Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Adrien Brody

Cultivating Harrison's Flowers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

New York character actor Adrien Brody always works -- and always works hard. He describes one particularly active period of his career, starting with his role as a buffed-up serial killer in the little-seen film Oxygen. He gained weight and even had braces put on his teeth to enhance the creepiness of the role.

But the moment it was over, he was shuttled to the set of Spike Lee's Summer of Sam, had the braces stripped off and given a colored, spiky hairdo.

"I finished shooting that one day at 4 in the morning, immediately took a train to Baltimore for Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights, and started shooting that evening. But now I'm in the 1950s and playing a very sensitive guy who hasn't been exposed to much."

Brody sighs. "You grow up from those experiences -- much more than if I was working a nine to five in my neighborhood."

Brody has come to San Francisco to help promote his latest film, Harrison's Flowers, though typical of him, he's already made four or five other films since then, so his memories of making it are already vague.

Despite that, Harrison's Flowers couldn't be more timely. It concerns a group of photojournalists shooting pictures of the war in Yugoslavia, circa 1991. One such shutterbug (David Strathairn) is reported dead from a collapsed building. His wife (Andie MacDowell) refuses to believe this, and travels there to find him. Coming to her aid are a few of her husband's colleagues, Elias Koteas, Brendan Gleeson, and Brody.

In a way Harrison's Flowers marks a return to full circle for the 25 year-old actor. His career in the arts officially began when his mother, a photojournalist herself, brought her young son on an assignment to shoot the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

"She said, 'you should check it out because it looks great and you'd enjoy it and it would keep you out of trouble.' And it did. And I loved it. There were 20 girls and 2 guys in the class and I was very comfortable doing it. It was prior to my adolescence and I was very free. It wasn't a career decision. I was free to act and then go home," Brody says.

Brody's mother still works as a photojournalist. The pair recently journeyed to Cuba on an assignment she was given for a book. "I just went along and got some incredible pictures. I have a passion for photography. I love it," he says.

So, Brody was already trained in photography going into Harrison's Flowers -- but what about the war element? Director Elie Chouraqui simulated a vicious war environment, complete with random bombs going off on all sides. Fortunately, Brody went through a kind of boot camp training before shooting Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line.

Yet, in the end the training didn't really matter, he says. "When a bomb goes off you hit the dirt. You don't have to be trained. It was pretty dangerous stuff, actually. They blew out a wall and forgot to put earplugs in and totally damaged my ear. It's still damaged. When I go to a club, it's all over -- I gotta put something in my ear."

Nevertheless, Brody feels the film was worth it. "Doing it, I became so much more aware of what these men and women give, and how they're taken for granted and how important it is for us to have war correspondence to actually bring home the news and what's happening in the world. The media gets a bad rap sometimes and you don't give them enough credit."

As passionate as Brody is about Harrison's Flowers he's even more excited about his newest project, Roman Polanski's The Pianist, which is due out by the end of the year. For that film, about a Polish-Jewish pianist who survives the Nazi invasion of Warsaw, Brody lost weight and spent a great deal of time alone.

"The character was in hiding for a great deal of it," he explains. "There was a lot of isolation. I spent half a year in Berlin and Warsaw on my own and there wasn't a lot of interaction with other actors. It was a really long journey and some pretty powerful stuff. So it was in intense experience and much more emotionally difficult to deal with than Harrison's Flowers, because it was an attack on my people and my family and my life. It's a phenomenal film."

I remark to Brody that his character in Harrison's Flowers seems to be the one who keeps a cool head the whole time. I chalk that up to his being raised in New York, allowing him to put some perspective on a tough experience.

The indefatigable actors smiles, lays back in his chair and smiles. "I've experienced much tougher."

Date: March 11, 2002

Buy Adrien Brody movies from

Movies Unlimtied