The challenge for any journalist writing about a great actor is really trying to paint an accurate picture of who he is. But how does one do that with someone who seamlessly transitions into different personas? That is certainly the case with Adrien Brody. just 29, when he exuberantly and spontaneously smacked one on Halle Berry as he accepted the best actor Oscar for his role in The Pianist, Brody has since gone on to establish himself as a “serious” actor, proving that the academy did indeed get it right when they gave him the honour of being the youngest to win a best Oscar actor. On his first nomination, Brody beat out some strong competition in the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicholas Cage, Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine, all previous Oscar recipients to emerge on top.
That was a defining moment in my career,” he says to August Man. “It opened the door for me to be able to work with incredible directors like Wes Anderson, Peter Jackson, Woody Allen, and many more. There’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be here now, doing this interview, if it weren’t for that experience.”
But making history isn’t always easy, particularly when one is a burgeoning young actor. But Brody remained steadfast in his quest.
“There were of course some challenges and expectations that came along with that Oscar,” he adds. “But my philosophy has remained static̶pursuing the roles and projects that speak to me. There are so many ingredients that go into making a great film̶the script, the performances, the director, the editing, the marketing campaign, the release timing, luck and so much more. The only true control I have is the choice to say yes or no, and the performance I deliver.”
Case in point is his latest film, slated for release later this month. Brody goes for the unexpected, appearing alongside Jackie Chan in the period film Dragon Blade, an epic film written and directed by Daniel Lee, which also stars John Cusack. Dragon Blade revolves around the tale of a Roman legion that made its way to China during the time of the Han dynasty. In the film, Brody takes on the role of the villainous General Tiberius who makes his way to China to take control of the Silk Road. There he meets resistance from a Chinese military officer Huo An (Chan) and a Roman General (Cusack).
It may seem an uncharacteristic choice of role for the typically “intense” Brody but it was a no-brainer for the actor who acquired an appreciation for Chinese films early on.
“I grew up on Kung Fu movies! Honestly, when I was a young boy, before I gained a true appreciation of Hollywood movies, I used to go with my Dad to China Town in New York, and watch great Chinese films in the theatre. I loved the excitement of watching martial arts movies with my father when I was growing up, and here I am, working in one of the biggest Chinese action films, with Jackie Chan, who is a hero to me in many ways. It doesn’t get much better than this, it’s a gift.”
Brody describes the film as “exciting” and “epic” and his own character as a “ruthless invader.” But in true Brody fashion, there is nothing one-dimensional about the villain.
“Although Tiberius is a nefarious character, with dark intentions, I attempted to ensure that we might feel a degree of empathy for him. His obsessions, like many others, are fueled by insecurity, which blinds his actions and cruelty, and leads him to crave the power and adoration he longs for.”
To prep for the part, Brody was taken under the wing by Chan’s stunt team. Having already trained in martial arts, the film allowed him to take his skills to a new level, through sparring with some of the best in the world.
“What I find so beautiful about martial arts films is that it’s not just brutality and fighting,” he says. “It’s graceful. I learned how to make a ‘flower’ with the sword before I took out my opponent. Jackie saw me practice and liked what I was doing so he had them give me even more complex action sequences.”
“Adventurous and curious” by nature, Brody relishes the opportunity to shoot films around the world, amidst different cultures. The Darjeeling Limited, The Grand Budapest Hotel and now, Dragon Blade are just some examples.
“I mostly work abroad,” he says. “The beauty of working in remote places is experiencing cultures that are different from your own. You understand how different things are but also the similarities. One of the best things about this job is the human interaction̶being able to connect, inspire and learn while creating something universal and artistic. You find the people you interact well with and hopefully continue to interact with them. I don’t so much compare the experiences as try to just immerse myself in them, learn and grow and take that with me once I’ve moved on to the next project.”