From the EW Archive: January 2003

Piano Man

Oscar nom Adrien Brody on ''The Pianist.'' Find out why the young star shed 30 pounds, sold his car, and quit talking to friends for his role as a Holocaust survivor

Adrien Brody | WEIGHT WATCHERS Brody dropped 30 pounds to play the lead in ''Pianist''
Image credit: Adrien Brody: Hahn-Nebinger-Petit/ABACA/ImageDirect
WEIGHT WATCHERS Brody dropped 30 pounds to play the lead in ''Pianist''

Who says getting a Golden Globe nomination is easy? To earn his, Adrien Brody had to drop to an anemic 130 pounds (from his normal 160) to play real-life concert pianist and Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski's acclaimed film ''The Pianist.'' Brody, 26, tells EW.com about the sudden weight loss, working with Polanski (a Holocaust survivor himself), and more.

How on earth did you get so skinny?
A very specific diet: I had only small amounts of protein, a couple boiled eggs, a small piece of fish or chicken, a couple steamed vegetables -- that was it. In 6 weeks, I lost 30 pounds. It affected me very deeply. I was cranky, definitely.

Did that affect your personal life?
I had no personal life... for half a year. I lost contact with a number of people. It was too difficult to work out problems in my relationships. All of that was an intentional sacrifice that was temporary and unfortunate, but it was really powerful. I did all these things to encourage loneliness and to encourage loss. It taught me to appreciate everything and everyone that's important to me in my life.

Word has it you even sold a lot of stuff, including your car.
Yeah, I sold my car. I figured: I don't want to have a safe place to think of or possessions that I know I can go home to. I wanted them to be taken away.

Did it help you with your character?
You play these mental games with yourself as an actor. You have to be able to ''go there'' somehow, and sometimes you go a little too far. But you don't know that until you're there. I didn't know until I was immersed in it that, ''Oh my God, I'm massively depressed and physically destroyed, and I don't know how to get out of this.'' You have to find a way out of it, or maybe not. That's probably why there are a lot of strange actors -- because they've done these things too many times.

What did you take away from all the loss you experienced?
It taught me to acknowledge what's important. For example, we had the L.A. premiere, and the sound system broke two minutes into it. They stopped the film and cancelled the premiere. This is the most important film that I've had released in the states -- and we didn't get a premiere! Jack Nicholson was there. I REALLY wanted Jack to see my movie. I was disappointed, but because of this experience, because of my understanding of the level of suffering that Szpilman endured, I just thought, In the greater scheme of things, this means nothing. That's a huge change in me.

As a Holocaust survivor, Polanski has some insight into loss. Was he hard on you?
He's hard on everyone. He's hard on himself. I shouldn't even say that he's hard, though. He just has very high expectations for everything that pertains to the work, and he's very specific. If I didn't feel that he was closely connected to the film, I may have felt the need to resist more. But he knows a lot about life from his experiences and I felt that -- if he wanted something -- I would have to give it to him, if I could humanly give it to him.

Is it true that Polanski handpicked you for the part?
Yes, [and it's flattering because] there were sacrifices that he made to hire me. For example, it's a European-financed film, so there are financial incentives to hiring a European actor. You lose money by not having a European name.

I guess you weren't worried that he would trim your screen time to a cameo the way Terrence Malick did in ''The Thin Red Line.''
We would joke about it. I'd say, ''You gonna cut me out of this one? What are you gonna call it, 'The Piano'''?

Originally posted Jan 10, 2003