Oral History: Adrien Brody on Becoming Polanski's Pianist

by Jack Tewksbury January 9, 2020
Actor Adrien Brody, Golden Globe nominee at the premiere of The Pianist, 2002

Adrien Brody at the premiere of The Pianist in New York, December of 2002.

lawrence lucier/getty images

For over 40 years the HFPA has recorded famous and celebrated actresses, actors and filmmakers. The world's largest collection of its kind - over 10,000  items - is now in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Margaret Herrick Library.

Adrien Brody was nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Actor-Motion Picture Drama category for 2003, for his performance in The Pianist and was a presenter in 2006. In 2002, he met the HFPA and talked about director Roman Polanski's temper, talent, and grit.


“Roman Polanski loses his temper but we all lose our temper. I lose my temper too, sometimes.  Roman is extremely passionate and enthusiastic.  Fortunately, he didn’t lose his temper at me too often. The crew spoke in  Polish, so I could tune out which was wonderful.  You know,  that’s why I like shooting in  Europe. I know if it’s in English it’s directed at me.  I was responding to "axia". Oh, that means "action". Okay, I’m on! 

Roman’s a wonderful actor and he likes specific things,  not always but when he wants something specific you kind of got to give Mr. Polanski what he wants. I don’t have a  problem with that if it’s good. If it’s not good,  we have a problem and unfortunately, some directors are not as good as conveying precisely what they need and they’ll try and act it out and it’s a  very poor rendition of what they’re trying to get from you and you have to go okay, I see what you want and try and do that. 

Roman will give you something almost better than what you’re going to deliver and,  therefore,  you really have to deliver and a  lot of actors have a  problem with that because they like to be given the stage and they say,  ‘You hired me. Let me do my interpretation.’ 

This is a story about a  survivor and I am being told how to play a survivor by a survivor.  I’m tough but I  am not a  survivor like Roman. He’s really a survivor. He’s lived and overcame many obstacles and many tragedies and all I wanted was to be truthful. I checked my ego at the door. I said okay,  let’s do it. Let’s do it and it worked."