After watching The Pianist (2002), I became convinced that Adrien Brody is the most dedicated actor of all time.
The process he went through to portray Wladyslaw Szpilman, the Polish WWII survivor was not only a reflection of his dedication to acting, but also to his commitment to tell someone’s story as truthfully as he could.
The training and purging he went through was horrendous, all to feel and experience what the man, Szpilman, felt and experienced through Poland’s darkest times.
Szpilman, was a master concert pianist who lived in Poland when the Germans invaded his country in WWII. The Pianist is about his life and how he was able to survive the war. It’s an intensely impactful story, and I suggest you watch it before reading the rest of this article as there are minor spoilers.
As an actor, I was naturally drawn to Brody’s performance and the level of depth he brought to his portrayal of Szpilman.
But, what blew me away was when I discovered many of the pieces he plays in the movie are actually him playing. These weren’t simple chopstick pieces either, but Chopin pieces, so complex and intricate, yet so masterfully done, you’d think Brody had picked the wrong profession. The craziest part was it took him three months to learn and master the piano.
What is it about Adrien that he could pull off such a well done performance.
You can teach an old dog new tricks
Thing is, Adrien Brody wasn’t old when he portrayed the Polish pianist back in 2002. In fact he was the youngest person to win an Oscar for best actor, being only 29.
Yet the fact that he was able to learn how to play the piano in his late twenties, to me is a phenomenal tribute to his determination. One driving force behind his level of dedication was the visionary director, Roman Polanski. Both wanted to tell the story of Szpilman as realistically as they could, which resulted in an intense few months of training and purging for the young American actor.
Even before Brody got the role, when he was with Polanski in Paris, they discussed some of the things Adrien would need to do to prepare for the role. They were both on the same page for where they wanted to take the character.
They decided to have four piano teachers help Brody to learn in the three months he had to master the piano. He played four hours each day.
I think it’s easiest to learn something like an instrument or an art form when younger and it becomes nearly impossible to learn when older. As an actor, I was naturally drawn to Brody’s performance and the level of depth he brought to his portrayal of Szpilman.
What blew me away was when I discovered many of the pieces he plays in the movie are actually him playing. These weren’t simple chopstick pieces either, but Chopin pieces, so complex and intricate, yet so masterfully done, you’d think Brody had picked the wrong profession. The craziest part was it took him three months to learn and master the piano.
But Brody showed me I can learn to do anything if I commit my time and energy to it. He pushed himself because of his commitment to Szpilman’s story. It also pushes me as an actor who still has a lot of things to learn.
Dedication to Szpilman’s story
Adrien Brody appeared on Charlie Rose a few months before the release of The Pianist. He talked about two things: his working relationship with Polanski and how he wanted to really know what Szpilman went through and felt, and then show that in his performance.
He wanted to know so badly that he sold his car, his apartment, turned off his phone, stopped watching television, halted his current relationship, and moved to Europe, where he isolated himself and spent hours playing piano while eating little-to-no food.
During his isolation, Brody talked about how the only thing he had to comfort himself was the piano and music. He mentioned how we usually have things like food and drink to comfort us. But not having access to such fineries, Brody only had his piano, which he said made him feel the way Szpilman must have felt surviving the war, with no food or people to comfort him but only music.
The dedication Brody showed for Szpilman’s story is shown in how far he went to know Szpilman’s loneliness and suffering.
Brody’s dedication knew no bounds
I think the most inspiring thing about Brody’s work with Polanski in The Pianist is he did whatever it took to make a shattering performance. He made personal sacrifices to give a performance of a lifetime.
It made me think about how far I would go for a role. Brody did talk about how the diet and lessons affected him both physically and emotionally, and that it was the darkest time in his life, but also that the lessons he learned as well as the perspective of someone truly suffering and in need was worth it.
How far are you willing to go for a role? How dedicated are you to telling someone’s story? I think Adrien Brody is a shining example of someone who took the necessary sacrifices to present a truly compelling story.