Since winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2003, Adrien Brody has bounced between big blockbusters ("King Kong," "Predators") and quirky comedies ("Brothers Bloom," "The Darjeeling Limited"), never letting himself get type-cast. But his newest project "Detachment" is earning him rave reviews and comparisons to his star-making turn in "The Pianist."
The film, opening this weekend in New York City before rolling out across the country (it's also available on VOD), teams Brody up with Tony Kaye, the controversial director of "American History X." As a substitute teacher that inadvertently connects with troubled students at a tough public school, Brody's character struggles to deal with his own emotional trauma. If you're expecting a "Dangerous Minds"-like inspirational movie, you won't find it. As director Tony Kaye explained to Moviefone: "I saw it as a war film, so I chose to use a very aggressive multi-media style."
The faculty of the movie's school is populated with stars like Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan and "Mad Men's" Christina Hendricks, and they encounter vulgar, violent students, lawsuit-happy parents, and the detriments of the "No Child Left Behind Act." Kaye went on to explain: "I think education is a great thing where kids go with teachers and they spend several hours learning things. That's an incredible mechanism that we take for granted. It's not an indictment on the American education system, it's a series of metaphors about other things. It's about a human being, the institution of being a human."
Adrien Brody also spoke with Moviefone about his views on the American education system, reflected on the grueling process he undertook on "The Pianist," and even shed some light on the rumor about his supposed-banishment from "Saturday Night Live," stemming from his decision to improvise against Lorne Michael's wishes.
How has working on the film affected your view of the American education system?
The system itself is flawed. I think the film illustrates that a lot of systems are flawed. The public healthcare system is bad, the apathy that exists in this world -- it's a pretty grim perspective, but it's necessary to awaken something that we have to change in our own behavior. I think this is about enforcing that education has to stem from the home, before the school system. You can't expect the teacher to just take on the responsibility of the parent, you have to be the parent. You have to be accountable; I know it's a tall order with financial problems and personal problems, and overcoming the pain from the neglect we had as children. But you got to work against perpetuating that, and that's how the film spoke to me.
Tony Kaye's reputation as a difficult filmmaker definitely precedes him.
I don't think it's a fair assessment of him because he's a lovely person and a very interesting collaborative, creative person, and I loved working with him. I have nothing but nice things to say about him. You can't expect people to be brilliant artists and also follow the rules you expect them to follow, in a business sense. You got to embrace it.
It's definitely a confrontational film, and it clearly shows parents that are too busy ranting and placing blame on teachers, to pay attention to their own kids. What kind of challenges do you see in getting real parents like that to watch the film and learn something from it?
We all have to look within and do the best that we can. Every person has their own limitations and obstacles that prevent them from seeing their own flaws clearly. It's very easy to see other peoples flaws, it's harder to see our own. But I think on a very simple level we have to acknowledge our responsibility in being more thoughtful, taking more time in being present for our children and encouraging them and accepting them. It's a very difficult place to be, as a teenager. If I didn't have a good home life and I didn't have parents that cared about me, I'd be a very different person and I would not have had the confidence to pursue something as far-fetched as being an actor.
I'm from Queens; nobody I knew was an actor. People were working as a doorman or security; they were not finding creative outlets. Fortunately, my mother is an artist, my father was a school teacher and they were thoughtful and patient and they allowed me to be me. I'm a perfect example of how the outcome can be so different; the same working class conditions with the same struggling kids with aspirations, but mine were allowed to grow.
You put yourself through the emotional wringer in this movie. How can you keep that up, performance-to-performance, without crashing?
You pick and choose your battles. It's challenging but that's also what attracts me to the work itself, to face those challenges, to put myself in a situation that's not necessarily pleasant. But it's a reminder of my own good fortunes. And to also help remind people in the audience of that, rather than just be there to entertain them. I have an opportunity to share something relevant like this. So maybe afterward, you go home and see your kids, and it's so important that you pay more attention and have the discussion that's troubling you or your kids. Whatever that is, I think this provides opportunities for that, and you got to do some of that work.
The preparation you took on "The Pianist" was very intense, losing weight and isolating yourself. How do you look back on the physical stress you put yourself through?
It was very difficult, but it was very necessary to embody that character and to do it faithfully with integrity and truth. And it was very important to Roman [Polanski] that I represented that thoroughly and sincerely. It had a profound effect on my life, way before the accolades and acknowledgment; it profoundly affected me as a young man and I attribute that to my real entry into adulthood because I stopped taking shit for granted. That put an end to it. Once you really understand how hard life can be for so many people, it's all perspective. You stop being blind to things.
A lighter role from this past year that was really enjoyable was "Midnight in Paris," but it's so brief. How was that experience working with Woody Allen?
It was brief, but Woody was very kind to me and enthusiastic. He just wanted to push it a bit more. He said "OK, make sure that he knows he's in the presence of a madman. He's a genius, but he's a madman." I get that note very easily. [Laughs]
Another comedic topic that I've wanted to learn more about: there's a rumor that you've been banned from "SNL." [Editor's note: Watch a video of the incident that prompted the banning.]
I've heard that, but I don't know.
Did Lorne Michaels say something to you backstage?
No, nothing like that.
Then I don't know how that story got out.
I don't either.
Well I'd like to see you host again.
I would too, I had a great time.