“Film is a time capsule. If I have a lack of dedication or focus, it’s permanently there as a negative reminder.”—Adrien Brody
Adrien Brody, an actor whose rise to critical acclaim has been unrelentingly fast, became the youngest actor in the history of the Academy Awards to win the Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ aged just 29.
Born out of Woodhaven, Queens, in New York City, Brody’s childhood was that of a humble upbringing. Having been enrolled in acting classes from a young age and, after appearing alongside Tupac Shakur and Mickey Rourke in the 1996 film Bullet, he was given a taste of cinema and didn’t relinquish it.
Since his major role in Martin Scorsese’s Life Lessons, the first part of the 1989 New York Stories trilogy alongside Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola, Brody has committed his life to the art of acting and done it without cutting corners. Just three years after his first major film role, Brody was picking up an Oscar for his remarkable performance in Roman Polanski‘s 2002 film The Pianist.
Ensuring his dedication to the form, Brody withdrew from social life for months on end to prepare for the role in Polanski’s project and it came at some cost. Breaking up with his then-girlfriend, the actor gave up his apartment and his car, learned to play the play ‘Chopin’ on the piano and lost 30 pounds (13.6 kg). His dedication knew no bounds.
Strong relationships with the likes of Wes Anderson, Spike Lee and more has resulted in Brody’s career continually growing in stature. Here, we’re exploring some of his most impressive moments on the big screen.
Adrien Brody’s 10 best movies:
10. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick – 1998)
An adaptation of James Jones’ autobiographical 1962 novel sees Brody in the role of Cpl. Geoffrey Fife. Malick’s cut of the story, however, focuses on the conflict at Guadalcanal during World War II.
It was Malick’s first film in 20 years when he returned to focus on the harrowing story of C-Company. One of the best war films in modern times The Thin Red Line is a powerful depiction of a hideously true story.
9. The Village (M. Night Shyamalan – 2004)
Brody has worked with some of the finest directors and storytellers Hollywood has to offer. His role as the violent Noah Percy on M. Night Shyamalan‘s The Village will go down as a particular highlight.
Starring alongside Joaquin Phoenix and Sigourney Weaver Brody is a part of the titular village which lives in fear of the unknown monsters that live in the surrounding woods. As with all Shymalan’s films at the time, it comes with a twist ending.
“When Night called me about The Village, he asked me what I was interested in doing at the time,” Brody once explained. “I was very honest with him and I told him I wanted to play an all-American leading man, the guy who gets the girl. There was silence on the phone and then Night said, ‘Well, this isn’t that’.”
“Larger isn’t necessarily better,” says Brody. “It’s not the size of the prize; it’s the motion in the ocean. The offer came to me at an interesting time. I was looking for a kind of iconic leading man role at the time, but I didn’t find that. This is more along the lines of what has inspired me in my career and I felt that I didn’t want to suddenly change my methods of picking work.”
8. Wrecked (Michael Greenspan – 2010)
In the 2010 film Wrecked, Brody takes the lead role as well as being an executive producer on the intense picture which sees ‘The Man’ wake up at the bottom of a ravine having suffered a near-fatal car crash.
Brody delivers an exceptional performance as The Man who, suffering from amnesia, has to piece together what has happened to him and how to stay alive.
Speaking Brody’s performance, director Greenspan later explained: “Adrien was always someone that Chris [screenwriter Christopher Dodd] and I had been talking about when we were developing this together. And we always said, what kind of actor would be able to play a part like this, that would somehow in a sense be able to remove themselves from it, but yet still be incredibly captivating to look at, interesting, intelligent, and then be daring enough to sort of do the kinds of things that the role requires: the physicality, and even the emotional stuff.
“In watching all his films, films where he was either a leading man or supporting, something that always struck me about Adrien is that first of all, his choice of characters were always different. He always played very different people. He always gave 100 percent. You can tell that this was a guy that did a lot of work on these characters. He thought about what made them tick. He brought different nuances to these characters. So I just thought, ‘That’s a very smart person.’ And you could tell by the choice of work that he was doing that he was someone willing to take a risk. And I thought this is a guy I would like to work with and I thought would be wonderful for the role.”
7. The Jacket (John Maybury – 2005)
In John Maybury’s psychological thriller The Jacket, Brody delivers a captivating performance as the Gulf War Veteran Jack Starks, as he is wrongly incarcerated in a hospital for the criminally insane.
Starks soon becomes the object of one doctor’s experiments and his life is changed forever because of it. One such experiment sees Starks strapped in a straight jacket and put inside a morgue casket for hours. The results are surprising to say the least.
“The fact that the character is not really defined by ethnicity, his religious beliefs, where he’s from, on any level, that’s not described,” Brody later commented on what attracted him to the film. “Nor does he have any allegiance to his own past, which defines us, how we are raised and told who are and what we are. I think that’s a remarkable place to be as an actor. It’s liberating but at the same time, who are you? And that’s a very exciting concept to explore in depth.
“I have my own ideas of what the film is about, but I also have to suspend that too when I’m doing it. Not even in explaining to you, but my process is that I have to believe everything that my character is believing while he’s experiencing it. If my character’s going mad, whether I’m dead or my character’s dreaming, I’m going mad in that moment and I have to experience that as part of my reality.”
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson – 2014)
Perhaps Brody’s most widely loved role sees him working with Wes Anderson on the acclaimed picture, The Grand Budapest Hotel as the son of Madame D. Dmitri.
Following the death of his mother, Dmitri learns that a priceless painting will be given to her younger lover and fastidious concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, Monsieur Gustave H. As Gustave and his newly-hired lobby boy Zero abscond with the painting a wonderfully rendered chase begins.
“What’s wonderful about Wes is he really knows clearly what it is he’s looking for, which I think is distilled more now by animatics and stuff, which are very useful in description,” Brody said. “There is room for the actor to interpret and find it, but he has given you so much ammunition to prepare you, as far as the look and feel. Everything is well thought out. You feel safe knowing someone has such a clear vision in storytelling.”
5. Summer of Sam (Spike Lee – 1999)
Spike Lee’s take on the infamous Son of Sam murders sees Brody take on the role of the punk freak Ritchie, a friend of the main protagonist Vinnie. All the while John Berkowitz, the notorious murderer is prowling the streets and crossing paths with the inhabitants of this North Bronx neighbourhood.
A young Brody delivers a nuanced performance as Ritchie, taking on the role of perennial outcast with a vigour and verve that would soon see him in starring roles.
“If that movie had come out after The Pianist, there’d be a lot more celebration of the daringness and the uniqueness of the character,” he later said of the project. “You don’t know who that actor is, you don’t know that punk culture had no influence on him in his entire life and he had to create something that’s entirely distant from himself.”
4. Detachment (Tony Kaye – 2011)
Tony Kaye’s Detachment is another masterclass from Brody as he effortlessly straddles the line of comedy and tragedy in the role of substitute teacher Henry Barthes.
Taking place over a month in Barthes’ life, we’re taking on an emotional journey as three women enter the teacher’s life. Each one changing him in a profound way as he confronts the suicide of his mother. Far more affecting than other teacher films, this is a real hard-hitter.
Discussing his love for the project, Brody later reflected: “That’s a movie that we all made for the right reasons and no one saw,” in an interview with The Guardian. “That is upsetting,” he added. “It was a wonderful role, and in playing that character it made me think a lot about our children’s future and how frightening it is, and what they’re up against.”
3. The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson– 2007)
Another one of the four films Brody has worked with Wes Anderson on The Darjeeling Limited saw Brody take on the role of Peter Whitman, one of three estranged brothers, as he and his two siblings travel across India trying to reconnect a year after their father’s funeral.
In typical Anderson fashion, the film is rich in imagery and style, allowing the subtle performances of Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman to really shine. Visually enticing the film ranks highly among Anderson’s impressive catalogue.
“I grew up in New York. I thought New York was a very unpredictable place, but when you get to India, it’s a very different story,” Brody later said. “I think the key is letting go and really going with the flow so to speak, because you have to. It really made me very aware of being present in the moment. You realise the precariousness of life and the preciousness of life there.
“It was a story about three brothers reconnecting, and friendship, and I had a very similar journey with everyone up here. When I watch the film, I am reliving my adventures with Jason and Wes and Owen and Roman. There are more parallels than I normally feel with roles that I am less similar to. It was a profound experience on a number of levels.”
2. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen – 2011)
There are not many actors in the world with the composure and delivery to be able to take on Salvador Dali in any meaningful way—but in Allen’s Midnight In Paris Brody did just that.
Considered one of Allen’s finest films, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Brody’s role among many famous faces stood out as being able to capture both the lunacy and genius of the surrealist painter.
Of course, given the allegations surrounding the film’s director, it would be a role that forces Brody into the discussion around the abuse claims made against Allen. Brody, however, has dodged the question each and every time. “I don’t even read about these things, to be honest,” said Brody. “It’s not that I stay in my lane. I choose not to indulge this kind of fodder. I think there’s a lot of catastrophe in this world and a lot of cruelty and a lot of carelessness. Of course it’s horrible what comes out sometimes, and people have done things in their lives that may be inexcusable, but it’s not something to focus on.”
“Life is very complicated,” Brody added. “I look to collaborate with artistic people and to go into an endeavour without judgment and to hopefully be treated with the same. It’s an artistic pursuit, and Polanski, for instance, had a very complicated and difficult life. It would be unfair of me to delve into something as complicated as the past that was brought up in the media.”
1. The Pianist (Roman Polanski– 2002)
The acclaimed film saw Brody taken on the role of Władysław Szpilman, a Polish Jewish musician who is struggling to survive the human destruction of the Warsaw ghetto of World War II. It saw the actor rise to his greatest performance.
Brody was rightly recognised for his career-defining role with countless nominations for his leading role as well as picking up the Academy Award for Best Actor. While director Roman Polanski’s reputation has since been tarnished, Brody’s stature as a leading man only grew from here.
“There comes a time in life when everything seems to make sense and this is not one of those times,” Brody said in his Oscars winning speech. “What I do know, though, is that I’ve never felt this much love and encouragement from my peers and from people I admire and from complete strangers. And it means a great deal to me. And if it weren’t for the insomnia and those sudden panic attacks, this has been an amazing, amazing journey.”
He added: “What can I say? This film would not be possible without the blueprint provided by Wladyslaw Szpilman. And this is a tribute to his survival. I’d like to thank Roman Polanski for the role of a lifetime.”