For actor Adrien Brody, the straitjacket fits

By Peter Mitchell

LOS ANGELES - Adrien Brody is not an actor who takes the easy, pain-free options.

Brody is a method actor. A hardcore method actor.

To prepare for the New Zealand shoot of Peter Jackson's new special effects-filled epic, King Kong, Brody, with pen and paper, spent hours at Sydney's Taronga Zoo studying the idiosyncrasies of silverback gorillas.

For his 2002 Oscar-winning performance in The Pianist, playing a Jewish survivor of the Nazi invasion of Warsaw, Poland, Brody starved himself, eventually stripping 15kg from his already lean 1.87cm frame.

Before leaving for The Pianist shoot in Europe, Brody had a firesale.

He sold his New York apartment, car, mobile phone and other personal items as a way to get in a similar frame of mind as the beaten, Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman who lost everything to the Nazis.

To play a demented kidnapper in the 1999 thriller, Oxygen, Brody demanded a dentist fix real braces to his teeth.

"They wanted to give me prosthetic braces, but I said, 'No, let's get real ones'," Brody told AAP in an interview in Los Angeles.

"So for the entire movie I had braces. I never knew what braces were like and I didn't know they ripped them off with pliers at the end, but I agreed to do that."

When the 32-year-old New York-born Brody signed up for his latest film, The Jacket, with Keira Knightley, he was prepared for more pain.

In the independent thriller, he plays a soldier, Jack Starks, who returns home to Virginia suffering bouts of amnesia. He is accused of murder and locked up in an asylum and pumped with experimental hallucinogenic drugs.

Starks' medical treatment includes being taken to the asylum's basement, strapped in what looks like a straight jacket and then placed in a metal drawer.

The drawer is similar to the drawers used to store bodies at morgues.

It is hard to watch.

Physically, it must have been excruciating for Brody, but, he says, he was only doing his job.

"I'm not doing it because it's easy," Brody says.

"I think people who become an actor because they think it's easy or because they want to be famous, they're mistaken.

"Most actors make so little money they're under the poverty line. It's a misconception that it's an incredibly lucrative profession.

"Sure, it is to some individuals, but not to the majority."

For The Jacket, Brody went method again.

While researching for ways to become the mental patient character, he discovered isolation tanks.

Not the type found at high-priced Californian spas with the scented oils, candles and Zen atmosphere.

Brody found an isolation tank used for experiments by mental professionals in the 1960s.

Once locked away inside, there is no sound or light.

It is filled with saline solution heated at body temperature so for the patient inside, he or she floats as if defying gravity.

Brody spent "extended sessions", longer than two hours each, within the steel walls of the tank.

"You end up in a very different state, even without drugs," Brody said.

"You become hyperaware. You almost feel like you're in space because there's such blackness.

"It is a real trip."

Also, while shooting the claustrophobic scenes in the asylum's basement, Brody told director John Maybury to leave him locked in the drawer when they were not shooting.

Sometimes it took the director of photography an hour or so to light the next shot, so instead of coming out and grabbing something to eat or stretch his legs, Brody remained in the coffin sized drawer in the darkness.

Despite his success, including his Oscar acceptance speech which included grabbing presenter Halle Berry and planting a long kiss on her lips, Brody has managed to maintain a mediocre level of fame.

He is not a favourite of the tabloids, although when he had a lunch meeting with Nicole Kidman in New York a few years back, gossip hounds painted the pair as a couple.

"For the most part, people know me for my work," Brody said.

"The more successful and famous you become, the more people want to know about your personal life and become more curious. That's inevitable. It's not what I look for.

"In the most part, the press has been very kind.

"There's always going to be paparazzi looking to incriminate me or manipulate a story because it looks better, but even in that respect they've been fair."

Brody is attracted to offbeat, challenging roles.

Hollywood studios have waved millions of dollars in front of him to give their US$100 million-plus action films some acting credibility, particularly since his Oscar win.

Brody knocked them back.

Jackson's King Kong, in which Brody plays WW1 fighter pilot and Naomi Watts' character's love interest, Jack Driscoll, led some to question whether Brody had finally sold out.

"One thing I'm now asked is 'Oh, you're changing, you're now doing studio movies'," Brody said.

"I was offered studio movies, but knocked them back.

"I have been offered plenty of money, 50 times what I would make on a low budget picture, but I've said 'No'.

"I'm fortunate to have found a role in King Kong that is dramatic, charismatic, romantically involved, hip, and intellectual. It's rare to find that in a massive studio movie."

Brody describes Kiwi director Jackson as a genius and that is why, he says, this version of King Kong, just like Jackson's Lord of the Rings, will join the great films.

"This will be the definitive King Kong," Brody gushed.

"You'll appreciate the original, but there's nothing that compares to this. It's an amazing fable and story and the attention to detail Peter possesses will create something that's unrivalled.

"I'm incredibly honoured to be part of it."

It also stretched Brody as an actor.

He has rarely worked with special effects, so had to dig deep to pull off emotional and dramatic scenes with the giant ape and other characters who will be slotted into the scene later by Jackson and his effects wizards.

"I thought it would be easier," Brody said.

"A lot easier.

"I thought it would be lighter psychologically and an easier journey, but when you're involved in a film with a great deal of special effects it's very difficult to do things in a heightened way with sincerity. You have to respond to things that don't exist at all.

"So, the most dramatic scene is unfolding in front of me and all I have is a piece of tape dangling in front of me.

"That's the key to being good at it.

"You have to let go your inhibitions and something beyond your normal comprehension and run for your f..king life over and over again."

During his Taronga Zoo visits, Brody wanted to climb inside the gorilla enclosure and go face-to-face with the silverbacks.

Only Andy Serkis, the British actor who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and who plays King Kong, got close to gorillas.

"They wouldn't let me do that," Brody said about his plans to jump into the enclosure.

"But, I wasn't playing King Kong.

"If I had I would have. Andy Serkis did. He went to Rwanda and studied the gorillas there."


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