Pianist - Interviews:
Stars Adrien Brody and Thomas Kretschmann
discuss Roman Polanski's new film.
UK/France/Germany/Poland/Netherlands, 2002. Rated R. 148 minutes.
Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Emilia
Fox, Ed Stoppard, Julia Rayner, Jessica Kate Meyer
Interviews by Carlo Cavagna.
elebrated director Roman Polanski (Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown) is a Holocaust survivor. Growing up in Krakow, Poland, he found himself confined with his family in the Jewish ghetto during World War Two. When the Germans took his parents away, Polanski escaped through a hole in the ghetto's fence, and spent the rest of the war in hiding. His mother would never return from Auschwitz, and his father barely survived.
Polanski has always known that he would return to his native Poland to make a movie about this era, but he did not want it to be based on his own life. In celebrated Polish pianist and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman, Polanski has found a surrogate to communicate his own experiences. Beginning in 1935, Szpilman would play live on Polish radio, and was in fact performing on September 23rd, 1939, when the Luftwaffe destroyed the station. Similar to Polanski, Szpilman and his family was relocated to Warsaw's Jewish ghetto, and when they were taken away, Szpilman eluded deportation with help from outsiders.
The Pianist, Polanski's new film, tells Szpilman's story. American actor Adrien Brody (Summer of Sam, The Affair of the Necklace) stars as Szpilman, while German actor Thomas Kretschmann (U-571, Stalingrad) appears in the critical role of German army captain Wilm Hosenfeld, which earned him second billing despite a relative lack of screen time.
In Los Angeles, Thomas Kretschmann sat down one-on-one with AboutFilm's Carlo Cavagna and Adrien Brody participated in a roundtable interview, touching on a variety of topics, including the enigmatic Roman Polanski. These interviews discuss The Pianist in detail, and therefore contain spoilers.
Read Carlo's full-length review.
AboutFilm: You must be very happy with this film.
Kretschmann: Very happy. Yeah. I wasn't expecting anything, because, clearly the part wasn't that exposed in the script, and even though Polanski came to me and said, "For me this is the most important part except the Szpilman part," I was just happy to shoot with him. When I read the script, for me it was clear this is probably a film he was waiting for his whole life, because it's so similar to his own story.
AboutFilm: Why do you think he came to you for this role?
Kretschmann: Well, he didn't really come to me. I knew about the film, and I called the casting director, and I said, "I want to have a shot here." And she said, "He doesn't meet people. He doesn't look at photos, because he thinks everybody looks always different. He looks at tapes. So I make tapes of different actors." I said, "Okay, I want to do that." But know how it is, they put the video recorder on--"Good morning, Kretschmann." [laughs] You know what I mean. You're sitting there, and you say, "Hi, I'm Thomas Kretschmann. I am… I am… what?" You're sitting there thinking, "This is so stupid." So I read some dialogue out of the script. He's saying this and this, and I'm saying this and this, and he's saying this and this, and I'm saying this and this, and that was it. Then I get a phone call from Polanski two weeks later. He thinks it's great and fantastic, and he has to meet me right away. We met, and he shakes my hand, and the first thing he said is, "Do you want to be in my film?" That was it. I got very lucky, because if I had to audition for the film, I wouldn't have been in it. I fuck up every audition I do.
AboutFilm: He knows what he wants, clearly, and is able to identify it.
Kretschmann: Yeah. Later I heard he thought it was the greatest casting he'd ever seen. [laughs] Then at the press conference in Cannes, he said, "There was this German actor who read my script like a telephone book. Like a menu. And I thought it was unbelievable." When we started shooting, he comes up behind me, first shot we do, and he says, "You do exactly what you did in casting." I said, "But I didn't act." He said, "Exactly." He was very obsessed with not acting, and being real. You can see it in the film. I think the big power of the film is that you don't have the feeling you're watching actors acting.
AboutFilm: Well, it is a small role in terms of screen time, but Polanski's right, it is a critical role, and it is a role that requires that you carry authority and presence. Were you conscious of that when you were filming?
Kretschmann: Yeah, I was. But you know how it is, I do so many films. Mostly you work your ass off, and everybody tells you it's such an important part, and you work for months on a film, and then you see the film, and you think, "What happened? What happened to what I thought was going to be? What happened to what I did? I don't see anything of it." Here, everything that I did, I see onscreen. But I wasn't expecting that.
AboutFilm: What were you expecting?
Kretschmann: I wasn't expecting anything. I'm not expecting anything anymore. For me, the film is over after shooting. As an actor, to survive mentally, I have to get used to seeing the shooting as the main event. Being on set is for me the fun part, and the work is there. To have no wrong or disappointing expectations, just forget about it afterward.
AboutFilm: Because you have no control over the final result.
Kretschmann: No, you don't. But you can see the credits. [Kretschmann's name is above the title with Adrien Brody's.] I didn't have that in my contract. For Polanski, [my role] was very important. For me, as a German, what was important was, I was facing an example of the victims. Polanski stands for the victims. He was in the ghetto. He saw his mother carried to Auschwitz and never returning, being gassed by Germans… I am a German. I'm lucky, because I can say my grandparents were not involved, because my grandfather deserted and took my family away from there, and he could have been shot for that. But I feel responsible. What I wanted is, what my major focus was, I wanted to be with him. I wanted to help him to fulfill his vision. I walked on set, and thought, "Whatever he wants, I do."
AboutFilm: What does it mean to make World War Two movies and Holocaust movies like this one or U-571, as a German? How do you feel about it? What does it mean to you?
Kretschmann: Clearly for a German it's not so much fun to play a German in the Second World War, or a Nazi. This is not a Nazi here; also the captain in U-571 was not a Nazi, he was a soldier. That's a difference not everybody knows. But clearly it's not so much fun. For an American actor, he doesn't carry this historical responsibility. For him, it could be great fun to play this character, because he doesn't have to face his own past, right? But take U-571 for example--with what kind of film [can] I make myself visible to the audience or to the industry if not this? These are the films people want to see me for, and these are the films [in which] I can make an acting statement, and get attention, and be hired for other stuff afterward. These are the films you have to put your foot in the door... [The Pianist] is different, in my opinion. It doesn't have anything to do with that. It's a brilliant director; it's a brilliant script, and as a German, I am perfect for this part.
AboutFilm: How much did you know about your character? How much is known about Captain Hosenfeld?
Kretschmann: We know he really existed. He was a teacher originally, then he was a soldier. He saved numerous lives, and he died, like it says in film, in '52, in a [Soviet] prison camp.… There was also, in the book, a diary of him, and you could read it all. I did, but I figured out that Roman didn't want me to do this really. The more information I brought into the shooting, the more it distracted me, and the more it distracted him. Roman didn't want that. As an actor, you start reading this stuff, and you think, "Oh this is great, maybe I could put it into my part." Then you come to Roman, and he goes, "No, no, no." He has his own vision. Then I just dropped it. Because I figured, it starts me working against him, and I didn't want that.
AboutFilm: So how did you interpret and express your character?
Kretschmann: The scene where Szpilman plays the piano, that was the one scene where I could express the character, because for the rest of the time, he does what he does. He's not talking about it. He just does what has to be done. This is the only scene where you can give the audience an idea how he functions. I tried to put everything into this, [even though] he's just sitting there, listening. I was just sitting there thinking, "I have to put the world in it. Everything." It was eight and a half minutes, and [Polanski] shot it through. In my mind I tried to go through a whole lifetime of the highest highs and the lowest lows. [Polanski] did one take, and then he said, "That's it." I was actually prepared to start working at that point, but he said, "That's it." He refused to do another take.
AboutFilm: How did Polanski see your character?
Kretschmann: Up to the point when my character arrives, you see Germans doing only horrible things, so you don't expect anything good from Germans, right? So at the point he arrives, Roman wanted to have it really neutral, not over-exaggerating. [Hosenfeld] just does what a normal human being would do. [The film] makes him a symbol of hope, but it the end, he's just doing a regular thing. He did risk his life, of course; he was probably a great man. He stood up for his belief. In this way I kind of connected with him, because I escaped from [the former communist] East Germany. In East Germany, you had three possibilities. You go with the system and sacrifice your ideals, and live how the system expects you to live. Or you go against the system, and you're going to be fucked for the rest of your life. Or you escape. I escaped.
AboutFilm: How did you escape?
Kretschmann: I ran over the border in 1983. I was nineteen. My mother was in the Communist Party, and she was the principal of a school, so she wasn't very happy. I went to Hungary. If you went [directly] from East Germany to West Germany, you pretty much [ended up] dead or in jail. It was stupid to do that. They also had mines--you just walk on one, and that's it. But you could go to Hungary. I went running over the border to Yugoslavia, and then Austria. There they shoot you, too, if they can, but at least you don't step on a mine or something. If they shoot at you, you can react at least.
AboutFilm: Before that, you used to be on the national swimming team?
Kretschmann: I was on the East German national team, yes. I started swimming when I was six. When I was ten, I was asked if I want to be world champion, and when you're ten years old, you say, "Yeah, sure." And then you're in the system. I swam twenty kilometers a day. When I was eleven, I swum--by accident, because it was not even my major thing--the 1500 freestyle, I broke the German record for that age by far, so then I was locked into the Olympic program. They had a strategy to push you where you're supposed to go. When I was fourteen, I had enough already, mentally, because I saw all the other children having a childhood. And also I figured out my hands are actually too small, and I lost interest. I dropped out when I was seventeen. When I stopped swimming, I started acting school. I dropped out immediately, because I was surrounded by great 'feelers'--everybody was 'feeling'--and I felt like I was in psychotherapy. So I never learned acting. I thought, "This is not what I think it's supposed to be." Then I went to the National Theater in Berlin, and I did an audition there, and they took me. I didn't tell them I didn't do any acting school. Actually I told them that I did.
AboutFilm: Was there anything about the survival story that resonated for you personally, since you had been through an escape experience yourself?
Kretschmann: Well, I don't know. Roman Polanski is Polish; I am from East Germany, maybe we clicked there… Growing up in different environments politically and leaving them because you believe in self-responsibility. Maybe, without talking about it, that unified us. From the first minute I met him, I kind of had the feeling I understood him. Also, as an East German, we grew up thinking about [the Holocaust], because they hammered it in your head. The East Germans have been actually very responsible [about] their past. They taught it, with the Russians being the big brother, you know. We visited concentration camps. We grew up with, "We are part of the guilty nation for the biggest misery in the world." So, you have the feeling you know everything about the time. But, when you see the film, you see you don't know anything. If you're in the middle of it, you're speechless.
AboutFilm: How many days did you work on the film, and how much did you work with Adrien Brody?
Kretschmann: I didn't work long on the film. Just two weeks. The difficult thing, not for me, but for Adrien was that, for practical reasons, we started shooting the film with these scenes. I think that's a great achievement for him as actor, how perfectly he became this person. With Adrien, we worked on our dialogue because he had to speak German with me, and he did an amazing job, actually. He sounded like my grandmother--not the voice, but the tone. My grandmother is from Poland. It was creepy. We didn't rehearse very much, but we worked on that.
AboutFilm: Let's talk a little bit more about Polanski, if you don't mind. He remains a bit of an enigmatic figure here, obviously because he left twenty-five years ago. He has been an actor himself. Do you think that influences him as a director?
Kretschmann: Yeah, totally. He didn't want to dictate what you have to do. There was one thing he wanted--simplicity. That's what he said all the time. We didn't talk very much about the character. We didn't rehearse very much. We didn't have big meetings. Nothing like that. It was obvious to me the film was in his head already. So he walks around on set, and he's involved in every detail of what's going on. In between, he takes you around the corner in the next room, and he goes, "Say these lines for me." Then you say the lines, and he listens, and then he's mumbling the lines. But he's not doing it like, "Look at what I'm doing." He's just trying what he would do, and you watch him. Then you do it, and he watches you. It's kind of like a conspiracy… can you say? You are observing each other. He never said, "Do it like this." He was with you, and had you try it this way and that way, and tried it himself, and then you walk on set and you do it. When we did the first shot, he had me do seventeen takes. As an actor, after ten takes, you start worrying about your ability to do what [a director] wants you to do. And then he'll print the first take and the third. But I knew he was testing me. He wanted to know that I would go with him all the way. After that shot, he did only one take, two takes, three takes, that's it.
AboutFilm: So then, it was a very naturalistic approach. You say the lines a few times, you refine them, you go on set and you recite them. It's not hours and hours of trying to put yourself in your character's shoes.
Kretschmann: No, no. It was very light--everything, the whole process. Also, if you have the chance to meet with Polanski on set, you want to know things. I tried the whole time to get information out of him, out of his own experiences. He was very closed. He didn't talk very much about himself; he didn't talk very much about the scenes. He wanted you to be a part of it, but he didn't want to take the whole thing apart. He just went with you around the corner and played around with the lines a little. Then after the film was done, he opened up. He took me to the first [screening]. Afterwards he says, "This scene happened to me. This scene I watched. This scene…" You get the feeling that the whole thing is packed with stuff out of his own life. But he didn't let you know. I think he didn't want to be distracted. He said all the time, "Concentration is my big passion. I need concentration! I need concentration!"
AboutFilm: You're talking as though you worked by closely reflecting Polanski's desires in this film. Have you worked with other directors in that way?
Kretschmann: Yeah, I worked with Patrice Chéreau in that way [in La Reine Margot]… [pauses] I've done fifty films. I've worked with many directors, good ones and bad ones. So if I have a chance to work the good ones, I better put myself in their hands, and trust them, because that's my big opportunity to be different, and to be better than usual. It's not a big deal to face a director and know, "This is going to be bullshit; I better save my ass here." I can do that. But if you have a chance to work with somebody like [Polanski], you just want to go with him, and hope he gets something out of you that nobody could before.
AboutFilm: So if you work with a bad director, what do you do?
Kretschmann: You get the feeling if the film goes downhill, or if it doesn't work. But you're in it already, so the only thing you can do is save your scenes, save your character. Best scenario, the film comes out, and people say, "The film was shit. Kretschmann was good." You have to fight for that. You always want to be with your director, but sometimes you don't have the choice.
AboutFilm: What's it like acting under a lot of make-up, like in Blade 2?
Kretschmann: Well, the process was horrible, because it was about seven hours of make-up. After walking out of make-up, you're already done. You're exhausted; you want to go home. Then you go on for another six or seven hours acting. That's horrible. I never want to do that again. It's like masochism, to put this shit on your face. But, underneath, [aside from] the pain, and the sweating underneath, and the burning everywhere, and itching--except that, the acting is fantastic. You can do whatever you want, because it's not too much. You can allow yourself to do whatever you want, you're not ashamed. For the character, everything is possible. It reminded me of theater. You can scream and spin around and move around like an idiot, exaggerating, and it's right. There are totally different laws, and it's fun for that. It's absolutely fun. But the pain… not again.
AboutFilm: I understand you are making another submarine movie, U-Boat, to be released in 2003?
Kretschmann: Yeah. We just finished that two weeks ago, with William H. Macy, Scott Caan, Til Schweiger, and myself. The director [Tony Giglio] came to me with the script, and it was fantastic. In U-571, I didn't have so many opportunities, you know? Everything I couldn't do then was in this script. Plus, the director said, "I want to do kind of an art-house U-Boat film, European style. A drama in a U-Boat." It's about Americans and Germans who stick together, and go home. Fuck the war. I liked the script and the director so much, so that's why I did it.
AboutFilm: You now live in Los Angeles. I was recently interviewing your countryman, Moritz Bleibtreu [Run Lola Run, Das Experiment], who said he was interested in working in English-language movies, but that he didn't see himself making a big career here because foreigners will always trouble getting roles that aren't specifically foreign. So he said he'll always be living in Germany and working in Germany. Yet you live here, which suggests you don't agree with that. What's the difference for you?
Kretschmann: Well, I don't see a film industry in Germany. They have a great TV culture…. but how many German films are really exciting? Let's talk in the last ten years. There's not much. For me it was clear. I did a film in '92 called Stalingrad--it was a very big film for Germany. After that film, I thought, "It doesn't get any bigger here. I have to leave." That's also part of my ego… I was a competitive swimmer. So this is part of what I am. I want to play with the big boys. I don't want to sit there at seventy in Germany, and think, "I probably had the craft as an actor to do those great films, but I never made myself available." You have to come here. Polanski gave me [the name of a] really good dialogue coach here, Julie Adams. So that's what I'm working on now. I want to try it out. And if I fail, I fail, but I can look at myself in the mirror and say, "I failed, but I tried."
AboutFilm: Going back to The Pianist, what do you hope for this movie? Maybe it will get a big theatrical release everywhere in the country, but I don't know. What do you see happening?
Kretschmann: I guess it will. I think it would be a shame if not. There are each year so many blockbusters--big audience, big release--and you can be part of it or not, and it doesn't make a difference really. You forget [them] already two months later. This is a film that stays, I believe. This is a film that's going to be around in fifty years, probably in a hundred years, if the world is around in a hundred years. [laughs] I'm sure that when I'm eighty and I'm sitting with my grandchildren, I can show them this film. I can be proud of it. This film will still make sense, and it will still matter… I think it's going to be a classic. It's such a true film. You walk out, and you don't have the feeling you watched a film, you have the feeling you've been in the middle of it. The film grabs you.
AboutFilm: I think it succeeds because it doesn't try to be about to much. It's very specific. It's about a specific individual, and often the greatest truths can be found in those little things, I think. Whereas a movie that sets out to be about all aspects of the war, or the Holocaust, that's over-ambitious. Oftentimes those movies fail, I would say.
Kretschmann: Oh absolutely. And I think that the great quality about the film is that it's not whiny. What makes it so tough to watch is that the camera doesn't go, "Look how horrible, look how miserable." The camera just walks through this stuff. This is happening, and this is life. It's about life surviving where it has no way to survive. Roman always says this film is about hope. It's very difficult to understand that, but it is. It's about going on. It's about life.
Question: In The Pianist, we see hands playing and then the camera pans up and it looks like it's actually you. Do you play the piano?
Brody: I had to learn to play the piano for the film. I do have a basic knowledge of piano. I've studied off and on for years, but I'm definitely not a concert pianist. I had to learn to play a portion of Chopin's Ballade No. 1--a really complex work--in a very short period of time. I had six weeks.
Question: In the scene with the German officer [played by Thomas Kretschmann], that's you playing the whole piece?
Brody: Early on it is. That's Ballade No. 1. That's what I had to practice for. And that was the first week [of shooting]. I had six weeks before we started. I went down to 130 pounds, and I had to play that. That's what [Roman Polanski] required. It was important that I knew to play because it was important to Roman that he could actually use me playing. It's not just a cut to me, or a cut to the hands. He wanted, first and foremost, to know that I would be very dedicated and disciplined. I had to be. There were no options. Within those six weeks I had to lose a tremendous amount of weight; I had to grow that beard; I had to work on a dialect, and I had to learn to play the piano. I had a six month movie in front me, and I was starving myself and having four hours of piano a day. I was immersed in it. It was a lot. It was more than I've ever had to do, and I had to stay in this space for a really long time.
Question: In the credits, they credit somebody else with being the piano player.
Brody: Well, yeah. Obviously there's no way that I could play [on the soundtrack]--you couldn't expect that. But I still had to play it. Not only did I have to play it, and play it with a style that was played then, but I had to play at the pace that they were playing it. It's like you're lip synching, but really singing. Because you have to hit the right notes, and you are playing. It's a complicated procedure. Already it was tremendously difficult because I don't read music very well, so I learned on memory, which took constant practicing. Once I was able to play well, I would play in time with the music they were going to use… But yeah, [Janusz] Olejniczak is a phenomenal Polish pianist who did the interpretation of the music for the film and would play those long stretches that were way too intricate. I mean, these are like Olympic pieces, and I'm a novice.
Question: Were you ever absolutely exhausted?
Brody: I was exhausted from Day One. Day One, I had to climb over [a] wall and witness the destruction of Warsaw. I had been confined to my room, just working on the things I've been describing. I had no energy. I hadn't eaten much. I hadn't eaten that day; I hadn't eaten much for six weeks. I had no energy, and I told Roman that I had no energy. He said [in Polish accent], "What do you need energy for? You just do it."
AboutFilm: That must actually have been ideal.
Brody: That was ideal, because, first of all, I connected immediately, psychologically, to this state of isolation and deprivation that my character had. At that point I was completely changed, already, and that was Day One. I could barely climb over that wall. They were doing a complicated crane shot; I had to do it a few times; it was freezing, and I could barely make it over this wall. My muscles were gone. That's what Roman wanted. And in retrospect, I'm okay. I made it through it. Probably it could have been harmful, but I'm fine today. And I felt that I had a responsibility in my portrayal of this character, and that I had to do it as honestly as I could. I think Roman felt that I was willing to give him that in the casting process… Before I left home I gave up my apartment in New York, sold my car, and got rid of my phones, because I thought, "Hey, this character loses everything, why don't I be very dedicated and do this?" When I got there, I was like, "That was really stupid, I didn't need to do that because I'm already going to go through hell here, and it would be nice to have a place to think about." But I felt like I shouldn't have a place that I could call home.
Question: What kind of food and diet were you on before you started the production?
Brody: Oh… I had two boiled eggs, and then I didn't have anything for about five hours, and I had a small piece of chicken, grilled, under 200 grams. Dinner was four or five hours later, and that would be a small piece of fish and a few steamed vegetables, and that's all I ate.
Question: How much do you weigh now?
Brody: I'm about 155, but I was about 160 when I started [preparing for The Pianist].
Question: How did you get involved?
Brody: I got a phone call out of the blue that Roman wanted to take a meeting with me. I was shooting Affair of the Necklace in Paris, and I got this call. I was like, "Oh yeah! Okay, whenever, wherever." We met and had coffee, and talked about it. He got a script to me. Then I invited him to see a screening of Harrison's Flowers, and he came with a producer, and went out for a beer with me afterwards. I took that as a good sign. We talked about the script, what my intentions would be, at what level I was committed, if I had some knowledge of music. It was a long process, but he never made me audition. I really appreciate that, because this is a role I would die to get an opportunity to audition for. I know he saw a lot of people for it, and I know there were a lot of incentives to hire a European actor, and for some reason he chose me. It's kind of the break that I've been looking for, for a really long time, and he gave it to me. I love the guy for that. He gave me a lot of respect. I've had to audition for things that are effortless for me, and I have plenty of tape that they check out, but there's something about that process. Some people need you to prove your work, and that's what actors have to do constantly. But he had some faith in me, which is really wonderful.
AboutFilm: You said that Polanski told you to just do it. Was that characteristic of the direction you received?
Brody: Oh no, it was far more intricate than that, complex and specific at times.
AboutFilm: Could you talk about that process?
Brody: Well, Roman has a very clear vision in his work, and I have faith in him and trust him to guide me. He strives for subtlety, and so do I. You have to be malleable, but if you have a director who strives to guide you in a similar direction, then that's a real luxury. It was a fascinating process, because he's experienced a lot of similarities and a lot of suffering in his life. He survived Krakow through that time. Not only did I have a director that I admire and that I'm confident in, but he knows what my character went through. He also possesses a strength that I felt my character had to have had in order to survive all that. It was a phenomenal opportunity for me to have a director who I admire and the guidance of someone who shared parallels with the person I was actually portraying.
Question: The order of shooting is very interesting, in that you started at a very extreme point. You started from the place where Szpilman evolved to, and then you went back to the earlier place, where he was a confident, well-respected guy, not ever imagining what could possibly happen.
Brody: Right. In retrospect, I think I could only have interpreted it as clearly because we shot in reverse. It allowed me insight into this man and that place. It's far more difficult to read an individual whose life is in order, who's apparently very normal. There's only so much information given. [Szpilman] is not particularly religious. He has an opportunity for love but he's not deeply in love. He's passionate about music, but… it's hard to jump into that. But I became immersed in [his later] state of mind, knowing what he's capable of enduring. You know him and where he went, so you know what to work away from, and the trick is to slowly shed it. It's difficult to shed it, but you have to try to peel off these things that you've developed. It was a long process. Six months, six days a week, every day, is a long shoot to say the least. There was a month and a half when there wasn't even another actor on the set. That was a fantastic opportunity, because you've got Roman and a crew at your disposal, and all this focus on your character's journey. That's fantastic. The flip side is, there's not a window to let go. And if you can't let go for long enough, you somehow change… And Roman encouraged the isolation. He communicated with the crew in Polish, partially out of necessity, but there's no other actor there. He didn't need to tell me much… I'm a starving man sitting in a room, what am I gonna do? Until he needed to say something to me, he wouldn't. I'd be in my trailer, practicing the piano, come back out, do my scene.
Question: After going through Szpilman's life, do you appreciate more your own life?
Brody: Absolutely. It put so much into perspective for me that I can't even tell you how I would feel today without this experience. Hopefully it'll do that for people who see the film, just getting a glimpse of what kind of suffering one individual endures, and how fortunate we are not to go through that. Even on a simple level, it's made me appreciate being able to eat, being able to be with friends, having shelter. These are things that I have taken for granted, and that we all take for granted. It's human nature to complain--and it's legitimate, because we all want to strive to have better things and be better people and grow--but, you have to remember your own good fortune, and you have to be aware of other people's misfortune.
Question: Was there any specific moment in the story that stood with you, that revealed something about the character to you?
Brody: There was one specific thing that seemed particularly tragic, not the horror, death, and everything, but when he was locked alone [inside an apartment]. There's a piano there, and he couldn't play. I didn't get it in the memoirs; I didn't get in the script, but then I was locked in the room with this piano. I had been playing a lot, so when I see a piano, I go to play it, because it brought me comfort, too. I also identified with the music, because I omitted all the modern music from my life, and I just listened to that kind of music. Being able to play music, and having some control over it, you understand the story behind the music, and the connection between the composer or the pianist and the work. I felt a closeness to this piano now. I couldn't touch it. It was like being locked in a room with your loved one, and being unable to touch. It was profoundly tragic for me in that moment.
Question: What was your favorite sequence in this movie?
Brody: I think when I meet up with the German officer at the end, and I have found [a can of] pickles. There's some hopeful element, and he's at his lowest point, and there's some interaction all of a sudden with a human being. It was moving, really moving for me doing it. When [the officer] brought me bread in that scene, in the first take or something, I cried, because I smelled the bread. I hadn't had any--any!--carbohydrates. A-ny. Period. It was this loaf of real bread, baked bread, Eastern European thick hearty bread, and I just thought, "What must this man feel, getting a loaf of bread from a Nazi officer instead of a bullet in the head?" It made me cry. And he was probably more way more hungry than I could have ever imagined. And I couldn't have gone there without all this other stuff that Roman guided me into. It was really profound. That's what I want to get from my work. That is the beauty of acting, when you can connect with these things, and hopefully transmit these emotions to people, and gain something. That's how you benefit. I mean, doing a fun character that's entertaining is great. There's nothing wrong with it. But it's far less enriching.
Question: Did Polanski ever discuss his personal experiences with you?
Brody: Absolutely. He shared a lot, and it was invaluable. He incorporated a number of things into the film that he had seen [himself]. For instance, the woman who is shot by a German officer and she falls on her face in that strange contorted position. He saw that as a boy. It struck him, and he was so specific about how she fell. He laid in the dirt to show her how he wanted her to fall. You have a director, Roman Polanski, laying in the ground to show an extra how to fall. That's really inspirational, because he's that involved, and he cares that much about it. It helps.
Question: What are you going to do after this?
Brody: I don't know. I don't know. Hopefully it will inspire people to send me some good material. I'm very selective. It's hard to find something that tops this. You can't say, "Well, what's going to take me to the next level?" because… creatively, this was pretty profound for me. I don't expect everything to be that way. But I do need something that will provide me some kind of growth in another way. I would love to do something with some romantic involvement, some serious leading man with a wonderful woman who's a fantastic actor… contemporary stuff that's real, and powerful, and moving. That's where I'm at. I'm ready for that kind of material.
CONTINUE TO CARLO'S REVIEW OF THE PIANIST
Interview © December
2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2002 Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.
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