Sally A. Edwards joins Adrien Brody for a day in Paris to discover, that you can take the boy out of Queens, but you can’t take Queens out of the boy. Adrien takes Sally into his world of monkeys, motorbikes, bull fights and beats and discusses the dedication he has to create such compelling performances.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 2 Nø 9 print edition in 2008.
Interview and Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards.
Photography by Sarah J. Edwards.
Fashion Editor: Harris Elliott
Hair and Make-Up: Karin Bigler at ARTLIST, Paris
Shot on location at the Hotel Bel-Ami Saint Germain, Paris
Adrien Brody On Making Movies With Staying Power
A FRESH MORNING IN PARIS
Adrien Brody is only the second person to have had a follow-up cover with BLAG, having graced Vol.2 Nø 4. The other holder of this ‘record’ is André 3000. A trivial bit of information perhaps, but it just shows we like him. We invited Adrien again not only because he’s still our favourite, but we’re thoroughly impressed by his latest role in Wes Anderson’s wonderful film, ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ where he stars alongside Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson.
This time, we arranged to meet Adrien in Paris. It’s the morning of the interview and photoshoot. Crisp and fresh, yet grey. Sarah and I decide to take a quick stroll after breakfast in our local area of Saint Germain, then head back into our “home” and get set for our guest.
After numerous visits from Service, taking on the look and feel of one of those comedy scenes where the door is constantly opened and closed to various faces and expressions on the other side. It’s not long, before the phone rings again. “OK, just send him up, thanks,” says Sarah. There’s a knock at the door and we’re greeted with a huge grin and given a hug and kiss each from Adrien.
It’s been almost two years since we last met and as much as we laugh about it being an anniversary, it feels like it wasn’t so long ago at all. Adrien tells us coincidentally he was showing a friend his previous BLAG cover at the time our request for this came through, which he was pleased about. He unplugs his iPod and places it down together with his mobile phone. “They made me wait, they said you were on the phone.” Yes, regarding service.
“Do you want a cuppa?” I ask. “They do a great green tea here.”
“Yeah, sure. Green is good,” he answers.
Collectively various clothes are chosen to mix with Adrien’s own. We get set and do the shoot across several quintessentially Parisian locations. Our cover star is very accommodating, relaxed and cracks jokes which are followed by his infectious laugh – which you’ll hear a lot more of later. He is also very nonchalant when onlookers walk up to him, point and say, “Adrien Brody.” Some pull out digital cameras for a souvenir to showoff to their loved ones. No one asks permission, and surprisingly there are no Ps and Qs.
LES DEUX MAGGOTS
Once the shoot is done we pack up. We head over to Les Deux Maggots for some food and the interview. We’re given seats outside in a raised terrace area – luckily the Don’s seat, a favourite of mine in any establishment. We sit side-by-side with the sun now shining down on us. I set up the mini disc and ask Adrien to clip on the mic. “It feels much more authentic now,” he laughs.
Adrien is in a very upbeat mood, often smiling, his Queens accent is still pretty heavy with slight west coast intonation, brought out particularly with the word, ‘amazing’, but not that much, just a little.
He ponders and lingers over words within his answers, finds the seal to the sentence and punctuates it with a proud, quick roundness.
The minute I press record, sirens blast through the square...
“The sirens for a bit of atmosphere” laughs Adrien. “Being in Paris. You see I’m all about that. I’m all about the spontaneity, can’t you tell?”
“[Laughs] I love it.”
I wanted you to talk about The Darjeeling Limited quite a lot, then talk to you about the other stuff.
“OK. Great. Great.”
Sooo. Can you tell us about getting the script, or was the call first? What was your first impression?
“Well, what was really exciting was, you know I’m a huge fan of Wes’ work and I love ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’; it’s one of my favourite movies. I have often said to friends of mine that I would love to do a Wes Anderson movie. I love his sensibility and I love the uniqueness of his films and the characters within them, and I felt like I fit in in some way.”
So how did it first start? Did you get a phone call?
“Yeah, I got a call that he was possibly interested in me being in the movie, so then they sent a script and I loved the script. I laughed out loud when I read it, which is a great sign. Then I was shooting ‘Manolete’ in Spain – and actually working with the DP who shot ‘Manolete’ and ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, Bob Yeoman – and flew to New York, sat down with Wes and talked and you know, basically that was the process, you know he had to make sure he could hire me! [laughs]”
Was there any different kind of rigmarole to get in just because of the way he works, or...
“There wasn’t anything complicated in that sense, no. It was very good... I wish more films were like that. Sometimes, let me see... I do get more offers obviously since I guess, ‘The Pianist’ having increased people’s awareness of my work, but when an offer comes in from a director that you really admire it’s a real exciting moment and it’s an offer because there is a kind of confidence in you and awareness of your work, rather than having to prove yourself to that director which I appreciate.”
INDIA AND THE ROYAL ENFIELD
Definitely. So how quickly was it that you went to India from that initial meeting?
“Well, I went back and finished shooting [‘Manolete’] and then, I think I had... not much time, I think I probably had a month of downtime before going to India. We were there last year over... I guess the same time this year and we were there for Christmas and New Year’s.”
What was it like the moment you arrived in India? Have you been there before?
“I went once before about a year before that, just kind of on my own.”
Oh. Hang on a minute, didn’t you get the skulls necklace you were wearing when we last saw you from there?
“Oh yeah, did I wear that? That’s from India, that’s Tibetan, that’s pretty cool. I’d like to know where those went! [laughs]”
“No, I’m not suggesting, I put them down somewhere and I don’t know where they are. Yeah, I actually bought a motorcycle on that trip, a Royal Enfield. They still produce them, they’re British bikes, but they’re manufactured in India. They’re basically the same style as the originals and I bought it on the first trip and I was going to bring it back to the states. I bought that and a side-car. I loved the idea of me, kind of rolling around with, I don’t know… driving around with my bike and my girl in the side-car and it seemed cool, and then it turns out it took forever for them to send the bike and I got the job, so I asked them to just delay it so I had it when I was there. So I rode around the entire time we were in Rajasthan.
Then, when I went to ship it home, I found out that it wasn’t an export model so it was a good thing that I went back to India because I got to use it, but then I had to sell it. [Laughs]”
THE NEW BOY
OK, so what was your initial reaction when you got on set?
“Well, before we got on set, we ended up kind of having a week or two of living together. We all lived together in a big house. It was Owen and Jason, and Wes and Roman, and Bob, our DP and Lydia, our producer and so... [laughs] Immediately they created a very family-like environment which was cool and we...”
Oh, I’ve got a question about that.
Shall I skip to it?
What was it like joining the family or being the new boy? Was there any kind of initiation ritual?
“Yeah, I’ve been asked that. It’s funny, I...”
Oh, I thought that might’ve been original! [Laughs]
“Well, I’ve been asked how does it feel being like the odd man out. Meaning everybody already had a good rapport and a friendship. It never felt that way to me because always when you go to work on a movie it’s a matter of everybody gelling and figuring out each other’s methods, and since there’s already such a kind of routine that’s already established it was just a matter of me fitting into that, and that wasn’t difficult. You know, it was pretty clear what we needed to do. Wes has a very specific style in which he shoots which is actually very exciting and it just meant that everybody had to be very prepared so we can be very free and spontaneous within a very organized somewhat choreographed set-up, and because the shots were these seamless moving masters, we had to be very prepared because if there was one mis-step, the whole scene was lost and you didn’t want to be the one to make that error.”
[Laughs] No, not being the new boy.
“No, especially not being the new kid.”
OK, what were their acting styles and methods like? Are there any differences? Just because they’re a tight unit and have all worked together so much before.
“Their acting styles? Like the other guys?”
“You know Wes likes things to be very simple and succinct, which I love. I love that kind of direction rather than being told to make things more broader or more visible. I think the beauty of film is that the subtlety and the intimacy that people have in close quarters is really captured, and can be done so beautifully, and that intimacy is an amazing thing to share with a large group of people. That is something that attracts me to film work as an actor, because I like that style of acting.”
Because you were all in quite close quarters for a long time weren’t you?
“Yeah, we were on a moving train.”
Did you have your own living area or carriage?
“Not quite, we had like a closet we could tuck into if we need to, but for the most part we had one common room and we hung out there, but we were usually on set working, and working together, and if not shooting...”
I was under the impression that you were living on the train too, is that right?
“No, not living, but we were living on it all day. I mean we’d get up at the crack of dawn, get dressed. There wasn’t a wardrobe change, so basically you throw on a suit. It had a microphone pre-wired in the shirt so we just plugged in a pack when we got to set. The trains were pre-wired for lighting and basically set-up and then we just got to work right away.”
We pause recording to order food, and resume...
“And we’re back,” says Adrien pressing record. “Les Deux Magots. Alright, so did I finish that? I think I finished that thought.”
Tell us about the set and your experiences filming on the train, I know you just told us about the lights, but I know there were sliding walls in your compartment in order to fit cameras in.
“Um...Yeah. I mean basically it was a film set.
You read that on the notes. Were we making cliff notes?”
“What are cliff notes? They’re like when you don’t have time to read a whole book and you’re in college and you have...
Oh, I sat up reading all of this! [I laugh waving the production notes.]
“No, but those are the short descriptions of major works, like, ‘Have you read MacBeth?’
‘No, I read the cliff notes.’”
“Anyway, so essentially what they did which was pretty amazing, was they took a train, a real train in India – we got permission by the Indian Rail Authority which was very complicated – to actually shoot and work on the actual tracks. We’d go out early in the morning and we’d ride for six hours and ride back for six hours. We’d shoot all day on the track through the desert to Jaisalmer which is basically on the border with Pakistan and this train had to essentially be a movie studio on wheels. You know, we had a production car, a wardrobe car and an extras holding and all these things. On those days we would just get on and everything had to be on, or the set wasn’t there you know. You had to show up on time, or you’d miss the whole set.”
You never actually had to run for the train?
“I think, I can’t remember, but I do think there is a possibility that I did have to kind of run to catch the train. I wasn’t that late, you know they were very punctual.”
“[Laughs] But the locations aside from that, I mean we shot in amazing places. We shot on a mountain top in this beautiful village which is where we actually shot that feather ceremony on Christmas 2006, and we took an even smaller crew. We walked up to the top of this mountain which was 700 or more steps and we had this wonderful, kind of fun...”
Did you have sore thighs the next day? [laughs]
“Noooo, we were all in pretty good shape, it was a work out. I think I did it a second time, I think I went back up later with my girlfriend, but we did this amazing journey and we filmed it. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about when I see the movie, I look back and I see my journey as a person was very similar in a lot of ways to what the character was going on. At least on a physical level because in movies it often looks like I’m doing something, but I’m not really doing it unfortunately. I’m not really running through a jungle when I look like I’m running through a jungle, I’m on a treadmill, I’m running in a green room with 30 people looking at me. There’s much more authenticity when you’re actually on a location, especially something that is as exotic as India. It created a really... I don’t know it was a... I hate to use the word organic, but it was organic. It felt real, it felt more honest and I think it created a really special bond with not just the actors –which I think is very visible in the film, but with everyone, because we were all on this adventure together rather than acting as if we’re on an adventure together and going back to our trailers. There were no trailers, there was no make-up process, there was nothing to kind of pull us away from the work and then kind of interacting with one another.”
(There’s a long pause....)
Are you done with that bit?
“[Laughs] It didn’t seem like I was finished, huh?”
I thought you were pausing to add something in.
“I thought it was clear. No. We’re done. We...”
OK moving on. So, from my ‘cliff notes’, I discovered Wes Anderson threw caution to the wind, and there were accidental and unpredictable aspects caught on camera. Can you tell us about this? Was there any improvisation on your part?
“There wasn’t any... I think what is amazing is, it looks incredibly improvised, I don’t think there was that much straying from the dialogue so to speak. I think what Wes liked was to create a real sense of pace and once we got the pace going there was room to play around within that, but not to take too much time.”
I know it might sound a bit childish, but were there any tricks played, like was the ‘mace’ just water? Or did it have a peppermint tinge?
“Oh, the mace was just water, if they did that, that wouldn’t have had the desired affect I don’t think. It would have been the last time we shot that scene, but no... I remember Owen and I kind of goofing off a lot and we’d kind of play around just like brothers would.
“We’d trip each other up here and there, then one time I gave him a hot seat. You know what a hot seat is? Where you take a lighter and someone’s kind of bent over doing something and you kind of roast their ass a little bit? And [laughs] he didn’t realise what it was! [laughs] His reaction was so funny that I couldn’t keep my composure! [laughs] So he just hauled off on me and we got into a brawl basically, it was funny, he wasn’t genuinely angry, but it was definitely the intensity that ...[laughs] ...that a brother would get after messing around, you push the limit and then, you know... It was pretty fun, pretty fun. We also had this game that we would play. It’s like a balancing game where you push each other. You stand straight to each other and you put your hands together and you kind of push each other’s hands and whoever looses their balance and falls looses. I was the reigning champion, so the bet just kept increasing, increasing, double or nothing and it was fun. It felt good. [laughs] That was the extent of the competitiveness though, the rest was really supportive, it was really fun.”
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Can you describe Wes Anderson, his attention to detail and creative mind? Has he inspired you to do anything else, like get behind the camera, or is it just his way that’s good to get involved with from your aspect?
“Well, he’s very involved. We’ll rehearse something and if it doesn’t quite work we’ll figure it all out together and figure out ways of making the moment more truthful, but he and Jason, and Roman have put a tremendous amount of work into what they want to convey and I think it was a very personal script for them, I think they all kind of drew from personal experiences whether they were pleasurable or painful and they created a very real script. So what was amazing, was how much detail and thought had gone into everything.”
That’s right, because we find whenever we go back and watch [Wes’] work you can always find something new.
“So much, I know. It’s actually great to revisit it, two or three times because there is so much, you really feel like you’re in on it once you’ve had time to absorb it; you’re in on it. You understand the complexity of it and the thought that’s gone into it. I don’t know, I love it. I love a movie that has staying power and I think it’s a classic Wes Anderson movie. I think it’s one of my favourite films that he’s done, I’m really honoured to be in it, but I really do feel it’s got something so special and it’s actually more emotional and probably more personal. I’m proud to be in it, but I think it’s a fun movie. I’d love to look back at that when I’m older. It’s great when you have movies that you think your grandchildren will get a kick out of, like that and ‘King Kong’ you know? [laughs]
Yes. Can you tell us about the art direction, the costumes and isn’t there a carriage that was all hand-painted with elephants, is that right?
“No. A character that’s all hand painted with elephants?”
A carriage. A train carriage.
A carriage. (In American accent) A train car.
“You said a carriage, not a character, that’s what I misunderstood. A train carriage. Never heard that. I understand it now, but I didn’t… Well, all of them. I mean it’s a typical Rajasthani trade, this kind of print / painting on things and there’s a lot of skilled workers. The fun way Wes described it – they would kind of basically tell them what they would want done and it would come back kind of different, but they would just run with that and they not only accepted it, but they had to embrace what was given to back to [them]. So it would not necessarily be exactly what they wanted, but they were beautiful. The train was incredibly beautiful, but the sets, Mark Friedberg – our production designer, was incredible, you know. Also the locations and just India. It’s so stimulating and visual. I think all your senses are constantly being stimulated and at times it’s even overwhelming, but it’s pretty amazing. I remember there was a time I was doing yoga while we where there, I was just kind of off on the ground over by this house and there was an amazing little forested area in the middle of all this desert, and right next to us they’d destroyed all the land by building a rock quarry and they were mining, or basically strip-mining the earth. So there’d be blasts and these big explosions. There were monkeys and parrots, and smoke coming in from the village from the streets and horns blaring from the distance. It was hard to let go! [laughs] It was very hard to just kind of breath, but I also found it incredibly beautiful to realise how much I was experiencing at any one given moment, how many things and how a steady cacophony of things going on, it was very exciting.”
Going back to the characters. Do you have any siblings in real life?
“No. I don’t.”
Ahhh. So what was it like playing brothers, because it was really natural to watch. I guess you had the chance to bond with them seeing as you were living in a house at first.
“Yeah, yeah... I mean you have a responsibility as an actor to work towards connecting and hopefully you work with cool people. In this case they were incredibly sweet guys and they’re all very good people and talented, and creative. So I felt very lucky to be a part of that group. I felt like I was more in a summer camp and kind of like some student film, rather than the pressure of making a movie which is rare. Normally it’s much higher pressure.”
I wanted to talk about the soundtrack.
“The soundtrack’s amazing. Let me have a bite, because I’m starving...” Adrien points to his beef, “That’s rare, bloody. They like their shit raw. ‘Ooh baby, I like it raw.’“ he sings ODB’s song and laughs. “Not that raw, not that raw! It was described on the menu as that: roast beef, a salad and mayonnaise. They described it very well... No, but the soundtrack is amazing, I’m sorry I didn’t answer that. I love it.”
It’s definitely got Wes Anderson’s signature.
“It definitely does. It’s random, but it all works so beautifully together which is amazing, because there’s so many different influences. It’s amazing how much it brings back the movie. I’ve heard soundtracks where I’ll remember the theme, like yeah, the theme brings back certain feelings from the movie, but so much of this... I don’t know, I guess it’s very visual. The music kind of brings back the visual so much and I guess the emotions of those moments, so I was impressed.”
Cool, so I’ll just wait until you have a mouthful then ask you the next question.
“OK, you can just ask and I’ll mull it over my roast beef sandwich.”
OK, my last question for The Darjeeling Limited is: Did the experience live up to the first impression?
“It surpassed it.”
I knew you were going to say that.
“You knew I was?”
Yes. Go on, carry on. [laughs] I’ll get into the next bit in a minute.
“Well, because the first impression was… where is the first impression? I mean there’s a first impression having dinner in New York, there’s a first impression stepping off a plane. In India, there’s a first impression, there’s the first day of working with someone.”
When you got the call, when you had thoughts of what it might be like.
“I see. Well, I never know what anything’s going to be like, so I try not to have expectations, because if your expectations are too high you’re setting yourself up for a let down. And things will never be how you imagine them or vision them, and people often aren’t... You know, the big drawback of becoming famous is that there are a lot of positive things, but one of the drawbacks is that people assume they know how I am by bits of information that they’ve come across. Because – and the problem is that you come to the table already with a misunderstanding so to speak, people feel that they understand you a certain way, whether it’s positive or negative.
Whatever they assume about you, they’re definitely going to be set up for surprise, or perhaps disappointment, or often times people are like, ‘Oh you’re so cool! I hear actors are this way.’ You know so even just being an actor. So the moment you ‘act’ like an actor – quotations marks, acts. You are... I think it’s become very apparent to me how... Sometimes it’s positive, I mean people think they know you and I think it’s a remarkable thing because there is less of a guardedness with a lot of people. They feel a connection to me and in a sense they have seen a glimpse of something very intimate, but they don’t know me intimately and you can only have that from spending lots of time with somebody, not just one moment because we all have good days and bad days and behave differently on different days and respond differently to different people’s influence. Er... anyway, it’s not your question, but…”
No it’s fine. If it inspires you to say something then go for it. Right, what else have you been up to since we last saw you? Bullfighting? Have you acquired any other skills?
“[Laughs] Um... Well, I unfortunately haven’t been making as much music as I would like because... life... I don’t know there’s too many other things to deal with and I regret that. I’d rather be spending more time being creative than handling other things. What else have I been doing? I’ve been travelling a lot. I was in Peru for a month, I was in Chile, I was in Argentina, I was in Spain, Romania, Belgrade, Montenegro, Paris, London... too much! [laughs] I’ve been travelling.”
Can you tell us more about ‘Manolete’? Is that the right pronunciation?
“Manolete? It’s perfect pronunciation. Well, I’d love it to come out. I did the film.”
Did you go and work with the guy you were telling us about before?
“Cayetano Rivera? Cayetano and Spartaco were the two guys that really helped me and welcomed me into that world. Caetano’s a very young, very popular bullfighter. His family were bullfighting greats and his father is an amazing fighter. His grandfather actually has the remains of Orson Welles buried in his backyard because he was a big fan of bullfighting. Ummm... It was very challenging and difficult.”
So how did they set you up? What was it like when they let you go?
“Well, I went there very early, I spent probably six weeks alone just living on this ranch with Spartaco in the South of Spain, training. I travelled with Cayetano as he was practising before the year’s season started. You know, the culture is so different unlike anything that I had seen or experienced in my life growing up in New York! But, I had a big responsibility to connect to it and connect to the understanding of a man. I think, it was very important that I fought with some authenticity. I had to fight young calves. I had to learn how to... You know, the fear is substantial when you have something like that coming at you, you have to really face it. It’s like, even a small calf is very powerful and very painful when it runs over you, and I couldn’t sleep on my left side for two weeks after I got run over once, but it was more than that. The psychology was very difficult because I was playing a man who was facing death everyday, and delivering death everyday. Then, also dealing with being overwhelmingly famous and having to represent Spain in a time in history when it was... you know, nobody had anything and he was like... they looked towards, you know even Franco used bullfighting in a political way to kind of rally people. [My character] had a huge burden on him and he was also going through a very tumultuous relationship with an actress who he was in love with and it was a very hard life. It was a tragic love story basically and that’s what attracted me to it, more than the uncanny resemblance I have to Manolete and his occupation.”
THE BROTHERS BLOOM
And the other film, is ‘The Brothers Bloom’?
‘The Brothers Bloom’ should be really fun. It’s a con artist movie. I did a lot of that travelling for that film. We shot all over Europe. Have you seen ‘Brick’?
Not all of it...
“It’s great. It’s pretty fun.”
I love the way it’s shot.
“It is amazing how it’s shot and they did that with no money literally. They had no money, a few hundred thousand dollars that movie was made for.”
Is it the same people, or?
“It’s the same director.”
I haven’t got loads of information on that because I didn’t want to look it up and get false results.
“Yeah, there you go. See. I appreciate that. It’s a movie about two brothers who are con artists. I’m kind of the reluctant con artist. I want to get out of the business and [Rian Johnson] is a very unique director. I loved working with him. He’s got a real vision. There’s a lot of humour in that film aswell and it’s very stylised.”
Because you said you wanted to do some less serious films didn’t you...
“Yeah. I mean it’s not that I want to do less serious... I think overwhelmingly painful journeys that a character has to go through takes a toll on the actor, and if you do too many of those – especially the way I work, you cause harm to yourself. So I think you have to pace them and only do them when you’re capable of doing them and up for it; not just because the opportunity is there and that you’re proving yourself to do that and so there would be more opportunities of that than something less intense emotionally.”
Is it right you’ve narrated a short film (‘The Tehuacan Project’)?
“I did. A friend of mine did a documentary on an organisation in Mexico that helps deaf children and he asked me to do it. He has a relationship with Brad Pitt and so Brad kind of financed it and yeah, it was great just to do something different. I like the choice my friend made to do it.”
I wanted to ask you if you’ve ever considered doing theatre, or in London for that matter?
“I would, I would, I guess. I mean we’re facing a strike depending on how long that strike goes. The Screen Actor’s Guild and a number of the unions are potentially going to go on strike. There was interest in me actually for something really cool that I unfortunately had to pass on because it would be too big of a… I’m not a singer, so it would have been... It was awesome. What it was was awesome.”
Where was that for?
“It would be for Broadway. But I wasn’t, I don’t know if I can say what it is. I mean I probably can but I don’t know. It was cool. Either way it was pretty dope, but I couldn’t...
“Sweeney Todd? No. More hardcore, much more hardcore.”
Alright, last thing is music.
“Music. [Sings] ‘Just like music’.”
What are you listening to?
“Well, I’ve been listening to John Frusciante. That’s what I was listening to this morning on a grey, gloomy day in Paris, but what have I been listening to? I’ve been listening to a lot of really dope reggae that Stretch gave me years ago. I found a disc drive that he had hooked me up with a long time ago with some really cool music that I just had in storage. I pulled off all this great reggae stuff and it’s actually been really inspirational. I remember I would sit hanging on the outside of this train on the way back at dusk, we’d be done with shooting with my ipod and just feeling it. Feeling it with fucking elephants going by and it was just fresh. I was in the tropics and not high, but feeling so connected with it and feeling really high on life. It was really amazing. It was like my theme song, ‘Puff She Puff’. They asked me to put a celebrity playlist together on iTunes so that’ll probably come out, but a lot of it is just the reggae shit I’ve been listening to lately. [laughs] They’re going to get the wrong impression of me! But I don’t care. It doesn’t mean anything. Those impressions.”