The only surprising thing about Adrien Brody's rise to stardom was that it didn't happen sooner, as the New Yorker has been compared with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Most Hollywood insiders thought his role in Terrence Malick's 1998 war epic The Thin Red Line would catapult him onto the film industry's top rung, but fate had other plans.
When the production was announced, interest in the role from Hollywood's leading actors was so intense squabbles broke out between several major stars. It was Adrien who eventually landed the largest part, with George Clooney, John Travolta, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Sean Penn and John Cusack in support. Quite a coup for the newcomer especially considering so many big names reportedly dropped their fees to have the opportunity to work with Malick.
The film, which purposely has no central character, was heavily edited, however, and most of Adrien's scenes wound up on the cutting-room floor. (Bill Pullman and Lukas Haas' parts were cut out completely.) The release of Steven Spielberg's more populist Saving Private Ryan at the same time further limited his exposure and Adrien remained largely anonymous to cinema-goers.
"I gave everything to it, and then to not receive everything... It was extremely unpleasant," he admitted. "I'd already begun the press for a film that I wasn't really in. Terry obviously changed the entire concept of the film." While he was bitterly disappointed, there was an up side to appearing in The Thin Red Line the industry had taken note of his potential as a leading man.
While most fans credit the star's success to a compelling screen presence, Adrien, who was born in the New York neighbourhood of Queens on April 14, 1973, says it owes more to his parents. His mother, renowned photographer, Sylvia Plachy, and history professor father Elliot Brody recognised their son's talent and nutured his potential from an early age. When Sylvia received a commission to photograph the American Academy of Dramatic Arts she encouraged Adrien to join the institution's weekend programme for young people. And having enjoyed his first taste of acting, the Brooklyn-born actor quickly realised he had found his calling.
It wasn't long before he made his way onto the big screen, and the roles he has chosen over the years demonstrate he's inherited his mother's artistic integrity. Indeed, one of the most noticeable features of the New Yorker's career is the list of renowned directors he has worked with Steven Soderbergh (King Of The Hill), Spike Lee (Summer Of Sam), Barry Levinson (Liberty Heights), Ken Loach (Bread And Roses) and, of course, Terrence Malick.
Adrien's talent is matched by his commitment to the craft of acting, and he's earned a reputation for his exhaustive preparation. The actor's most celebrated performance to date is his portrayal of Jewish holocaust-survivor Wladislaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski's The Pianist. For the film he didn't simply learn to play the piano he also mastered Chopin. "Had I just acted like I was playing the piano, I wouldn't have understood the story within Chopin's music, which is an extremely powerful force for my character," he says. The already trim actor also slimmed down to just over nine stone (130lbs) for the part.
"There is an emptiness that comes with really starving that I hadn't experienced. I couldn't have acted that without knowing it. I've experienced loss, I've experienced sadness in my life, but I didn't know the desperation that comes with hunger
"There's a scene where I'm climbing a fence and can barely make it over - I wasn't acting! I didn't have any strength left all my muscles were gone. I told Roman I had no energy and he answered: 'You actors! What do you need energy for? Just do it!'. When you work with Polanski, there's no point in complaining because it doesn't get you anywhere," he adds with a smile. The actor's immersion in the role also cost him his relationship with his long-time girlfriend, who left rather than watch the ordeal he was putting himself through. Adrien subsequently found love with Michelle Dupont, and in 2006 stepped out with beautiful Spanish actress Elsa Pataky.
Regardless of the deprivation called for by the role, which won him an Oscar, Adrien remembers the experience as one of the most valuable of his life: "It made me have a much greater understanding of loss, of loneliness, and the level of intense tragedy that so many people have experienced in this world. I take a lot less for granted. It's really valuable to attain that, especially at a young age."