Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Adrien Brody

All About Reeves

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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The new film Hollywoodland tells the story of actor George Reeves, best known as TV's original black-and-white "Superman," and the mysterious circumstances behind his 1959 death. The film flips back and forth between Reeves' story and that of a fictitious detective, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), digging into the case.

Director Allen Coulter, a TV veteran of "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "The X-Files," knew he'd have to do something different to avoid comparisons to Chinatown and L.A. Confidential.

"We did noir in day," says Coulter during a recent visit to San Francisco. "We took the approach that 1959 is the modern world. We wanted it to look like a photograph that any person might have taken at the time. Everything in the 50s wasn't made in the 50s. When you see the cars out there, you'll see cars from the 50s and the 40s because people still drove their older cars. Older men wore suits from the 40s. Louis Simo wears very 1959 clothes."

This approach gave Brody leverage to add new layers to his detective character -- not to mention the enigmatic title. "It's actually a beautiful title," says Brody, joining his director. "We all live in Hollywoodland." Or, more specifically, everyone wants to pretend to be something better than we actually are.

Brody continues: "Detectives are always depicted in this hip, glamorous way, so Louis tried to portray himself as having a lifestyle like that -- even to himself. I think he really wanted to be this Ralph Meeker-type detective. It's a fictitious interpretation of his own life. It's easy to draw from your own adolescence for a role like that."

Though their fates are linked, Simo and Reeves -- nicely played by Ben Affleck -- never actually meet on screen. "It didn't seem strange," says Brody. "It's much harder when you do a film like 'King Kong' and you're supposed to be meeting characters that do not exist and you're in a green room."

Perhaps the biggest irony in Hollywoodland is that attitude toward the Superman role. Reeves sees it as a joke, and a silly waste of time. In 2006, however, Superman is considered one of the most coveted roles of the year.

"Our culture has become more infantilized," Coulter says. "Superman is not only desirable, but the zenith of somebody's career. The notion of doing serious work, the idea of somebody aspiring to be the next John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier is probably scoffed at. That is a sad commentary on where we are now, frankly. But I don't think that prevents people from identifying and trying to understand how George feels."

August 14, 2006

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