Oscar-winning Berry-busser brings stardom back to New York; his mom’s Sylvia Plachy!; wants to record with Jay-Z, P. Diddy; on to M. Night Shyamalan.
Earlier this year, after starring in Roman Polanski’s Holocaust drama The Pianist , Adrien Brody-the rail-thin, hazel-eyed, aquilinear Woodhaven, Queens, native-became the youngest man ever to win the Academy Award for Best Actor and the first ethnic-looking non-pretty-boy young leading man to rile the media this millennium. Taking the stage, he planted a big Rhett Butler–style smacker on presenter Halle Berry, splitting the country into “You go, guy!” and “You big dope!” camps for at least a couple of commercial breaks.
But Mr. Brody had done more than just captivate Oscar nuts. In his moment of victory, he has reasserted native New York stardom in a way that hasn’t happened since Robert De Niro showed up in the early 1970’s. “It took someone like Adrien to come along for people to start to rethink what a leading man actually is,” said JoAnne Colonna, who’s worked closely with Mr. Brody-first as his agent and more recently as his manager-since he was in the Steven Soderbergh film King of the Hill in 1993. “Just in the last year, I’ve seen Hollywood going back to embracing the actors who don’t look like the blond-surfer poster boy. His Oscar win and his amazing speech and the kiss-it brought back a different kind of glamour to Hollywood. Something elegant and not grungy and streaked blond.”
It’s the lot of the New York actor: Hoffman, Pacino, De Niro and now Adrien Brody.
“I’m so glad you guys are doing this, because I’ve known Adrien is powerful for years and now finally someone else is saying it!” Ms. Colonna said. “When he first came out to California and started to be bicoastal 10 or 11 years ago, he never compromised for Hollywood,” she added, speaking by phone. “And I think that he has a very New York attitude of ‘Like me for who I am.’ He’s not going to compromise to fit in. He came here Adrien Brody and he’s still that same guy.”
Which is probably why, shortly after winning the Oscar, Mr. Brody took his newfound movie-star clout straight to The New York Times , where he publicized his interest in doing … a hip-hop record. He has since voiced interest in recording with Jay-Z and P. Diddy.
Mr. Brody, 30, is the son of a blue-collar Queens history teacher and Sylvia Plachy, a Hungarian-born photojournalist who shot assignments for The Village Voice . He grew up being a photo subject for Mom and doing magic at children’s birthday parties. But what he really wanted to do was act. He attended the Fiorella La Guardia High School of Music and Performing Art, later going to (but not graduating from) Queens College, and landed a role as Mary Tyler Moore’s stepson in the short-lived TV show Annie McGuire when he was 15. He had a bit part in the Francis Ford Coppola segment of New York Stories , and there were small parts in several other movies for which he got some notice, but it wasn’t until The Thin Red Line came out in 1998 that he was taken seriously.
He started his career at age 12, but until The Thin Red Line , he told The New York Times , “there were no big movies or big breaks. I could never land a studio film because they always went to the name actors. You know, ‘Get me Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon or somebody.’ Or they wanted an All-American type.” But the year after The Thin Red Line opened, Mr. Brody was in fact asked to replace Mr. DiCaprio as the young punk in Spike Lee’s very underrated Summer of Sam -and suddenly being ethnic-looking and soulful and charismatic was on a par with being Brad Pitt.
Then Roman Polansky put him in The Pianist .
Next up for Mr. Brody: The Jacket , in which he plays a Gulf War veteran opposite Kris Kristofferson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and The Village , M. Night Shyamalan’s next film, set in the 19th century. Recently, the excessive displays of back-patting for the local-boy-making-good have become more and more conspicuous. When he received the GQ Man of the Year award downtown last October for best actor, Mr. Brody joked that his manager had asked him how many more of “those things” he was going to accept. How about one more?
-Anna Jane Grossman