Adrien Brody is cut from the same cloth as some of our most famous Method actors: Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, and Dustin Hoffman. And in Blonde, now on Netflix, Brody gets to delve into the New York milieu that produced those legendary actors, portraying playwright Arthur Miller.
"It is a sacred space and time, and has laid the groundwork for a caliber of acting and an understanding and love of the craft of acting that is very important to me," he tells EW of the era of American theater he's stepping into.
Brody describes his performance in Blonde as a culmination of his career to date. "So much of the work has shaped me and the man that I am today," he says. "All of this diversity in this work has really fed me as an artist and as a man."
With that in mind, we asked Brody to take us back through some of his highlights, from a breakout role in 1999's Summer of Sam to this year's Blonde.
<em>Summer of Sam</em> (1999)
Though he'd been working for a decade by the time he booked Summer of Sam with director Spike Lee, Brody's performance as punk rocker Richie earned him significant critical attention. Still relatively unknown, Brody immersed himself in the punk scene of New York City before filming began. "At that point, the Lower East Side was a vibrant, wild community loaded with the most amazing characters," he remembers. "I had that Mohawk and the liberty spikes, and I remember how differently people behaved toward me in the city — just in my day-to-day activity and how judgmental people were based on my appearance." Brody also learned to play guitar for the role and even played a live show for a real audience of punk fans at the iconic CBGB club, which was filmed for the movie. "At 23, it was such an amazing experience," he says. "A girl came up to me after we did our set, and she asked where she could get my music. I was just like, Oh, my God, I want to be a rock star."
<em>The Pianist</em> (2002)
Brody won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Polish Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, making him at 29 the youngest actor to win in that category. The grueling physical and emotional toll he put himself through to believably play a Holocaust survivor has been well-documented, from a starvation diet to breaking up with his then-girlfriend. To this day, Brody calls the role and all he learned making the film one of the most "profound" experiences of his life. "I didn't feel as young as I was, but I recognized that it was my real introduction into manhood and understanding things in a different capacity than I had," he says. "It affected me on a much deeper level than any of the physically difficult aspects. It touched me to the core. There was an enormous amount of responsibility on my shoulders in honoring that horrible time in history and distilling one man's journey through the Holocaust and such cruelty and horrors that are really unimaginable, and yet, are precariously close. It gave me such understanding and gratitude, which I haven't lost. Even prior to any of the success of the film or accolades that came my way, I had this huge growth and transformation as an artist, as a young man, and as a human being."
<em>The Village</em> (2004)
When Brody signed on to play the mentally disabled Noah Percy in The Village, he hadn't worked in a year. Between a six-month gauntlet of press and speaking engagements promoting The Pianist and his choosiness with projects, the right script hadn't come along. "I've always tried to make my decisions based on an instinct and an opportunity to work with filmmakers that I feel will elevate my own work," he notes, explaining that collaborating with M. Night Shyamalan was what first piqued his interest. But to sign on to The Village, one of Shyamalan's more twisty and shocking thrillers, Brody had to make the decision on his own, sans even his agent. "Night offered me this role," Brody says, "under the condition of not sharing the script with anybody, like anybody. I made the decision in a void. I honored my word. I thought this was a really challenging, complex character to play and a director that I admire."
<em>King Kong</em> (2005)
As writer Jack Driscoll, Brody took on his biggest-budgeted project yet in Peter Jackson's reimagining of the original Hollywood masterwork King Kong. Still, Jackson lent the set an intimacy that belied the scale. "Working with Peter on this enormous movie, which at the time I believe was Universal's most expensive film, was just like working on an independent film in many ways," Brody explains. "We worked on a different scale, but it was really being helmed by a filmmaker in a very insulated environment." Even so, it required Brody to work with CGI on a new level — for him and Hollywood in general. "Technology was evolving at such a fast pace at that time that we had done some full spatial scans," he says. "Halfway through the filming, we had re-do them because they had developed a whole new level of technology."
<em>The Grand Budapest Hotel</em> (2014)
Brody calls director Wes Anderson a "dear friend," and the two have made four films together, but his villainous turn as Dmitri, the son of the deceased Madame D, might be Brody's favorite."It's funnier than I had thought [it would be] on the page when I first saw it," he says. "It's fun to be able to play this diabolical character that's a bit larger than life." Working with Anderson and his distinctive, intricate visual style requires a different approach to acting. "It takes a very specific level of attention to detail and understanding of what's being asked of you," Brody explains. "Then it's a matter of creating something unique and your own within that. Wes has a wonderful specificity. He sees every detail and has a vision for it. Then. it's a matter of everyone finding their way to make it come to life. The camera moves and the pace is so unique."
<em>Peaky Blinders</em> (2017)
As New York mafioso Luca Changretta, Brody joined the fourth season of Steven Knight's Netflix drama about a youth gang in the aftermath of World War I — but he wanted to stay longer. "A character like that was something that I'd been wanting to play for many years," he says. "It had room for all of this fun stuff to honor a style in filmmaking and acting that I loved, and a style and character and lore within the foundations of family, mafia, honor and all these things. I desperately tried to persuade them to find a way to keep Luca alive to come back for revenge. I really wanted to stay. I did not want to go home."
For season 3 of hit drama Succession, Adrien Brody waded into the murky pool of the Roys' business dealings as shareholder Josh Aaronson. Brody says he actually found Josh quite likable. "I thought he was somewhat civilized," he muses. "He just held the cards — someone else finally held the cards." Brody admits he drew on many real figures and tech giants to craft his vision of Josh. "It's definitely based on reality to some degree," he adds. "It's an amalgamation of several people."
<em>Winning Time</em> (2022)
Brody is a stand-out member of the star-studded cast of HBO's fictionalized account of the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers and their rise to prominence. He stars as Pat Riley, who initially joins the organization as an underling to Chick Hearn, before being thrust into a coaching role. For Brody, who grew up watching that team, it was a version of Riley totally foreign to him. "The Pat Riley that remained indelible in my mind is very different from the stage of Pat Riley that we've seen on Winning Time," he explains. "I learned all about that period in his life and transitions in his life. It's given me more respect for him and what he's achieved, but he's always been this iconic coach and image of this man who carries himself with authority and understanding and passion. There are certain people that are so striking and he has that quality. I'm excited to get to that stage of his life."
As Arthur Miller, Brody felt a huge responsibility in bringing a revered figure of the American theater to life, while also offering a grounded space for Ana de Armas' Marilyn Monroe to play off of. "I wanted to ensure that there was some empathy and some hopefulness and love," he explains. "That felt essential and would honor a complex relationship like a marriage. Even though it's to be distilled in and fictionalized in a limited amount of screen time, I had a responsibility in portraying someone who was also quite iconic, to honor him and his memory. I worked toward having that connection [with Ana] be as meaningful as possible within the amount of time that we had and for his love to be present. [And for Ana], I know the struggle it takes to deliver a performance like that and the bravery that it takes. When you have all these wonderfully committed people around you, that charges the room and you have a space to do your best work."