Adrien Brody is a serious actor. After all, he won an Academy Award for his portrayal in The Pianist of a Polish Jewish musician struggling to survive in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. And after lending gravitas to the Beyoncé vehicle Cadillac Records, the 35-year-old stars as the more serious sibling opposite Mark Ruffalo in the seriocomic con artist caper The Brothers Bloom. Brody will, however, lighten up a bit for his gay fans — just as long as you steer clear of homo hypotheticals. Seriously.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: I hope you’re in a good mood today for some silly gay questions.
Adrien Brody: I’m in a good mood, but let’s see if I’m still in a good mood at the end.
We’ll ease into it. Are you aware of your gay following?
Well, I’ve lived in West Hollywood, Chelsea, and right off Christopher Street — all largely gay neighborhoods — and I was aware of a number of people there who were fans of mine, so I guess that’s a nice thing. You’re aware of it?
Sure. Let’s talk about 1997’s The Last Time I Committed Suicide, in which you played a character patterned after gay beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
You know, that’s so funny, because [my publicist] sent me an e-mail about possible interview topics like gay roles, and I thought, I haven’t really had the opportunity to play a gay role. But yes, I did. I forgot about it; it was so long ago. Let’s talk about it.
How did Ginsberg’s sexuality inform your performance?
Obviously, the character had an intense physical attraction to the character based on Neal Cassady, but Neal didn’t share the same feelings. As an actor, an emotion is an emotion regardless of who it’s for. It’s challenging to do any role where there’s a great deal of physical intimacy, but I haven’t had to deal with that [opposite another man].
At 13 you made your acting debut in the off-Broadway play Family Pride in the Fifties as a working-class kid who wants to be a ballet dancer. Did you think that character was gay?
Oh, good, you did some research! A part of the conflict there was that the father struggles with his son’s sensitivity. I was very young, so I guess I didn’t give it enough thought, but perhaps he was a gay character as well. We’re racking ’em up. [Laughs] I once had an opportunity to play a transvestite who wasn’t gay and was actually somewhat homophobic. It was a very complex story, but the script wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be. It would’ve been challenging, but part of what attracted me to the material was how difficult it was.
What conversations did you have with director Spike Lee about your character Richie’s sexuality in Summer of Sam?
[Laughs] Spike doesn’t like to discuss those things. I think Spike would probably have a different point of view from mine. Richie was a guy who was all about experimenting and exploring, breaking all the things that were imposed on him by society. Spike didn’t particularly have a ton of direction with that, but I think Richie’s homosexual encounters were purely based on monetary gain. He was selling himself. The character was based on a person that I knew, but I don’t think that he was really attracted to men; he was basically just willing to do whatever was necessary.
Did you go to any seedy gay clubs to prepare for the role?
I did hang out in that world. But, I mean, I’ve gone to gay bars before. It’s not like that’s something I would only enter for a role. Obviously I’m not there to pick up anybody, but I’m not afraid to hang out in a predominantly gay establishment.
You also earned some extra gay credit for appearing in Tori Amos’s “A Sorta Fairytale” music video.
You’re right, she does have a big gay following, because there was a girl I knew then who was very jealous that I got to kiss her. I had Tori Amos singing to me all day, so that was an amazing experience.
Growing up in Queens, N.Y., what was your earliest exposure to gay people?
My mom was a photographer for The Village Voice, so from the age of 3 or 4, I would hang out at offices of the Voice, which then was a very progressive, hip publication full of creative, artistic people. Queens was very different, but I grew up around every type of person.
How do you deal with gay rumors?
I haven’t heard any about myself. I don’t follow that type of thing, but I haven’t been told that.
Not even after you’ve been photographed hanging out with your friend Simon Rex?
Simon is very straight, by the way, regardless of what people discuss about him. I can vouch for that. But it’s irrelevant. And the dilemma with that judgment comes if a celebrity actually is gay and they’re unable to express themselves. That’s unfortunate. And it’s unfortunate that it’s difficult to imagine a leading man or woman believably in an intimate role if you know that they don’t like the opposite sex.
Have you worked with closeted actors?
You get to know people, and it’s not necessarily that they’re trying to conceal it, but some people just don’t want to run around telling the world what their interests are.
Is it true that a gay guy once slipped you a note asking you to meet him in the restroom for a quickie?
Yeah, it was at an auto parts store, of all places. I’d forgotten about that, fortunately.
Do guys still hit on you?
I guess I’d be disappointed if they didn’t.
What if a man had presented you with your Oscar instead of Halle Berry? Were you so wrapped up in the moment that you might have kissed him too?
That’s a pretty silly question. No, obviously not. Part of the excitement was that it was a beautiful woman presenting me with such a beautiful moment in my life.
Is there any actor for whom you would’ve made an exception?
Let’s try another approach: For your next gay role, who’d you choose for your on-screen love interest?
You want me to name an actor? No, I can’t answer that question, Brandon. See, you ask me how I deal with rumors, and I also have to deal with not adding fuel to them. Something that would be a completely innocuous comment on my part will be completely taken out of context by the next journalist, so I’d appreciate it if you were understanding about that.
Have I put you in a bad mood?
I’m still in a good mood, but I’m also a relatively serious person, so these questions are difficult for me.
So I guess I shouldn’t ask if it’s true what they say about a man with a prominent nose?
Why would you do that to somebody? You and I don’t know each other, right? We’re complete strangers, actually. I’m being respectful to you, so you have to extend the same courtesy.
Oh, Adrien, it’s all in good fun. I’m trying to show your sense of humor here.
I didn’t sign up for that.
The Advocate, December 2008; extended online version.