Adrien Brody
Photo by Julien Mignot

Adrien Brody: “I don’t have an option”

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Short Profile

Name: Adrien Nicholas Brody
DOB: 14 April 1973
Place of birth: Woodhaven, New York, United States
Occupation: Actor, film producer

IFC Film's crime thriller Clean is in theaters, and everywhere you rent and buy movies, now.

Mr. Brody, would you say you have more creative energy these days than ever?

I'm lit up! I mean, I've always had creative energy, I think I just have more inspiration now. I think we've all lived through this difficult time and it has awakened in all of us a concept of time, and how fleeting our time is and can be... I want to apply my energy doing good and creating and hopefully not squandering that. That's what I live for. I do it each day in several mediums: I paint incessantly till my back is broken. I make music — I've been making music for 30 years now — and compose and create soundscapes. I just have this yearning to create.

And as an actor? What kind of creativity are you bringing to that part of your life?

Well, I've mostly done independent films, especially early on in my career. And for many years, I learned and honed a set of skills to help in making those films better, and also making myself better under the circumstances when you have far less resources and padding than with a studio film. When I'm working on a project, it takes a great deal of creative malleability and technical understanding to pivot when things don't go according to plan, as they often don't. And then there's all the character work that is my responsibility to do before I show up and on the day. It's just something I've spent a lifetime doing.

“I apply all my energy into my work like a mad artist. It’s really part of the process.”

What do you gain from that kind of commitment? Does it feed your soul more than, for example, just showing up and reading your lines?

I don't have an option! That's the best way I could put it to you. I don't do it to indulge my soul. It’s just that I apply all my energy into my work like a mad artist. I just do it because it’s really part of the process, like I couldn't show up and walk through something. You would be hard pressed to find something that I've done that is simply that. That's the best way I could define it.

You learned to play Chopin while starring in The Pianist and you got into ventriloquism for Dummy… Do you consider those extra efforts to be simply part of the process as well?

An essential part. That is a requirement of all actors! You’re rarely afforded a luxury like that on The Pianist, which is time. I still didn’t have enough of that, for that matter, but I did have six weeks to do a massive physical transformation to lose the weight — because we shot in reverse. Learning to play the piano, I worked very hard on that. I don't read music, but I practiced incessantly. I shut out lots of other personal influences to just dive deeper into that space and time.

It seems like you’re also fond of taking a bit of a risk in order to give everything you can to your role.

(Laughs) Well, learning to play the piano… There are greater risks than that, of course. I've been thrown down glacial rivers in the middle of winter in rapids, I've eaten worms, I've done stunts, I've done many dangerous things on set! But that's just par for the course.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken for a film lately?

For my recent film Clean, there were many! Mostly financial! (Laughs) This project, which I produced, starred in, scored, and wrote the story for… It was many years of pouring everything that I had into it. My literal blood, sweat and tears. I've not done that in any other film this level. And I’ve yearn to tell this movie for many years, and finally, I was able to find the people that I wanted to collaborate with, to help me achieve that. And it was a great deal of work, but it's a dream come true! I spent a lot of time not only in the creation of this from its inception, but the music, which is an additional element of the storytelling.

“We want to make sure that the life we’re living is worth living.”

I can understand the drive behind a project like that. Apparently several years ago you took a break from acting because you felt like no matter how much work you put into a film, it would never fully match your vision.

It’s not exactly that… It’s more that I will embark on a creative project with all that I can give, but it is at the end of the day, a collaborative medium. There are a lot of different cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. And those creative endeavors don't necessarily live up to your own expectations of the work that you're trying to put out into the world. It’s not a criticism of any individual in particular, but there are lots of obstacles to overcome, and they're often not easy. What you do need is a brilliant director that has a vision that you're aligned with, to lift you up.

Like who?

Someone like Wes Anderson, for instance. With Wes, we can consistently be able to embark on different characters, different journeys; and whatever my participation is, I know that that film is going to be an achievement and a work of art. And I'm grateful to be a piece of that in any shape or form! But there are very few moments like that. I do feel blessed right now because I have a lot of wonderful, creative people that I admire coming to me, and inviting me to work. I'm really, really thankful for that. Because at the time when I said that, it was a bit of a low creatively. It’s part of what made me make Clean, frankly. It’s not to usurp anyone, it’s to have my understanding that has been developed from a lifetime of working with in this capacity, have a place in the overall structure, and holding up the integrity of our vision. And it's really hard out there, even in the independent film world for that vision to remain intact.

Even on independent films, there are hard choices to make every day.

Right, you have to sell your movie, you have editorial choices, you have producers with different visions, you have a marketing concept. The world in that space is very collaborative and there are a lot of people involved… I feel very fortunate to be able to be cooking with gas right now. I have a lot in the works. And I feel really blessed about that. A lot of creative people I know right now also feel very inspired, I think, as a defense mechanism to the hardships that we're seeing all around us. We want to make sure that the life we're living is worth living.