Adrien Brody Talks Ghosted, Wes Anderson, and the Lessons of King Kong
Adrien Brody unpacks with us the menace that kept Ana de Armas and Chris Evans on their toes in Ghosted, and how the movie was an excuse for him to channel his inner-Peter Sellers.
Director Dexter Fletcher’s newest film, Ghosted, is a mismatched-couple rom-com simmering in a high-octane espionage potboiler. Cole, played by Chris Evans, is a stay-at-home, man-of-the earth kinda guy; Sadie, played by Ana de Armas, is an international traveler. He’s a little needy. She is a one-woman Independence Day fireworks display. He’s a farmer, who sells his crops at an open market, not convenience stores. She is a CIA assassin, who kills her marks in the open, behind cover, or whatever happens to be most convenient at any moment.
And Adrien Brody plays Leveque, the biggest inconvenience in their relationship.
Apple TV+’s new film is the third collaboration for de Armas and Evans, following Knives Out and Netflix’s The Gray Man. But that’s not what makes Brody the third wheel. His character Leveque has a thing for power and gets his jollies sprinkling fire ants on clumsy underlings. Oh, and he’s got a biochemical weapon which can take down the entire eastern seaboard. Other than that, and because of it, he’s really the dream date for a legendary lethal agent only known to the underground criminal community as “The Taxman.” Brody, whose historic moment as the youngest winner of the Best Actor Oscar was almost overshadowed by the excitement he shared with presenter Halle Berry, is equally thrilled to continue flexing his comedic chops.
We Zoomed in on Brody to catch his perspectives on funny arch-villains, really big crickets, and the commute to Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City.
You’ve worked with some of the best directors and know how their backgrounds inform their work. Dexter Fletcher was an actor before he got behind the lens. What do former actors do for actors that, say, former cinematographers do not?
Well, if they were good actors, then they can guide you. They understand. It’s a really great question, by the way. It is why a lot of actors make quite good filmmakers, because they understand the process beyond the technological and the visual elements that are necessary in storytelling. They know what the journey is for the actor portraying the characters that they’re asking them to inhabit.
In Dexter’s case, he has a wonderful nature, but he also has a real sense of comedy and playfulness. And a mischievous side as well, which is really welcoming, and disarming. The character is to be a dangerous presence, obviously that’s a necessary aspect of the storytelling, but Dexter encouraged a lot of improvisational stuff throughout that. Whether it makes it in or not, it makes the process much more of a joy.
… Whether that is going to amount to extra screen time or not, it just guides everyone, including the other actors that you’re interacting with. So if those moments work, they really expand everything and create either more truth or, energetically, you feel a shift, and you feel the pleasure that I’m having in portraying this guy. Being him, and reveling in those moments.
So whether there’s a moment that’s been snipped out that’s quite funny, there’s a sparkle that you’re catching, and I owe a lot of that to Dexter. He really made this a lot of fun. Chris and Ana are also lovely, and play off of that well. They both have wonderful comedic timing. And, there’s a lot of trust there. But I really enjoyed Dexter’s sensibilities as a filmmaker, and obviously I appreciate how he nurtured that performance.
Can you tell me how you, de Armas, and Evans played around or improvised to find the right comic timing?
I went in a very specific direction with the character, and I felt like, given the nature of the film and the kind of heightened aspect of all of it, there’s room for that. Again, I know my responsibility is to convey a degree of menace and be a high-level threat to those characters, but I feel like there’s room in there to be off enough to be more fun.
Peter Sellers did it really beautifully in many roles, and I feel this film afforded me a chance to really push things a bit where I wouldn’t necessarily do in a more restrained dramatic role. And they would roll with it, so we would have a theme that preceded a scene that would generally be something typically in the background. We did this nightclub sequence, and we ended up shooting a whole scene in front of the one moment where Leveque is getting a phone call, for instance. We improvised six or seven other versions of that preceding scene. Each one was funnier than the next, and then Dexter would crack up and come in and give me a hint to go with something else, and we try another version of that.
None of it is in the movie, but it really lent itself to this frenetic, strange energy to step into that phone call. Because all of that had to work, and at least in my eyes, and in Dexter’s eyes as we’re shooting it, it had to work. So I was feeling very alive. It’s the same thing interacting with Chris. I’d throw something in there. I don’t think it made it in the end scene, but we did a joke. I said “you’re bluffing,” and he said “you’re bloafing?” We just did these bits that were so fun. And then Ana comes in and she responded, “He’s bluffing,” and I said, “you understand him but not me?” Every other take, there’d be something different. Of course it’s not gonna make it in the movie, but it’s great fun for everyone on the day.
Every rom-com has a designated “asshole” character, even Rick needled Victor Laszlo in Casablanca. Is Leveque a villain or the jilted or should-be lover?
Not a jilted lover in that sense, but he’s someone with endless wealth and power and an ego to match. Sadie is obviously an attractive woman and also a formidable threat. Like the perfect badass girl for a badass guy, right? Or a guy who’s lived through all the backstory. Leveque is ex-French Special Forces and Secret Service, and very high level at that. He broke from that position but remained with a lot of ties. He understands the game very well. He understands the need for people like that in your sphere, to remain powerful and to exert that level of control.
Of course he loves her, but the agenda had nothing to do with that. At the very end, when things are really going south, you got to tell the woman: “You’re crazy for not going with me, sweetheart.” I didn’t write that, but it’s pretty funny to me, that the guy is like, [goes into a French accent] “You are mistaken. Why would you go with the blonde man when you could have a more interesting lover? Don’t you know about the French? We invented kissing, you idiot. Why would you go with the guy from Idaho? He picks potatoes.” I mean, that’s kind of where it goes.
There is a lot of fight choreography in this. With all the CGI effects and newer editing, is this an easier process now or are there new challenges, and do you see fight choreography as a dance or athletic practice?
Yeah, it has to flow in a much more of a dancelike way. Same thing with doing Steadicam work, the Steadicam operator has to have a flow to work with the actors and vice versa. You both need instinct, and you both need to know how to communicate, and know when one person needs the banana in a certain direction to help accentuate that shot, or so the camera gets into that position.
The same goes with fight sequences, and what works for the camera’s perspective. What feels natural and when to kind of disregard your instincts and work in a more controlled, specific way for what works visually. So it is very much a dance and needs to be very controlled. You hopefully work with professionals. I’ve done plenty of fight sequences and stunt work, and it’s always best served when people are really focused and in control.
Oh, the insect behind the glass was CGI, right?
Oh, yes. No centipedes were harmed in the making of this picture.
When you finally see the finished product, do you wish the set had the practical effects to act off?
It is a bit nicer to throw some ants on the guy, just for the hell of it. There was that whole sequence in King Kong, which I’m not sure if it’s in the film or in Peter [Jackson]’s cut, but I remember it was cut out because the studio felt it was too grotesque. That sequence where he was fighting prehistoric size crickets and insects and bugs and spiders. It was very challenging to do, but it’s such an epic sequence. Working on King Kong gave me tremendous training for effects work, and what can be accomplished and having faith in it. It’s exciting to have to imagine certain things. Of course it’s easier to interact with something real, but you can’t expect to.
I heard Asteroid City is gonna be amazing, that it’s Jason Schwartzman’s movie, and want to hear how it all feels after working together with Wes Anderson over all these years.
Yes, I’m very happy for Jason. It really is Jason’s journey. There are wonderful, wonderful actors throughout, but it’s a really great role for Jason. I love Wes, we all do. It’s been such a joy to have a filmmaker who’s so unique and exciting and innovative, and finds pleasure in having me back so often. It’s really given me many interesting life experiences. It’s also given me a lot of bites at the apple of various comedic work, which, before Rian Johnson and Wes, I’ve done some smaller independent films, but I don’t know if many people had seen me do anything overtly funny. And, I love comedy and I love the ability to be able to counterbalance all the heavier, dramatic responsibilities that I aspire to do.Ghosted hits theaters on April 21.