Born April 14, 1973, in New York, NY; son of Elliot Brody (a history teacher) and Sylvia Plachy a photojournalist). Education: Studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and at Queens College, early 1990s.
Addresses: Agent—Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-1825.
Actor in films, including: New York Stories, 1989; King of the Hill, 1993; Angels in the Outfield, 1994; Nothing to Lose, 1996; Six Ways to Sunday, 1997; The Thin Red Line, 1998; Summer of Sam, 1999; Bread and Roses, 2000; Love the Hard Way, 2001; The Pianist, 2002; The Village, 2004; The Jacket, 2005; King Kong, 2005; Manolete, 2006. Television appearances include: Home at Last (movie), 1988; Annie McGuire, 1988.
Awards: Academy Award for best actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for The Pianist, 2003.
In 2003, 29-year-old Adrien Brody became the youngest actor to win an Academy Award for Best Male Actor in a Lead Role. The New Yorker won the Oscar for his title role in The Pianist, the moving World War II-set drama from Roman Polanski that took two other Academy Awards that night. In the film, Brody played the real-life Wladyslaw Szpilman, a well-known Warsaw musician of Jewish roots who managed to survive the six-year Nazi occupation of Poland. Often mentioned as the successor to Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, Brody possesses a rather unconventional handsomeness that has made him one of the top leading men in Hollywood, a status confirmed by his appearance in the 2005 blockbuster King Kong.
Born in 1973, Brody grew up an only child in Woodhaven, a community in the New York City borough of Queens. His mother, Sylvia Plachy, was a Hungarian-born photojournalist long associated with the pages of the Village Voice, New York City's award-winning alternative newspaper. Elliot Brody, his father, was a history teacher whose family roots were in Poland, where several of his Jewish relatives perished in the Holocaust.
Encouraged by his parents to find and express his creative side, Brody took acting classes as a kid and even worked as a birthday-party magician. He also attended summer acting camps, and by the time he reached his teens had appeared in an off-Broadway play. "I was doing theatre in junior high school, " Brody recalled in an interview with Jamie Painter Young for Back Stage West. "I was taking the train after school, going into the East Village, doing avant-garde plays Off-Broadway, and getting beaten up on the way to work. I mean, that was my life."
At the age of 15, Brody was cast in a television movie that aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) about nineteenth-century orphans shipped out to farm families in the Midwest, and he also appeared that same year as Mary Tyler Moore's stepson in a short-lived sitcom, Annie McGuire. A year later, in 1989, he had a brief part in an acclaimed Woody Allen/Francis Ford Coppola collaboration, New York Stories. By then he was a student at Fiorello La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts, the same New York City high school made famous by the movie and television series Fame. Getting past its rigorous entrance requirements saved him from having to attend his local public high school in Queens, "which would have been probably disastrous, " Brody told Back Stage West's Young. "It has one of the highest dropout levels; there's a ton of gang violence."
After high school, Brody won admission to the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, but had a difficult time with his acting classes, after having made it through so much classroom and professional training already. For a time, he took classes at Queens College, but dropped out at age 19 and moved to Los Angeles in 1992, where he knew one person—a friend he had made when they appeared in a television commercial a few years before. Not long afterward, he was in a serious motorcycle accident, and spent months recovering from his injuries.
Roles came sporadically for Brody over the rest of the decade. He assumed success was around the corner when he was cast in a 1993 film by Steven Soderbergh, King of the Hill, but the movie did poorly and was quickly forgotten. He appeared in a handful of projects over the next five years, but none of them were box-office hits. Finally, Brody believed his break had finally come when director Terrence Malick cast him in the critically lauded World War II-era drama, The Thin Red Line. Brody was cast opposite veteran actors Sean Penn and Nick Nolte, endured an army-style boot camp training period to prepare for the role, and then spent six months on location in a remote part of Australia, wearing the same filthy uniform for weeks. He was billed as one of the leads before its release, but then much of his performance was left on the editing-room floor at the last minute. As a result, Brody found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to do publicity for a film in which he barely appeared.
The letdown was especially trying because Brody had been struggling financially for a number of years. As he recalled in an interview with Tiffany Rose in London's Independent, during Thin Red Line's filming, "I only owned one pair of Nikes. They shrunk, and I didn't even realize that they were killing me, but I wore them for the entire movie. Those were my sneakers. I would be in costume or I would be in my sneakers."
Brody traded in those on-screen army boots for a pair of Doc Martens when he took the lead role in Summer of Sam, the 1999 Spike Lee film about the summer of 1977, when a serial killer kept much of New York City on edge. Leonardo DiCaprio had originally been considered for the role of Ritchie, but Brody's borough roots made him an excellent fit for the part of a Bronx teen who was in the midst of rejecting his working-class neighborhood roots— and its rock and disco soundtrack—for the newly emerging punk scene. The film proved to be Brody's breakout role entirely by accident, for in the last fight scene that Lee filmed, Brody's nose was broken, and he later decided against reconstructive surgery to fix the bump. That minor flaw lent his already somewhat sorrowful face a further measure of character, and would become his trademark.
After Summer of Sam, Brody appeared in a Ken Loach film in 2000, Bread and Roses, and in a dark psychological drama called Love the Hard Way a year later. Once Polish-born director Roman Polanski saw some of his work, he immediately cast Brody in The Pianist. The epic, highly anticipated film from the sometimes-controversial director recounted the real-life story of a Polish Jew who hides out in Warsaw during World War II thanks to a combination of sympathetic friends and sheer luck. The script, a tale of survival against incredible odds, was based on the memoirs of Wladyslaw Szpilman, an acclaimed pianist in Warsaw in the 1930s, whose Jewish family did not survive the Nazi occupation of the country. Of the 350, 000 Jews living in Warsaw when Germany invaded in 1939, Szpilman was one of just 200 found alive when the war ended six years later.
In his review of the 2002 movie for the New Yorker, David Denby asserted that Brody "gives Szpilman elements of vanity and weakness as well as a persevering obstinacy. At first, the pianist, a member of a loving, quarrelsome family, refuses to take the Occupation seriously—he shrugs it off as an irritation." Brody manages to get out of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, where the city's Jews were walled in and left to starve, and then the forced deportations to the extermination camps. Corralled with his family at the train station, Brody's Szpilman is plucked from the line by someone he knows, and told to walk away. He hides out in a series of apartments until the war's horrors come, quite literally, crashing into the building.
In the next scene, an emaciated Szpilman emerges from the rubble and staggers down the streets of his hometown after a long period when he could not go outside. The city's immense apartment houses are now gaping, bombed-out skeletons, and the sense of devastation is immediate. Brody had lost 30 pounds on his already lean frame in order to play the starving pianist convincingly, and this was the scene that was shot first. Brody recalled that Polanski expected much of him, both that day and during the subsequent weeks of shooting. As he recalled in an interview with Christine Muhlke of Paper, when he was informed what was on schedule that first day, "I told them, I have no energy. I'm delirious. And Roman was like 'What do you need energy for? Just do it. Do it! ' It made me cry. So I knew it wasn't going to be an easy journey."
When The Pianist premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, the roll of the credits at its end were greeted with a 15-minute standing ovation. It also won the Palm d'Or award at the Festival, and had a limited release in Europe and the United States in the build-up to the Academy Awards. Brody won laudatory reviews for his work, though some critics noted the overall effect of the movie was best described as flat. "Without his soulful performance, " noted Ryan Gilbey in his critique for London's Independent, "it might also be drained of life. So richly does he inhabit Szpilman that the picture has no need to engineer our sympathy—the simple sight of Brody wasting away before our eyes, his initial haughtiness crumbling into humility, is in itself distressing enough."
As expected, The Pianist was nominated in several Academy Award categories, and Brody found himself in the unenviable position of being a contender for the Best Actor in a Lead Role along with four other stars who were all previous Oscar-winners at least once before: Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Nicolas Cage, who had won in the same category, and Michael Caine who owned two Oscars for supporting roles. But The Pianist beat out Chicago, the odds-on favorite, for Best Director and Best Screenplay, and Brody was the surprise winner of the Best Actor award. The presenter was Halle Berry, and when he accepted it he delivered a cinema-worthy kiss that made the front pages of newspapers around the country the next day as the emblematic image of that year's Academy Awards.
Brody's next films were in the psychological-thriller genre. He appeared in M. Night Shyamalan's The Village in 2004, and turned up as a persecuted veteran of the 1991 Gulf War in 2005's The Jacket. Later that year, he played the romantic lead in the highly anticipated remake of King Kong, from Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. Manolete, a biopic chronicling the life of Manuel Rodriguez Sanchez, one of Spain's greatest matadors, was next on Brody's agenda, and scheduled for a 2006 release.
Despite his motorcycle accident several years back, Brody is still enthralled by motor sports and speed. He drove a Porsche 911 Turbo across parts of Europe and North Africa for a 3, 000-mile car race known as the Gumball Rally in 2004. He has been linked romantically with a number of prominent starlets or models, but is most frequently photographed with Ceelo, his chihuahua. He lives in both New York City and the Los Angeles area, and his California home features a studio where he writes and records quasi-hip-hop tracks.
Not until the day after his Oscar win did Brody realize how much his life had suddenly changed. That next evening, he dined out with his parents—whom he often brings along to his movie premieres or awards ceremonies—"and as we walked into the restaurant, everyone stood up and applauded, " he recalled in the interview with Rose in the Independent. "It was the most surreal experience I've ever had in my life." In a later interview, he offered some reflections on the fickle and sometimes award-driven nature of the entertainment business. "After I did The Pianist, nothing changed, " he told Kevin West in W. "Since I won an Academy Award, a lot has changed. There was a tremendous amount of support for me as an actor when The Pianist came out, and even before that. But it would be a different story without winning an Academy Award. Realistically, it really wasn't about the work."
Back Stage West, February 24, 2005, p. 1.
Entertainment Weekly, February 21, 2003, p. 29; June 24/July 1, 2005, p. 58.
Independent (London, England), December 6, 2002, p. 10; July 30, 2004, p. 8.
Newsweek, April 7, 2003, p. 58.
New Yorker, January 13, 2003, p. 90.
Paper, February 2003, pp. 44-48.
People, January 20, 2003, p. 85; July 14, 2003.
W, August, 2004, p. 100.