At 29, Adrien Brody was the youngest person ever to win a Best Actor Oscar, snagging the statue for The Pianist in 2003. In a way, it was a double-edged sword: Terrific acclaim and A-list status, to be sure, but also intense focus on an actor who often seemed content disappearing into roles in smaller, independent films. Brody’s been alternating his choices ever since, doing everything from Peter Jackson’s King Kong to Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited. But there’s definitely been a bit of a genre bent to his choices in recent years. Last year he headlined the Robert Rodriguez–produced Predators, and now he’s back with Wrecked, a low-budget thriller about a man who wakes up in a totaled car without remembering who he is. We spoke to Brody about his latest film’s strange echoes with The Pianist, his newfound fondness for genre pictures, and, oh yeah, his Super Bowl ad.
Your part in Wrecked reminded me of your part in The Pianist: You had to carry most of the film without saying anything.
Exactly. When I read this script, I said, “This is the first film I’ve read since The Pianist where I had to express so much and experience so much, and the audience has to be alone with this character.” It’s a rare opportunity. And it’s very ambitious to make a movie like this with such limited resources and time.
Did you improvise a lot?
Oh yeah. The eating-insects thing, the worm scene in the film, the way it took place was we were shooting on the bank of a river, and I saw the way that this worm was silhouetted beautifully in this circular pool of water and trapped. It paralleled my character’s inability to escape. I saw it and it was this kind of tragic real-life drama playing out before me. I showed it to the director; I said, “You must get the shot.” He said we were running late and couldn’t. And I said, “All right, I’ll eat it.” So it’s now in the movie. [Laughs.]
It seems like you’ve been doing a lot of genre movies lately.
I guess so. It may seem like it, but it’s not a specific path I’ve chosen. When I read Wrecked, I didn’t even interpret it as a genre movie. I think to a certain extent it comes across that way in the execution, and in the marketing. But, yes, I have done more genre parts recently. Basically, I have a very specific reason for doing everything I do. It’s not a whim.
I read that you fought for the part in Predators.
That’s a movie I loved as a kid. I really wanted to have the chance to play a character like that, which was so vastly different from anything I’ve done. But to be able to step into Schwarzenegger’s shoes — I mean, the original Predator had a profound effect on me as a teenager. I wanted to not just have fun with it, but try and give fans of that genre what they’re looking for, while also trying to elevate it to a certain level by creating a character that has an intellectual strength and an emotional hardness and layers beyond the emotional brawn that you don’t ordinarily find in a Hollywood film. I don’t know; that was exciting to me. I really campaigned for it. They didn’t come to me. It wasn’t like, “Here’s an odd choice for this role, let’s get Adrien Brody.” It was something I sought out. I’m grateful that they let me do it.
It definitely ran counter to people’s expectations of you as an actor.
That’s what Wrecked speaks about as well. In the end, it’s really a movie about who we think we are and our limitations as individuals. You can’t impose limitations on people. On some level, people definitely put limitations on performers. We have to cross new boundaries and push ourselves and take risks.
It seems like that’s just part of the mindset of being an actor.
I think maybe it has to do with the way you developed. For example, I have lots of friends who were talented but who were not encouraged, and who wound up not being able to pursue their dreams. Whereas I received some encouragement — from my parents, from others — and I persevered. Now, I struggled for many, many years, but I had the belief that I had what it took to excel. I have friends who were artists who gave up, basically. That’s not based on a lack of talent.
You’re in the new Woody Allen movie. I hear he can be really intimidating as a director.
No, he’s not intimidating. But I just have a cameo in the movie, so I didn’t spend that much time with him.
I have to ask you about those Stella Artois ads you did, where you were singing. A lot of actors look down on doing ads, but you didn’t seem to have any qualms.
I just do what feels right. I saw it as an acting endeavor. There isn’t anything wrong with doing it. You got to deal with it on a case-by-case basis. What was exciting about it, besides being a very creative and funny concept, was it let me step outside my boundaries and actually sing. I never had the courage to sing in my life. The joke I had with my parents was that I never had the courage to sing and now I have to do it before everybody at the Super Bowl.
It worked. That was one of the most talked-about commercials at the Super Bowl this year.
A woman last night at a restaurant recognized me from that ad, and she had no idea I was an actor. But she loved the ad and she thought I was a real singer. She was, like, really enthusiastic about it, too! And she hadn’t seen anything else I’d done. It was great.