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Interview with Oscar-Winning Actor Adrien Brody.

Aired December 14, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET



ANNA COREN, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): It's set during one of the worst famines in modern Chinese history. Hit by drought in 1942, the desperate population of China's Hunan Province was forgotten by a government preoccupied with a Japanese invasion.

Some three million people died. It was a time documented American journalist Theodore White, a man brought back to life by Chinese director, Feng Xiaogang, in his recent cinematic recreation and played by Hollywood heavyweight, Adrien Brody.

No stranger to heavy subjects, Brody became the youngest person ever to win an Academy Award for best actor with his role in Roman Polanski's biographical World War II drama, "The Pianist".

ADRIEN BRODY, ACTOR: Sell this. Food is more important than time.

COREN (voiceover): An accolade that would see him quickly become a Hollywood star and go on to play roles as diverse as the hero in Peter Jackson's blockbuster, "King Kong", Salvador Dali in Woody Allen's off-beat film, "Midnight in Paris" -

BRODY: And I am the (ph) Dali. You have to remember.

COREN (voiceover): And a former CIA agent and mercenary in the sci-fi success, "Predators".

TOPHER GRACE, ACTOR: Just what the hell is going on here?

BRODY: We're being hunted.

COREN (voiceover): This week, on "Talk Asia", we sit down with Adrien Brody in China as the modest actor tells us about tuning his talents for his most recent historical wartime drama.


COREN: Adrien Brody, welcome to "Talk Asia".

BRODY: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

COREN: Let's start with your family. You were born in Queens, New York. An only child. And, from everything that I've read about you, you're very close to your parents. Tell me about them and the impact that they've had on your life.

BRODY: I'm very close. I feel very blessed because I have two very loving parents. They're still together. My father is a complete gentleman and someone I look up to very much. And my mother is a wonderful, free- spirited, very artistic woman.

COREN: It's where you got this creativity in your family. And I understand you were quite a theatrical child. You had "The Amazing Adrien" was your act at children's birthday parties at the age of -

BRODY: That was a long time ago, but yes.

COREN: A long time ago, but still, we all have beginnings.

BRODY: It was my introduction to performing, I guess. I think I was fascinated by magic. And I think most children are. Magic is magic - it's magical. And then, on a deeper level, I think once you learn how to perform the trick and learn the routine, you have this sort of wonderful power. As a kid you can kind of, I don't know, captivate adults' attention and, you know, I think that there's something wonderful. And, as an actor, there's a very similar process. You're creating something that doesn't necessarily exist and you're making it believable and real.

COREN: Adrien, you moved to LA when you were 20-years-old, hoping to pursue a career in acting. Describe to us what life was -- life back then.

BRODY: Well, that's a good question. What was life like? As I recall it, it was both very free, because I had very little responsibility, and yet at the same time, very daunting, because I knew that I loved acting and it was so challenging to even get an audition or an audition for something that was meaningful. You know, there's over a hundred thousand actors in the Screen Actors' Guild and there are a handful of brilliant roles. And that's stiff odds.

COREN: And what about in LA? When you were turning up for these auditions and people are knocking you back and you have to turn out the next day. And it's just this ongoing process of knock-backs until you land that gig. It must be hard.

BRODY: Not necessarily -- not knock-backs. I mean, they - it comes with the territory that -

COREN: You develop thick skin?

BRODY: You can't be too hardened. Because if you're hardened, you're not sensitive and you have to be vulnerable. You have to be unafraid of showing your flaws in portraying flawed human beings.

COREN: You appeared in a number of movies. And then, in 1998, you were offered a role in Terrence Malick's highly anticipated movie, "The Thin Red Line". It was obviously a huge opportunity, but it also was a disappointment because a number of the scenes that you starred in were cut out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how anybody could march and fight in rough terrain with an ankle like that. How long was it bothering you?

BRODY: About a couple weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then why the hell did you wait so long to come to the hospital? Yeah, well you'll need an operation, that's for sure. Several months in a cast. You prepared to spend several months in a plaster cast?


BRODY: Well, it was very confusing. Even though I had - you know, the disappointing thing is when you work really hard and you immerse yourself in something, you wait for that to kind of come back somehow. And it just vanished. It disappeared. And there was no real clear understanding, for me, you know - but it's OK. I think there has to be big disappointment so that the wins are blessings. And it didn't break me.

COREN: No, exactly. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. But I can only imagine that, at the time, it must have been crushing.

BRODY: Well, I had -

COREN: You were on the publicity trail and you're out there promoting the movie.

BRODY: On the cover of Vanity Fair and, you know, I thought I was staring in a film with some great, legendary actors and a director who I have tremendous admiration for and had not made a film in 20 years. I mean, it was - but, again, it's part of the journey and now it's Hollywood lore. I'm asked about that in most interviews, still, you know, 15 years later.


COREN (voiceover): Coming up, Adrien Brody opens up about his time preparing for "The Pianist".

BRODY: It was very painful. It was very difficult. I spent a lot of time alone.




BRODY: Please. I'm Polish.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he's Polish.


BRODY: I'm cold.


COREN: "The Pianist", I mean, that was a role that changed your life.

BRODY: It did change my life, yes, it did.


BRODY: It did.

COREN: When you were making that film, did you have any idea how big it was going to be?

BRODY: Well, I knew it was a lot of pressure on me. That's what I knew. And I knew I had a huge responsibility because I'm representing the suffering that Roman Polanski had experienced personally and I was the vessel in which he could express all of this. And that's a huge burden for a 27-year-old. But I relished in it. I really - it was very painful, it was very difficult.

I spent a lot of time alone. I spent a lot of time removing all the things that gave me comfort and made me feel safe and - including, you know, giving up my apartment and selling my car and disconnecting my phone and - you know, subsequently relationship - my relationship failed and all these things that kind of just pulled myself out. And I had no place to go home to. I had no idea what home was at that point when I left. And it was good. It was good to experience that and also, you know, physical transformation was necessary, so.

COREN: Yes, tell us about that. Because, I mean, you lost a lot of weight for that role.

BRODY: I had to lose as much weight as I could within the timeframe that I had. And you can't really - you can't act being emaciated. You have to get thin. And you have to - and it's interesting, because one thing led to another as far as, like, you know, the need for the physical change hurt so much that the process hurt so much that it created an emptiness that then the music - because I also had to learn Chopin - healed, because it distracted me from being hungry.

And that kind of gave me insight into the language within the music that I never really understood. And then, you know, one thing led to another and an emotional truth was found. And that really could not have been found without that process. So, you know, you have to do it. You have to invest in it.

COREN: Well, director Roman Polanski, he is the one who cast you for that role. There is no denying that he is a brilliant, brilliant director.


COREN: He's also a man who was convicting of having sex with a 13- year-old girl. What was it like working with him, considering his history?

BRODY: You just don't go there. I mean, you work with people for what they bring to the table. And you communicate as partners in a process that you share. Many creative people are involved and, you know, I love Roman. I mean, he's a great human being and he's a very gifted, gifted director. And I valued that. I valued that so much - that process taught me more about acting and directing than anything - it was a master class. It was a master class. I couldn't have paid for that education.

COREN: As a result of your brilliant performance in "The Pianist", you won an Oscar. Describe that moment when your name was read out.

BRODY: I'm sure many people have said that it sounds like slow motion. But it really did sound like slow motion. They slowed it down and, realistically, well I didn't know what to expect because I hadn't won any of the prior awards in The States. And it's the pinnacle for an actor. So I'm very, very grateful for that.

COREN: It is the pinnacle for an actor. And you were 29. The youngest actor to win an Oscar. Where do you go from that? How do you beat that?

BRODY: Well, I don't know if you have to beat it. It's not something I feel that I have to beat. I feel that it actually alleviated some of my own pressure that I had on me. You know, some - I don't know. We all have to prove something to our self and I've got less to prove. It doesn't mean I'm less focused in any way. It means that I - that I - I don't have to prove anything. And that's a wonderful thing. That's a wonderful thing to happen in your youth.

COREN: Adrien, during your acceptance speech, in which you received a standing ovation, you made a reference to the war and called for, you know, peace and goodwill. The U.S. is still at war in Afghanistan. It's a war that's entered its 12th year. What are your views on this and America's foreign policy?

BRODY: It's just a very complex and tragic situation. And too many innocent people suffer as a result of that, regardless of what leads to it or what errors were made or what true motivation lies behind certain acts of aggression. And, I mean, you know, who am I to comment?

You know, it was the eve of going to war and I was also accepting, you know, something that was incredibly meaningful to me, but it was based on the recounting of the repercussions of war and the loss and the tragedy that comes with that. And so, it would have been inappropriate of me not to acknowledge that.


BRODY: There's a lot of talk in Xianggang about the severity of the drought in Henan.

BRODY: You know, I got to work on an epic Chinese war film.




BRODY: "1942", our film - it took so many people to unite to make something really special. I'm very proud to have been a part of that and to witness that - that spirit here, in China.


COREN: Well, this year, you've worked with the Chinese director, Feng Xiaogang.


COREN: "Back to 1942".


COREN: How was that experience?

BRODY: You know, I got to work on an epic Chinese war film. And it's interesting - it's my third - at least my third time living through World War II. "Thin Red Line", even though it didn't remain intact, I spent six months in that time period. And "The Pianist" was another six months of my life in that world. And, you know, it's interesting - it's really interesting. Mr. Feng doesn't really speak very much English. I don't speak very much Mandarin. And, you know, I got to act a little in Mandarin. And it was just an adventure. Adventure, came here, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.


BRODY: There's a lot of talk in Xianggang about the severity of the drought in Henan. I've heard that many people are starving to death every day. And that many refugees were fleeing to Xianzhi (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The war has made this natural disaster even worse.


COREN: Adrien, since your Oscar win, you've done a variety of work from Blockbusters like "King Kong" and "Predators", to Indy films like "The Darjeeling Limited" and "The Brothers Bloom". What attracts you to these different roles?

BRODY: Yes, I'm often asked what, you know, "What motivated you to do this and that?" You know, I think at different points in my life I'm attracted to different things. But I'm, I think, primarily motivated by who the creative people are that I'm going to be interacting with for the next several months of my life. And it's a no-brainer to work with Peter Jackson, who I love. You know, an immensely creative person and it was Universal's biggest movie, I think, to date. And it was, you know, exciting and I got to go to New Zealand and live in New Zealand and work with effects.




BRODY: That's the kind of film that my grandchildren will think that grandpa was cool in. You know, like, I was in "King Kong". So, that was kind of an effortless decision.

COREN: What about your Indy films? The more quirky, offbeat stuff?

BRODY: Well, you mentioned "The Darjeeling Limited" and "Brothers Bloom" and they're both very gifted directors. Wes Anderson, I'm a huge fan of. And I couldn't believe that I was doing this film with Owen and Wes and running around India and I bought a Royal Enfield and I was living there and we all lived in a giant house together.

And it was such a - it was an adventure. It was an adventure within the adventure. It was about these brothers who go run off on this adventure and we were all running around and - fantastic.


OWEN WILSON, ACTOR: Is that my belt?

BRODY: Can I borrow it?

WILSON: Well no, not right now. I was looking for that, earlier. Ask first.


COREN: You mentioned how you're attracted to great directors. And you had the opportunity to work with Woody Allen.

BRODY: Yes, it was great. It was wonderful.

COREN: I want to ask you about that. What it was like - "Midnight in Paris" - playing Dali.

BRODY: Yes, you know, there were several opportunities to actually play him as a lead in a film, but, for whatever reason, they never panned out. But it was just delightful to be in Paris with Woody and, again, working with Owen. So, we're pals.


BRODY: Monsieur. We met here tonight. At the party. Dali, see?


BRODY: Dali.

WILSON: I remember.

BRODY: Dali.


BRODY: He's just such a free, odd human being that it's so fun. You can't go wrong. You know, you get the kind of nature of him down and -

COREN: When you say "odd", what do you mean?

BRODY: Well, "odd", I mean, he's one of the oddest. But it's endearing, it's charming, it's - he's surreal. He's surreal.

COREN: Your modeling career, a little bit?


COREN: A tiny bit? You've done some work for Prada.

BRODY: Actually, no. I only - I only walked a runway. But it must have been very effective use of that. I think Gary Oldman did a campaign for them. But I walked a runway with several actors.

COREN: Yes, yes.

BRODY: And that was exciting to -


BRODY: Be given the chance to do that. But it's funny to get welcomed into that world. It's -

COREN: Well, you're considered a style guru.

BRODY: I won a style award.

COREN: Yes, "Best Dressed".

BRODY: GQ or something. So that's very nice. I appreciate that. But it's fun. I mean, it's fun to walk a runway. And, like, I actually did that as a character because, in that show, it was really interesting. It was all about power. It was, you know, it was all about this imposing thing. And this big red room and I had this red coat on. And I was with Gary Oldman and I started thinking about "Dracula" and his performance and I had these really strange glasses. And I made it into a character like some strange ruler. So it was just - it's all fun. It's fun.


BRODY: I don't take it very seriously.

COREN: Considering the world that you live in, how do you stay grounded?

BRODY: When I received the recognition that I received for "The Pianist", I had a lot of people saying, "Don't change". There was so much attention on me from nowhere. I was an overnight success. Even though I'd been working my whole life. I didn't know what that felt like. A lot of access to things that I could have or take if I wanted. And I chose not to.

COREN: And what's next in store for you?

BRODY: I'm doing a film with Paul Haggis in Rome. Three love stories intertwining. And worked on that for a while and we'll see where I end up next, you know.

COREN: Well, we certainly wish you all the best.

BRODY: Thank you.

COREN: Adrien Brody, a pleasure to meet you.

BRODY: You too.