Today, during our week at the Grand Budapest Hotel, we are featuring an amazing interview with Oscar winner Adrien Brody and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan! The feeling of sitting in a room and talking with these two heavy hitting actors was something I had never experienced before. Maybe it’s because I felt like Adrien Brody stared into my soul at one point… or maybe it’s because Saoirse is the coolest, most down-to-earth chic ever…who knows? Nevertheless, they both managed to give some of the best answers this site has ever had the privilege of publishing. Plus, they clear up some major misconceptions about the acting world—each and every one of their answers will help you in the long run, I promise.
MC: How does Wes like to work? His films are very specific so I imagine that he has a clear idea of what he wants going in. So what’s the back-and-forth like with him, as an actor?
Adrien Brody (AB): Well, he has a very distilled vision of what his film looks like already. He’s completely clear with what he wants and is very capable in conveying that to you. He’s very sure of how it comes together, so-to-speak.
You know, I’ve had the privilege of working with Wes several times. I understand his process—it is a unique thing. There’s a short-hand now. So, if I show up to set I kind of know which direction to lean towards even with my own choices that fulfill what he’s looking for. It’s really fun. You have different things guiding you in your choices as an actor and part of that is what a director—your director—responds to. You hope that you’re in sync with those decisions. Wes likes a very straightforward, matter-of-fact delivery. And that is something consistent that I’ve noticed in his films, but within that you have to find something that’s unique to you and the character, and it’s also playful.
Wes seems to like it when you make the character a real human being, as strange as the circumstances may be.
Saoirse Ronan (SR): It’s true. It feels like every role that [Wes writes] shouldn’t be realistic, and it shouldn’t have that much heart, and it shouldn’t be that funny but he somehow manages to retain that balance in every single film he’s made. It can be heartbreaking, and it can be kind of twisted, and it can be hilarious, and it all seems to work…
What’s your advice for aspiring actors?
AB: Well, I have a lifetime of doing this. I started very young. I mean, I think you know at a very early age. Obviously it’s a very competitive profession as any creative field is. You have to be understanding of the reality of what that means going into it. I think that there’s a misinterpretation of what being an actor is. A lot of people are enamored by the apparent lifestyle of the handful of people who’ve had the good fortune of becoming successful and the obsession of celebrity in the world. Those are not criteria of a good actor or a working actor. The reality is that there are a great number of people within the actors union—professionals—who do not get opportunities to work. You have to understand that going in. That is the life of an actor. Occasionally you’ll have glimpses and the rewards of finding a character and finding a filmmaker or director that will help guide you and give you the opportunity.
At a very young age, it was a very clear understanding for me that there was not something else that I wanted to do more than acting. My fascination with human nature—what makes us all so unique—was something I innately found myself observing. Maybe partially because my mother’s a photographer and she observes people, and I grew up immersed in her artwork and her vision and what she found in the moment within the moment. I often find that in story, it’s kind of like an image and then I conjure it up later in the characters that I portray.
But, It’s a wonderful privilege to work as an actor and to find characters. I think that my insight into so much has come from portraying someone other than myself. My understanding of loss and suffering that I learned from The Pianist is something you could never have taught me in a university, no matter how much I read. I was guided hand-in-hand by someone who had survived the Holocaust, personally. Every moment for half of a year spent trying to get deeper and deeper into what the level of loss and the level of heartbreak that comes with that. There’s nothing else that I could say that would give you that kind of insight. That’s invaluable.
I don’t know if that’s a lesson into the steps to take because there’s a degree of luck involved. But I do think that you have to want to do it for the right reasons; that’s the only thing…If you want to do it for the right reasons and you know that it’s something for you then you should pursue it.
SR: I’ll just say that I think that Adrien’s right, I think that there’s a misconception nowadays. And maybe there always has been [because] the business stems from show, show business, glamour and therefore fame, things like that. When we were in Berlin, Tony [Revolori] and I were asked a question about, “Do we believe that children nowadays want to be actors or do they want to be superstars, do they want to be famous?” I think that, in general, they want to be famous and they don’t really know what that means. However, I’m sure that the young people that you’re talking about [HMC readers] understand that it’s work and they’re clearly passionate about [acting].
I find it really hard to analyze what I do or to really understand it. I started when I was young, so the way that I work usually is just based on instinct and kind of whatever comes out naturally. I think that the only way I could make sense out of it, and the only way I’ve been able to describe it to other younger people, usually is that: it’s kind of like child’s play, as in the imagination that a child has to completely transform themselves into something else, whether it’s a princess, or an astronaut, or whatever. But to completely transport themselves into a different world, which children seem to do so well before they grow up and they’re slightly corrupted or inhibitions start to form, and things like that. They’re brave and they’re fearless. I think that’s something that as you get older (if are going to act) or do anything you have to hold onto, if you can. You have to put any inhibitions that you have aside. You can only truly believe if you truly feel it, and that: this is the most important thing right now and this is my goal, to bring this truth to the surface.
It’s so interesting, this whole topic. I don’t know if you’ve read Alec Baldwin’s article in New York Magazine. Do youfind the media to be too much and that you’re retreating because of it, like with all of the blogs, gossip sites, and tabloids?
AB: I don’t look at it.
SR: Yeah, neither do I. I don’t feel like I experience any of that at all—I have nothing to do with that. But I’d imagine for people who kind of can’t escape it they would feel that way.
Of course it can be too much, gossip in general. I don’t understand how—to be honest—actors who want to be actors have become celebrities. Somehow people warranted photographers to take pictures of people who pretend to be other people on the street, that that’s okay to do. It always really annoys me and infuriates me. I remember there’s a pap here [NYC] who’s a horrible man. He said that, “You asked for it!” I remember he was taking photos of me when I worked here…My dad was with me and he said, “No, she didn’t ask for this. Her job is to put a performance on screen.”
Our work is on screen, that’s what we give to the public—not ourselves. Not our personal life. So I never really understand that.
On that note, you both don’t seem to be super obsessed with roles that will make you the most money, be huge box office successes, or make you more famous; you both have played in a wide range of genres and don’t play the same part. So what does go through your heads when you sit down to pick potential roles? What gets you excited enough to commit a lot of time to get into a part?
SR: I think it can be different from project to project. I think with Wes’ film, before I had even read it I had said yes to it because it’s Wes. I had so much faith in how strong his story was going to be and how exciting it would be to work with him. I think again for me, like the way I work, it’s down to that instant reaction that I have to something, if I have an impulse to kind of live though that character for a bit. I always find that if I start to imagine that I’m that character, then I probably should do it if they want me to do it. I think that it’s something that it either ignites something in you or it doesn’t—you know straight away.
[Actually] It’s not always that easy. I think that there are other projects where you have to come around to the idea or you have to find the goodness and eventually you do and it’s amazing. But I think ultimately you have to believe in what you’re doing, it’s like torture if you don’t.
AB: Oh you definitely have to believe and want to go down that road and live with it. I agree that the criteria changes.
You know, I always try to find things that are different. I try to challenge myself to find things that are not repetitious or that are slightly daunting for me and that have a degree of risk. I often work with first-time filmmakers. I never really change being adventurous with it even though I’m often advised not to. I don’t believe the box office number is an accurate depiction of the success of a film—I think that’s another misconception, it’s another criterion. I mean it is a business, but I’m an artist and I try to find films that speak to me… ♦
Photo Credits: Maria Bello Poses, Larry Busacca/Getty Images North America, Fox Searchlight