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"We Can All Do a Little Better"

Oscar winner Adrien Brody thinks public school teaching is "a noble feat." See him in Detachment, one of his darkest roles to date—in theaters Friday.

Tribeca: So how did Detachment come to you. What attracted you to the project?

Adrien Brody: Well, there were a number of things that were very alluring about it. First of all, it's a beautifully written script by Carl Lund, and when I read it, it moved me to tears. And I thought the experience of working with Tony [Kaye, director of Detachment] would be fascinating—I'm always intrigued by working with people who are very creative and innovative and unpredictable, and Tony is all of that, a wonderful collaborator. He's very kind, and I really enjoyed that process.

My father was a public school teacher, and I am a product of public schools in New York. I felt I understood quite a bit of the depths of the material, innately, and some of the problems that exist within the school system. And also, I attribute my good fortune and any successes that I've had in my life to my parental guidance and having a really strong, patient, thoughtful father.

These were all elements that are at play in the film, and they make or break our lives. It's crucial that we work hard at being a positive influence—and provide some guidance and insight into young people who need that.

So this film allowed me to delve into all of that. It's rare that you find material that speaks to you on so many levels, and that is also such a real, universal story.

Tribeca: My mother was a teacher too, and I feel like that shaped me in a lot of ways. Do you feel like your father's work has framed your worldview in a sense?

Adrien Brody: Well, even though my father is very different from my character, it helped me find the strength and the determination and the generosity. It's a very challenging profession—to be a public school teacher. There a lot of obstacles, and to be a good one—to be thoughtful and patient with that many adolescents—is a very noble feat. So Henry's reluctance to be involved is one thing, but he's compelled to do it anyway. And in helping these young people—or attempting to help them and failing—it pulled Henry out of his own sense of isolation and loneliness. That comes from the humanity that still exists [in him], even though he was damaged from all these other things.

I guess I got off track from what my father's influence was, but my father was a very kind and thoughtful person, and I wanted to convey that thoughtfulness in the character and in the portrayal of a teacher.

Credit: Tony Kaye/Courtesy: Tribeca FilmTribeca: Henry is a pretty dark role, and he's kind of a tortured soul, which seems to be your forté in a lot of ways. [Brody laughs.] How did you prepare for the role?

Adrien Brody: Well, I felt like I understood this one quite a bit. I'm not like him, but I understand a degree of volatility. I understand anger, and most young men do—anger as a response to the frustrations we have in life—so I get it. And I also know lots of people who unfortunately had very troubled, abused childhoods, and I see the repercussions of that in their lives: how they're able to cope, and not so much so.

Tribeca: Is there one particular teacher in your life who shaped you?

Adrien Brody: Funny, I've thought about it a lot. I really have one teacher who always comes to mind: my first grade teacher, Mrs. Vanderpoi. She was just a lovely woman, just a ray of light. I remember feeling very encouraged. I remember her energy, which really makes you feel very comfortable. I also remember teachers who were incredibly shut off, and [laughs] my math skills suffered as a result of one teacher in particular who used to throw chalk at us if we didn't know the answer. So I just stopped asking. And that hit me, but fortunately I found acting. [Laughs]

Tribeca: You don't need to do math so much.

Adrien Brody: Well… I have a calculator.

Tribeca: You alluded before to working with Tony and what that was like. Were you guys simpatico from the start?

Adrien Brody: It just worked. Yeah. We had maybe one or two phone conversations in our life prior to meeting a day before shooting. We sat down in the Mercer Hotel and had a discussion. I came to work prepared, and he came to work prepared, and we experimented. We're all lucky that that energy, or dynamic, worked, because it's too short of a schedule and too difficult a task if we clash. I really responded to his enthusiasm and spontaneity, and he liked to push the envelope, which I'm all for—as long as it's grounded in reality. It was good. I learned a lot.

Credit: Tony Kaye/Courtesy: Tribeca FilmTribeca: From your perspective as an award-winning actor, what do you think makes a good director? Do you have any advice for filmmakers about how to work with actors?

Adrien Brody: Well, sure. It's a full-on lesson, not an answer to a question. But it’s important, obviously, to have some understanding of the craft of acting and the complications. I think that is crucial for a director to understand how to motivate an actor to make certain changes and not ask for an end result, necessarily, but to actually give them the direction, the insight, that they require.

And casting is a big thing. You want to hire an actor who has the insight in the first place, and you want to just delicately guide them to fit, perhaps, what your more specific vision is for the character. But you also have to be malleable and you also have to really trust your actors.

Tribeca: So Detachment is available in over 40 million homes on VOD. Have you ever had a release like this before, and what's your take on the new distribution models?

Adrien Brody: I think it's interesting. I don't know enough about it to really comment. I personally really love seeing movies in the theater, but I also understand that there are all types of technologies and other platforms… If it means that people are seeing the movies, in that respect, it's great. If more people see the movie, that's wonderful. I feel like that happens with DVD and cable inevitably down the road, but I just feel like the cinematic experience of being alone in a room, without your Blackberry popping off, and your kid crying in the back, and your friends talking, and your house phone ringing, and all these things… It's a very different experience.

You can't expect everybody to go to the theater, but in an ideal world, that is what I do my work for. I hope that people can get lost in that experience.

Credit: Tony Kaye/Courtesy: Tribeca FilmTribeca: Well, Detachment opens in theaters in NYC this Friday, with other cities to follow, so we hope people will see it in theaters too. Finally, what do you want audiences to take away from the movie? Is there something in particular?

Adrien Brody: I think it's a reminder that we can all do a little better. And I know there are very grave issues that it touches on, and failings of larger institutions and failings of family. I've been talking and thinking about it a lot, and I think even acknowledging our own failings to our children in a simple conversation would provide volumes of insight for the child.

After you see a film like this, it has the power to awaken something in us, and give us a bit of an understanding that we're not alone in these feelings of isolation and inadequacy and loneliness. And to know that so many people share these feelings, and that we have to do better at nurturing young people so that they do not continue to perpetuate a new generation of deeply damaged people. So it's a tall order, but I feel like a film like this has potential to inspire.

Detachment is now playing on VOD, and it opens at AMC Empire 25 and Village East in NYC on Friday, March 16, with more cities to follow in the coming weeks. Find tickets.


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