to handle weapons and do stunts. What did you gain from the experience? Predators was definitely a more action-oriented story and performance, but Iʼve had my share of physically challenging roles. The wonderful thing is that this was something Iʼve been ready to do for years, but couldnʼt find believers. Studios like safe bets. They go with tried-andtrue formulas. Throwing the guy who is most known for The Pianist into a hardcore action movie is risky for all of us, I admit that. But fortunately they believed in my commitment and trusted that I would perhaps even elevate the movie with my approach to the character. Iʼve been searching for the right opportunity to create a fun but flawed and complex leading man in a studio action film. A real hero, not a cardboard cut-out of a real hero. These guys gave me my shot. Will acting ever get old for you? I sure hope not. I think that as long as I stay playful and keep pushing myself, I will remain challenged. The key is to be lucky enough to work with inspirational, collaborative people. Otherwise, youʼre all alone. And that gets old.
Shirt, suit and tie, all Christian Dior; vintage tie clip, Georg Jensen; pocket square, Robert Talbott; sunglasses, Robert Marc
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