Adrien Brody talks to us about his new film The French Dispatch, his passion for painting and why he’s on the search for a great on-screen romance.
The world may insist that print is dead, but we magazine editors don’t, and neither does Wes Anderson, whose latest film, The French Dispatch, has been hailed as “a love letter to journalism” by many film critics. Working alongside Anderson is long-time collaborator, actor Adrien Brody, whose range and dedication he puts into his characters have won him numerous accolades, including an Oscar in 2002 for his portrayal of Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist. Adrien Brody has starred in four of Anderson’s films: The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and now The French Dispatch (2021), which opens in theatres in Hong Kong this month.
The film, set in the imaginary town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, is premised on the editors of the magazine The French Dispatch, who are preparing for its final issue following the death of its editor-in-chief, Arthur Howitzer Jr. It’s told in a series of four vignettes, with each plot played out as though you’re reading four long-form features in a magazine.
Adrien Brody, who plays the exploitative art dealer Julien Cadazio in the film, sits down with us in an exclusive interview to tell us about the film, working with Wes Anderson and his own artistic pursuits (he’s a painter too).
Actor Adrien Brody on New Film The French Dispatch
You’ve formed one of the longest working relationships with Wes Anderson. What draws you to his work and working with him?
I feel really lucky for us to have crossed paths again. It’s a real gift to be asked to come work again and again, with someone that’s just so strong and has such a unique storytelling vision. You know, I think that’s the biggest gift an actor could have, to have someone who elevates your work consistently and gives you all these opportunities and, frankly, life experiences that I can cherish – and a friendship to boot. We’ve known each other now for many years and I’ve really witnessed a lot of growth in his work and evolution in his work – and to be part of that is really special.
The French Dispatch has been called a love letter to journalism. What do you think of that analogy, and do you have different opinions about what the film represents?
I can see that. I would say in addition to that sentiment, it’s more specifically a love of the written word, and language and an appreciation of French culture. It’s a homage to the New Yorker, which is a very specific type of journalistic approach and sensibility and calibre of writing style, and editorial leadership. But I think, you know, it also represents Wes’s own love of France and, as an American, how funny interpretations of unique experiences and cultural differences can be. I find that all of it is done with love and is uniquely relatable to Wes’s own sensibilities and his love of art.
How closely did the made-up town of Ennui resemble the actual French countryside?
They incorporated a lot of people from the town, local lecturers, etc. They incorporated architectural elements, of course, but you know, they created a soundstage there so it was a combination of location and sound stages, but the bridges that we shot were all part of Angoulême. It’s actually a very beautiful town. I’m a fan of stone architecture and the actual infrastructure is all really beautiful stonework. I really enjoyed wandering around and soaking in all the churches, they’re incredibly beautiful.
Can you tell us more about your role as Julien the art dealer?
Julien Cadazio was a really interesting character. It’s a fun role to play. He’s a very alive character, you know, and he’s someone who can make magic happen. I’m a painter as well and I always joke around like, I’d love to have Cadazio represent my work because that guy’s just, he knows how to sell it. He knows how to build the story that’s necessary to create allure and value for a piece of work, or a body of work. And that’s a very real aspect of the art world. It doesn’t mean that a work of art is any less beautiful.
You mentioned you were a painter. What kind of paintings do you do?
In general, I paint somewhat larger, abstract works. I do mixed media, I do collage works, I incorporate a bunch of materials in my work, usually on canvas or paper, or a combination of the two. A lot of it is influenced by American culture and my upbringing and growing up in New York City and Queens in particular.
Is it anything like the art piece we see in The French Dispatch?
Some of my work, actually. I have some more overtly abstract, expressionist pieces that I love to create. And some have more of a figurative element and a theme to them that requires a bit more specificity – it’s a different approach. I really love abstract work. I’m a big fan of Pollock’s work and I love throwing paint and being brave with that and finding subtlety within that. I love how art affords me the degree of autonomy in my creative work when I’m not acting.
Are there any specific things you did to prepare for this role this time?
I think the main prep is just knowing the material so intimately like that. It’s like, you could wake me up in the middle of the night and I could recite all of it rapid-fire. I think that isn’t necessary for most other films, because there’s room for you to contemplate things, but that doesn’t really work in a lot of the way Wes composes and constructs his stories. He has a very specific vision and then within that, there’s a lot of timing and pace. All the actors up their focus to deliver something really unique and that honours his vision.
Was The French Dispatch a more light-hearted movie for you? You’re normally attracted to works that are quite serious and touch on weighty topics.
I think if you look over the lifetime of my work, yes I gravitate towards a lot of meaningful, dramatic works and films that have social relevance and that hopefully speak to something much deeper than merely entertaining. But I do have a lot of levity in my work. I think it gets overshadowed somehow by a serious approach that I have to the work and my own attraction to represent the flaws in all of us and humanity. I try to find heroic characters that are flawed, or that are heroic in spite of those flaws. But you know, I’ve done a lot, and that’s thanks to Wes, and thanks to Rian Johnson, I’ve done quite a bit of comedic work, even if there’s a degree of solemnity in the characters. But yeah, this is very upbeat and fun.
What’s a role you’d love to play that you haven’t yet?
That’s a really great question. Something I’ve always yearned for is to have a really great on-screen romance, that’s meaningful and profound. With that communication and that sense of trust. I don’t see so much of that in many films. Really moving but like a classic dramatic love story. Love is such a common thread in all of our lives and so complex, so to be able to explore that and represent the frailty of that, the complexity of what is at stake in love, I think would be really beautiful with a really great filmmaker and a beautiful cinematographer. I think that’s something I could do very well and hasn’t been something that’s come my way yet.