I walk. I walk the city,” says Adrien Brody, as he canters across Central Park South. The 36-year-old, who’s probably best known for that kiss he planted on Halle Berry upon winning an Oscar for The Pianist, has one of those purposeful born–in–New York gaits, so fast you have to leap every third step to keep up. A self-proclaimed “nomad,” he’s in town to promote The Brothers Bloom, a caper with Rachel Weisz and Mark Ruffalo in which he plays a hopelessly romantic con man, Bloom, looking for an exit strategy. Right now, though, as we duck into the park, Brody is simply looking not to get recognized. He’s “all hooded up”: black sweatshirt, black cashmere sweater, and black baseball cap. Of course, there’s really no hiding the hooked nose and green eyes, and one suspects total anonymity is never an actor’s endgame anyway. The question is how much time remains before this particular jig is up.
In the past, Brody has chosen roles at a remove from his personality. Preparation included getting strapped into a drawer at a morgue (The Jacket) or losing 30 pounds in six weeks (The Pianist). Bloom felt different, not that Brody was ever a thief. “Well, not for long. I always had too much of a conscience to steal anything of any real value. But I knew a lot of criminally inclined individuals.” It’s more that, in playing the con man, Brody realized “that I wanted more of what the character wanted, an unwritten life. I wanted to invest more time in personal experiences rather than investing so much energy into truthfully portraying someone that isn’t myself.”
So Brody decided to take a break. He’d already begun the process of chilling out when he bought a motorcycle in India. “I almost rear-ended a cow with my face. It was so scary, but I was laughing as I was about to crash, because I thought, ‘What a way to be remembered.’ ” Then, post-Bloom, he went to Oahu to make music with a Polynesian hip-hop artist, dyed bright-blue “racing stripes” in his hair, and drove a stock car in the Long Beach celebrity grand prix, where he finished fifth, behind Keanu Reeves. “That bummed me out,” he says. “I’m better than that. I used to drag race when I was a kid. We’d go to an abandoned factory parking lot in Brooklyn.”
He also bought an old barn upstate, and now he’s raising chickens. He neglects to mention that said barn is attached to an actual castle he bought for himself and his girlfriend, the Spanish actress Elsa Pataky, whom he also artfully avoids ever mentioning. (The next night, Brody will appear at the Bloom premiere solo, sparking intense speculation among the indie-actor blogging set that the couple is on the rocks.) As we wend our way from Sheep’s Meadow (“my old stomping ground”) to the promenade, a jazz band starts up. “This is, like, right out of the movie. A band distracting you. It’s all part of the con.”
Brody learned people-watching from his mother, photographer Sylvia Plachy, who let him tag along on shoots with the likes of Timothy Leary. “I think I process the world visually, but without the camera,” he says. Taking the train from Woodhaven, where he grew up, “to Performing Arts [school] every day was probably a better education for me as an actor than school.” Among the things delighting him right now are British seniors arguing where to go next and a pack of twenty dogs behaving badly for walkers in T-shirts reading BEHAVIORAL SPECIALIST. The bad part of being recognizable is that it “obviously interferes with my ability to observe people without them observing me first.” As if on cue, one of the Specialists shouts out, “Cadillac Records was awesome!” after having spent a good twenty minutes pretending he had no idea who Brody was.
The comment opens a floodgate. One tourist from Wisconsin asks if she may merely shake his hand; most want their pictures taken with Brody, who obliges. He’s even nice to “the sneaky ones,” like two Dutch boys who keep acting as if they’re photographing the park, then turning their cameras at the last second. “Just ask. Don’t fake like you didn’t do it,” he says, motioning for them to sit on a bench with him. The best visitor by far, though, is a middle-aged black man who’s carrying a bag of mint-green Xeroxes and wearing a name tag. “Willie G, the poet! What’s happening?” says Brody. Willie is selling poems. He hands Brody one called “Smile.” “I don’t have that many teeth,” recites Willie (who really doesn’t have many teeth), “but that doesn’t mean I can’t … smile!” Brody laughs and hands over a $5 donation. Some girls who’ve been hovering ask for a picture. Willie G is stunned. “I’m talking to a movie star and I don’t know it?!” he exclaims. “You should take one with Willie,” Brody tells the girls. “He’s a poet.”
But by now escape has become imperative. “Should we walk?” Brody whispers as four more couples ready themselves for the approach. “It’s just, when it starts, then we’ve got to move.”