- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

Actor Adrien Brody, cast as a photojournalist attracted to Balkan war zones of the early 1990s in "Harrison's Flowers," required no special instruction in handling cameras.

His mother, Sylvia Plachy, is a professional photographer. As a matter of fact, she was in the screenplay's ultimate destination, the Croatian city of Vukovar, a bit after the time frame depicted in the movie. The film sends a devoted, reckless wife played by Andie MacDowell in search of her lost husband, a Newsweek photographer played by David Strathairn, who is presumed dead as refugees flee from invasion by the Serbian army.

"My mother was in Vukovar after the fighting," Mr. Brody says. "She had been in the Persian Gulf a little before that, shooting the burning oil wells and other stuff that typified the Gulf war. She's been a staffer with the Village Voice for a long time, but she also does free-lance assignments, especially book projects. I went with her last year on a book trip to Cuba. I was allowed to go as an actor because there was a film festival in Havana at the same time."

A New Yorker "born and raised," Mr. Brody grew up in Manhattan and Queens. His father is a public school teacher. Mr. Brody spent a good deal of the past two years on European locations. He was based in Prague for "Harrison's Flowers," in both Prague and Paris for the costume melodrama "The Affair of the Necklace" and then in Warsaw and Berlin for "The Pianist," a new Roman Polanski film that may make an international debut next month at the Cannes Film Festival.

When repatriated, Mr. Brody split his time between an apartment in Manhattan's West Village and a Los Angeles residence. A fluke took him out of Lower Manhattan shortly before terrorists struck on September 11. "My place wasn't that close to the [World] Trade Center, but it's close enough to smell the destruction," Mr. Brody says.

He says he has no doubts that he would have grabbed still cameras and his camcorder and made for the disaster site if he had remained in the city. "My instinct would have been to run and photograph something," he says. "I don't normally chase ambulances, but this was a special situation. There was almost a historical imperative to document whatever you could if the means were at hand."

While not quite a child actor "in the common sense," Mr. Brody began acting in his early teens, a little more than 20 years ago. "In a way it began with one of my mother's assignments," he recalls. "She was doing a feature about the American Academy of Dramatic Art. While there, she had this insight that its youth program might be something I would enjoy. So I enrolled, and it was a good outlet for me. It also convinced me that acting is a wonderful way for kids to express themselves in general.

"I was about 12 when I started. I tried to take it seriously and auditioned for an agent about a year later and got my first lead, in a PBS film called 'Home at Last.' Then, a little after that, I was accepted at the High School for Performing Arts. I graduated from there, doing some TV work and one minor feature while I was in school."

College study was short-circuited by professional ambitions. "It was difficult being away from New York and the audition circuit, so I came back home and did some courses at Queens College that made it easier to stay close to job opportunities. Ultimately, I decided to go to L.A.," he says. "I gave myself about six months to make some headway. That was totally unrealistic, so I fudged my deadline and did get something after about eight months."

Mr. Brody's most prominent roles in recent years have come in Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam," Ken Loach's "Bread and Roses" and Terrence Malick's remake of "The Thin Red Line." Elias Koteas, also cast as one of the World War II soldiers in "Red Line," is reunited with Mr. Brody in "Harrison's Flowers" as a rival photojournalist.

When complimented about his death scene in the new movie, Mr. Brody chuckles and acknowledges that he liked it himself. "I thought a lot about it, but I didn't practice death takes in front of the mirror before we shot it," he says. "What I wanted was to register two things: a sensation of shock, and then it's over. I've died before in other films. Intentionally, I mean. I always come back better and stronger like a phoenix. If you die well for the camera, people can really relate I guess for the obvious reasons."

Several months of residence in Prague acquainted Mr. Brody with the city more than he desired. "Being anywhere for an extended period of time begins to make you feel isolated and homesick," he says. "I was pretty tired of Prague at the end, but it's a beautiful city, aesthetically. Almost too precious in the way it's been preserved. It's kind of a mecca for young people now from many nations. That kind of magnetism is easy to understand. I had been there when it was still communist, during a family tour of Europe that extended into Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

"Having visited a little in the early 1980s, I could register some changes. It was very different then, very grim and gray. They've polished it up quite a bit. When I got word that Polanski had cast me in 'The Pianist,' I also heard that there was some thought of shooting it in Prague. I'd been there for two films, and I was secretly hoping for Warsaw. As it turned out, we were in both Warsaw and Berlin, so I got my change of scene. By the time it was over, I was feeling homesick for Prague."

It wasn't that Warsaw was uninteresting, but the nature of the role kept him in a World War II frame of reference that was always ominous. "Rebuilding in Warsaw is very difficult, and the city has been through repeated cycles of destruction and repair dating back to the German invasion in 1940," Mr. Brody says. 'I think the repercussions of that time are felt more profoundly there than in most other European cities. Playing a character of that time helped keep the dangers uppermost. I also needed to get down to about 130 pounds to approximate the character at his most undernourished. It's based on a true story, the memoir of a concert pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman. It was published right after the war. He was a Polish Jew who managed to survive in hiding throughout the war. It's a very rich film, emotionally and musically, and a very personal film for Roman."

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