• Talk: Adrien Brody
  • Ralf Würth
Talk: Adrien Brody

Check out the cast of ”Detachment’': Adrien Brody, James Caan, Bryan Cranston, Blythe Danner, Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, Lucy Liu, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen and Louis Zorich, not to mention newcomers Sami Gayle and Betty Kaye. They all signed on for the opportunity to work with director Tony Kaye, a filmmaker who has had a frightfully bumpy, clash-filled ride in Hollywood.

”It’s a beautiful cast,” Brody says. ”It’s a tribute to Tony and also to the material. I think actors, and good actors, are always craving relevant material. There is, unfortunately, not enough of it available, and there are a lot of talented, creative individuals who wish to express themselves in a meaningful way. The beauty of making a film is that there’s a permanence to it, and we can entertain and, at the same time, delve into subjects that are extremely important to us and to our society as a whole. ”I was very honored to work with my fellow cast on this movie,” the Oscar-winning actor says. ”I was very impressed with Sami Gayle’s performance. She was so vulnerable and raw and open. Carl Lund wrote a beautiful script, and Tony is a fascinating and unpredictable human being, in a really great sense, and a gifted filmmaker, and I think people were drawn to all of those parts of it.”

Currently available via On Demand and set to open in limited theatrical engagements throughout March, ”Detachment’’ casts Brody as Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher in the New York City school system. Henry likes the vagabond, commitment-free nature of substitute teaching, but is surprised to find himself caring when he settles in for an extended stay at a chaotic high school populated by unruly, troubled students and a mostly burned-out staff. Complicating matters, Henry’s elderly father (Zorich) is fading fast and Henry recently has befriended a young prostitute (Gayle) whom he tries to save from the streets.

Speaking by telephone from a hotel room in China, where he’s shooting a new movie, Brody – who won his Oscar as Best Actor for ”The Pianist’’ (2002) – explains that he viewed Henry as a damaged soul, hanging in and barely hanging on. ”I feel that Henry is pretty universal, in the sense that many people can relate to that state of mind,” Brody says. ”Some of his encounters are more extreme than others, and some people have greater tragedies to overcome, and I think that’s partially what the film focuses on, that we must overcome the pain and suffering in order to be kind to and present for the people that matter to us in our lives, and to not help perpetuate that cycle of sadness and lack of accountability.

”Tonally ‘Detachment’ is similar to the early ’70s movies that De Niro was very attracted to, that Scorsese made, like ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976),” Brody says. ”You don’t know what the potential for this man is, and I feel like Henry is at a breaking point in this story, and you don’t know if he’s capable of doing tremendous good or of being completely self-destructive and imploding and creating harm for himself and others. ”I love that,” he adds. ”You can attribute that to Tony’s creative genius and unpredictability.”

Critics and moviegoers can decide for themselves whether or not they like ”Detachment.” It’s dark and edgy, occasionally melodramatic and fanciful, and it won’t be for everyone. Still, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. That said, though, ”Detachment’’ was premiering on pay-per-view, even as pieces of utter cinematic drivel open on 3,000 screens and gross hundreds of millions of dollars. The irony is not lost on Brody, who laughs ruefully at the thought. ”Don’t ask me about what makes a film successful and what warrants marketing dollars and what doesn’t,” he says. ”Every explanation I’ve heard is that it’s a numbers game and a film about a somewhat heavy subject matter, about guiding our youth and taking some accountability … I guess the elements that the film speaks about are intimidating on a massive scale. ”I do feel that there’s a very intelligent audience out there that would love to see films like this and deserves to see films like this,” Brody says. ”With ‘The Pianist’ there was belief in it. It also went to Cannes and won the Palm d’Or, and it had the historical significance and the personal connection to the filmmaker. It had all these things that allowed it to be very enticing in the onset.” For Brody, however, this film also has a special, deeply personal appeal. ”I think ‘Detachment’ has the potential to inspire a lot of people,” he says. ”My father was a public-school teacher, and a wonderful one at that, and a great father. Part of my motivation to make this film was that I attribute my own ability to have discipline and belief in myself to my parents, to having someone guide me through the more challenging times. My friends who didn’t have that have failed to surmount the tragic moments in their lives, and it’s unfortunately suppressed their ability to succeed in their artistic endeavors.

”That is the most valuable message to encourage, that we have to be there, and I am living proof of that.” Brody seems completely at home in ”Detachment’’ and thoroughly immersed in his character. It’s easy, in fact, to say that it’s his kind of film, his type of character – easy, but unfair. Brody has played very different roles in some huge studio films, including M. Night Shyamalan’s ”The Village’’ (2004), Peter Jackson’s ”King Kong’’ (2005) and ”Predators’’ (2010), the latter two of which cast him as action heroes of one sort or another. ”I don’t know an actor who’d pass on an opportunity to play an intelligent leading man in Universal’s biggest movie that Peter Jackson personally asked you to play the protagonist in,” Brody says. ”I don’t know anyone who’d say no, and I loved the experience. That was very much like an independent film. Even though there were enormous resources to make the movie and bring Peter’s dream to fruition, it was his autonomy and working in his environment, with his crew, that made it very similar to the process of working with a gifted independent filmmaker.

”As far as ‘Predators’ is concerned, that was an enormous coup for me to be able to go against all the negative criticism of an actor who does not have the physical, imposing qualities of what is conventionally sought after for a role like that,” he continues. ”To be the same actor that was in ‘Pianist’ and then step into the shoes and play a character that was reminiscent of Schwarzenegger’s character, and that had a sense of humor and some authenticity to the reality of what a young soldier would look like today, was a major accomplishment. It was done for the challenge and excitement of playing something so different to myself, physically, emotionally and psychologically. ”Each one of those films is a conversation in and of itself,” Brody concludes. ”I was very drawn to each one of those for very different reasons.”

  • Ralf Würth