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Adrien Brody on the horror film 'Backtrack' and becoming a painter

The Oscar-winning actor talks about seeking roles that will surprise him, and the audience.
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    Adrien Brody, with Sam Neill, plays a psychoanalyst plagued by ghosts in "Backtrac|Saban Films, Lionsgate

Adrien Brody is a painter now, too. Last fall the Oscar-winning actor, now 42, unveiled “Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and Handguns,” a series that played at a show in Miami. It featured such images like a French fries container filled with cigarettes and teddy bears partaking in a gang shooting.

“Basically it references how commonplace violent imagery is and how it’s essentially on par with fast food,” Brody tells us.

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He’s been painting a lot these days, but he’s also doing a lot of smaller, as opposed to bigger, films. The new Australian horror “Backtrack” is one of these, but it’s not a standard chiller. In it, he plays a psychoanalyst being haunted by ghosts, who plague him because of a traumatic event in his past that he’s deeply suppressed. It makes no bones about exploring grief and guilt and self-deception — all things Brody is excited to talk about.

“I like the complexity of being an analyst and it relating to how the way we perceive the world is based on our perception and our consciousness,” Brody explains.

Speaking to Brody you quickly get the sense that he’s not only picky about the roles he chooses, but that they have to activate his brain in deep and unique ways. He’s known for deep immersion in roles, and he says he spent much of the “Backtrack” shoot ignoring the beautiful summer Sydney weather to stay in his character’s gloomy mindset.

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“I commit when I embark on a role, especially if it requires a degree of sensitivity,” he says. Those are the roles I’m usually attracted to. You have to go there, you know?” The more he goes “there,” he says, the less social with the cast and crew he becomes. “There are very few roles I’ve taken where I can allow myself to not be in a zone, so to speak. I’m honoring the responsibility I have. I tend to isolate a bit.”

Still, few roles are like the one that scored him the Academy Award in 2002. “Nothing can compete with ‘The Pianist,’” he says. “That’s a level that required a total immersion.”

Since then he hasn’t been chasing that exact type of role, but has sought ones that are similar of a piece. “I’m drawn to challenge,” he says. “I’m drawn to characters with complexity. I relate to characters that are the underdog, who are striving to overcome obstacles. Because much of life is about that. I want less cookie cutter roles, I guess. And that’s a challenge.”

He uses the word “challenge” a lot, and admits that the roles that interest him tend to be more independent — one reason a lot of his recent work has been in smaller fare. They aren’t always tiny. The last giant film he did wasn’t American but the $65 million Chinese action movie “Dragon Blade,” in which he played a hammy villain opposite Jackie Chan. That means he got to beat up Jackie Chan.

“It was a mutual beatdown,” he admits. “He allowed me to beat him up, then he beat me up.”

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He even cites “King Kong,” Peter Jackson’s epic 2005 remake, in which he played co-lead with Naomi Watts and a giant CGI animal, as a gig that wasn’t just about having fun. “There was complexity to that,” he explains. “There was a sensitivity to the character. He wasn’t typical. It’s rare to be given that kind of role with range within it.”

Brody hasn’t had the grand successes that follow many Oscar winners. But he has avoided typecasting.

“Actors are blessed to live so many different lives,” he says. “It’s tempting to fall back on a character that’s similar [to others], or to do something you’ve already proven yourself in. The greater challenge is to accept something outside your comfort zone and do things that are unpredictable — not only for yourself but for the audience. That’s the most interesting career you can have.”

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Before our conversation ends I bring up one of my favorite films he’s been in: Steven Soderbergh’s 1993 drama “King of the Hill,” in which he has a small but key role. He was 19 at the time.

“I thought that was what making movies would be like: an auteur director, a very intelligent screenplay, characters who were very unique. It’s not been like that, necessarily,” he says. He points to Wes Anderson — for whom he’s acted thrice, including in “The Grand Budapest Hotel — as someone who is like that. “The challenge has always been to seek films of that nature, that have that familial working environment.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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