by Rob Blackwelder
WHO: Adrien Brody
WHEN: February 21, 2002
WHERE: Four Seasons Hotel, SF, CA
HOW (you might know him):
Probably best known as Richie the punk poser in Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam," Brody has also had roles in Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" and Berry Levinson's "Liberty Heights," and starred in last November's period drama "The Affair of the Necklace" opposite Oscar winner Hilary Swank.
Actor Adrien Brody feels a kindred connection with war correspondents after 'Harrison's Flowers'
Clad in leather pants and a thin, cream-colored cashmere sweater, and seemingly poured into a big, cushy, yielding chair in his hotel room at San Francisco Four Seasons Hotel, Adrien Brody seems far, far away from his role as a harried war photographer in "Harrison's Flowers."
An actor since he was 13 years old, Brody is probably best known for playing a punk poser in Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam" or a Jewish teenager in 1950s Baltimore in Barry Levinson's "Liberty Heights." Most recently he co-stared as Hilary Swank's roguish aristocrat husband in the French Revolution drama "The Affair of the Necklace."
These are all roles he recalls fondly, but even in the plush surroundings and the hipster wardrobe, he's able to transport himself back to the intensity of filming his two war pictures, "Harrison's Flowers" and Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line." He grows pensive, speaking slowly, intensely and with pauses to carefully chose his words -- especially regarding "Flowers," which has taken on an eerie new relevance between its completion in 2000 and its release this month.
It's the story of a photojournalist's wife (Andie MacDowell) who travels to war-torn Serbia in 1991, determined to find her husband after he's been declared dead. The film's intense, up-close depiction of guerilla warfare seems all the more pertinent since the war against terrorists and the Taliban began in Afghanistan last year. But today, February 21, 2002, coincidence has made it an especially strange day to be interviewing an actor who plays a war correspondent risking his life for his work. Hours before this interview it was announced officially that kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl had been murdered in Pakistan.
Q: The war scenes in this film felt even more real than a lot of the new war films that are being praised right now. "Black Hawk Down" was intense, but I felt safe and secure in my theater seat. I didn't feel safe and secure watching "Harrison's Flowers."
A: This definitely was pretty raw and gritty. Probably because it didn't have a huge budget and was a little chaotic. War is chaotic and when you start having a larger scale film and you have a lot of safety protocols and choreography, I would imagine it becomes more difficult. (On this film) when a bomb goes off, you hit the dirt. You don't have to be trained. They were pretty loud blasts.
Q: This film really hits home in the wake of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan. But it seems especially relevant today, unfortunately. You probably haven't heard this yet this morning, but the State Department and the Wall Street Journal just announced that Daniel Pearl is definitely dead.
A: Oh, I didn't know that. Really? [Pauses in thought] That's terrible. I was sure that he was still alive.
Q: I know this is asking you to stretch back two years, but do you feel any kind of kindred connection to the journalists in Afghanistan, having played a journalist in a similar situation in this film?
A: Well, filming it I became much more aware of how much these men and women give, how they're taken for granted and how important it is to have war correspondents to actually bring home the news of what's happening in the world. The media gets a bad rap sometimes. But my mom is a photojournalist, so I see how much she struggles and how under-appreciated she is. Risking your life constantly for your work and dealing with those traumas, they deserve more acknowledgement. The general public isn't attune enough with what's actually involved in all that. Playing a character like this I gained a much greater understanding of what's involved and how much you're risking.
Q: So your mom does this for a living? What kind of conversations did you have with her after you were cast in this part?
A: Quite a few, but I kind of absorbed a lot of what I used just from...uh...
A: Osmosis, exactly. She even photographed Bukovar (where much of "Harrison's Flowers" takes place) right after the invasion. I have the pictures at home. Right before I left (to make this movie) I was looking at them. It was incredible.
Q: Was it a hard frame of mind to get into each day, to throw yourself into the middle of the war?
A: It's tough, yeah. But I've experienced much tougher scenarios for other roles.
A: "The Pianist," the new Roman Polanski film. It's not out yet.
Q: Can you tell me about it? Why was it so tough?
A: It's a phenomenal film about a Soviet-Jewish pianist who survived the Nazi invasion of Warsaw, and it's a really long journey with some pretty powerful stuff in it. I lost a great deal of weight for the role. Emotionally it was a very difficult place to be. Historically, very heavy material. There was a lot of isolation, personally. There wasn't a lot of interaction with other actors. The character was in hiding for a great deal of the story. So it was an intense experience, and much more emotionally difficult to deal with than this film, which wasn't (built around) an attack on my people, my family and my life. I was objective.
Q: The character in "Harrison's Flowers" was a professional observer.
A: Right. Exactly. Yeah.
Q: Was "The Pianist" something that was hard to shake off and go back to your nice hotel room?
A: Yeah. I didn't shake it. I lived it. I went back to my hotel room to sleep, then I went to work in the morning. It was just intense pretty much all the time. But it's extremely powerful. I'm most proud of that film. Roman is a master filmmaker, and this was a very personal film for him.
Q: How about "Thin Red Line"? That must have been tough too.
A: "Thin Red Line" was very difficult for a number of reasons. Mainly Terrence wanted all this fear from me. He really liked my ability to express fear silently, with an expression, which kind of sabotaged the rest of my dialogue [laughs]. I got so good at giving him what he wanted without saying it, he must have thought, "I can shorten the movie two hours right here!"
But playing someone who was that afraid for so long really left me uncomfortable, so the next roll I wanted to something that was on the other side of that emotion. So I did "Oxygen," in which I played a real bastard. I kidnap this woman, then bury her alive. I'm very malicious. No fear. I had them apply real braces to my teeth, and I got all strong and buff for the movie.
I went from that right into "Summer of Sam," which was really freeing (he played a poser punk rocker). I remember they brought me to the dentist, ripped out my braces, then brought me right to rehearsals with Spike (Lee). Then I finished shooting (my last day of) "Summer of Sam" at 4 in the morning, grabbed my stuff, took a train to Baltimore and shot that evening (on "Liberty Heights"). So now I'm in the '50s playing this very, very sensitive guy who hadn't been exposed to too much. So that kind of toned me down after the other (films). It was an interesting journey.
Q: Do you have a desire to be an action hero or a romantic comedy lead?
A: Yeah, I'd like to do both. I'd like to do all of it. I'd like to do, you know, a lighter film with a beautiful girl and an interesting relationship developing. Humor and slapstick. It's all gravy. Bring it on! I'm sure it would be fun annihilating all my enemies too. I'm not really drawn to that, but as a character I can see it being a lot of fun.