In a world consumed by connecting through technology, people are becoming more emotionally distant from others, even though they still feel the need to connect. ‘Detachment,’ the long-awaited drama from ‘American History X’ director Tony Kaye, effortlessly shows the contemporary vision of people’s increasingly disconnection from others.

‘Detachment’ follows Henry Barthes, played by Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody, a substitute teacher who conveniently avoids any emotional connections. He never stays in any school long enough to form meaningful bonds with his students or colleagues. As Henry deals with his troubled past, he is hired at a public school where the student body is apathetic, and the administration is frustrated and burned-out.

Henry inadvertently becomes a role model to his students. He forms an unlikely bond with a runaway teen, Erica, portrayed by Sami Gayle, who is just as lost as he is. While trying to help give up her life of prostitution, Henry realizes that he can find love in a seemingly vicious world.

Brody sat down at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City to speak about the filming of ‘Detachment.’ The actor discussed, among other things, what it was like working with Sami, and what he enjoyed about Kaye’s approach to the film’s sensitive subject matter.

Question (Q): What was it like working with Sami during the filming of ‘Detachment?’

Adrien Brody (AB): Well, it’s rare to meet someone who’s so full of life and enthusiasm. She possesses such a degree of emotional intelligence at such a young age (16), and isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and intimate. It’s a great age, I started acting around that age as well.

I know right before adolescence kicks in, it’s a really crucial time in a young man’s development, and I’m sure for a young girl as well. There’s a large transformation that happens within that. You undergo all kinds of chemical and biological changes. It’s a new stage of development, and with it comes all kinds of insecurities.

I think your early, early teens, you’ve triumphed childhood, and you’re strong. Then you come into the new wave, and you’re figuring things out. That’s a harder time to be free. She gave a lot, and it’s the right age to have a meaningful experience as an actor.

Q: Was there one particular aspect of the film that struck you the most?

AB: Oh, yes. It’s an opportunity for me to teach, spread some insight of my knowledge. My aspirations as an actor has always been to find material that speaks to me, and I can share those experiences with others. Not just entertain people, I’m not just in it to entertain people. I think it’s important that I remain interesting, and the work is entertaining. But the work should also stem from something greater than that, and create this community in the theater. I look to find films that have this kind of relevance.

My father was a public school teacher. I’m a product of public school in New York. So I understand the pitfalls, and how much generosity my father has in dedicating a lifetime to teaching. The profession really isn’t glamorous. He was very kind and patient with his students and myself. A large degree of my success stems from that.

Q: Did you pull from your father to bring this film to life?

AB: Yes, yes. It’s almost an homage to my father in a lot of ways. He’s very different from that character, thank God. (laughs) But my father overcame a great deal of poverty, and put himself through school, and did something very meaningful. I admire him for that, and his patience, which is hard to have, and his thoughtfulness. He was very good to his students.

Q: You’re dealing with a character who’s mentoring someone, but you’re also mentoring off the camera. What did you learn from that experience? Would you be interested in doing other things that involve teaching in some way, like maybe on a faculty or as an adviser?

AB: I don’t like formal arrangements. That’s what I love about acting, it’s a short-lived, kind of peculiar existence. You completely inhabit a character, and get to know some interesting people, and not so interesting people. The luxury is that you don’t have to see them again. You’re not showing up to the same office or boardroom.

I love that freedom. It’s not something I take for granted. It’s also encouraged me to learn a lot, because of it’s unusual nature. It’s a privilege to share anything I learn with anyone who’s enthusiastic about learning. You can have that exchange in a press conference or in a bar or on a film set. It just depends on if the right subject matter comes up, and if someone in that discussion has some insight.

You benefit by being present, and that’s what this film is about. You don’t have to be removed or isolated, and so many people do feel that. It’s about getting young minds at the right age, like Sami’s age, and encouraging creativity and the belief of pursuing your own individuality.

That’s a luxury that I have had, and my friends have not had. It’s unfortunately prevented my friends who I grew up with from a level of success that I’m fortunate to know, and that I attribute to my parents. I came home to a proper home, and didn’t just have the influences of my cool friends, who were tougher, and the street life, which was unfortunately a lot of people’s home.

They would come home to disjointed, broken families, and parents who were dealing with financial strains, marital problems, their own personal problems, drug addictions. This is what this film is really about, the criticism of the education system itself. While it’s critical of it, it’s about we need to be a bit more accountable and try harder. It’s understandable, I’m very aware that life is very challenging for most people.

Q: It’s critical for people to meet mentors who can shape their life. Did you have any mentors, since you started acting at a young age?

AB: Well, my parents, I think. I had one great teacher in school, in first grade. She was from Africa, and she was lovely and kind, and that had an impact. I had a few great teachers, but I didn’t have a tremendously nurturing experience in the school system.

I didn’t have that expectation then, anyway. I didn’t feel neglected. It’s a tall order, classrooms are overcrowded, there’s no budget, the text books are s**t. I know what it’s like. There are a lot of obstacles against kids. But I had the home, and I had parents who were both creative and independent, and didn’t shut me up, even though they should have. They let me learn my lessons the hard way.

At the end of the day, I am accountable. The only reason why I am accountable is because I know the repercussions of my actions. I have a conscience, and that’s from growing up with people with a conscience.

Q: Is that why we don’t see you in the headlines a lot?

AB: Yeah, partially. Sometimes people get into trouble in life. When you become a celebrity, there’s more scrutiny. They’re looking to create it, because it’s interesting, and it sells publications. People are curious and love to see someone they’ve idolized be a mess. I get that, it’s human nature.

But I try to be responsible. I’m old enough to not act foolishly, if I can help it. So I try to be conscious.

Q: What did you learn as an actor from doing this movie? What did you like about how Tony Kaye approached the subject matter?

AB: Tony is a very spontaneous, creative person. When you meet him, he’s a remarkable person. He’s completely free, and completely honest. I like that quality, I believe in him. I like having a director I can believe in what they’re saying. His approach is unusual. He likes to push the envelope and the performance. He liked a very extreme kind of reactions.

Like in the scene where I’m yelling at the woman in the medical facility. Tony wanted it to go very far. My instinct wouldn’t necessarily to go that far. But he created a really unpredictable character that you don’t know if he’s stable enough to make it through and do something positive or do something that’s self-destructive. So those were lessons, I guess. I always try to trust in the director.

I also learned, not necessarily about acting, but Tony shot a lot of his films. I aspire to direct one day, if I find material that really speaks to me. But he really made a lot out of very little. He’d move a practical lamp, and that would be the lighting. I’ve worked on films where they spent four hours lighting a scene, and you need 20 minutes. At the end of the day, it looks good, but we just banged that out.

Tony and I spent the time working allowing me to do my work. It’s important for the film, not just my own ability. So I liked his style and unpredictability. We got along well, and it was really collaborative.

Q: At the beginning of the film, it started out seeming like a documentary, so you think it’s based on a true story. Some of the aspects of the film seem very realistic. Did you go into any schools (to prepare)?

AB: I’ve had a lifetime of experiences in that world, so I had a knowledge. I didn’t have to go to school again. Stepping into the public school, it’s like smelling something you haven’t smelled in years. It brings back a lot of memories, whether it’s a good smell or a bad smell, you’re like, wow. It floods you with stuff you forgot.

That’s what shooting in a public school is like. If you went to a public school, and you go back to a public school, and see the chairs and the long hallways and the drab surroundings, you get it again. You’re reminded of those things.

I understood a lot about what this character was doing. I think all young men understand having anger and deep frustration, and the reaction to your own pain and suffering. That’s how you learn how to process it. It’s not necessarily the solution, but it’s a defense mechanism. This poor guy is similar and trying to keep it together.

Q: ‘Detachment’ has been two years in the works, and it’s coming out at a very interesting time. In your experience, with your father being a public school teacher and you being a product of the public school system, and all the focus on the people in the public school system, do you feel you can bring a new level of interest?

AB: Sure. Any kind of increased awareness of problems, whether we have a solution or not, is room for growth. I do think it’s a very complex, problematic institution. All of these systems are deeply flawed and failing, public education, public health. There’s bureaucracy and political agendas and because of the economy, there’s financial cuts. There’s all of these problems beyond the primary goal of the institutions.

What I took from this film is how important and crucial it is for us to educate young people before they’re in the public school system. In the home and the local community. Not necessarily being part of an actual school system, but taking the responsibility to teach, to impart knowledge, to encourage creativity and individuality.

If you go to a juvenile detention facility, and give them a real acting workshop, they’re great actors. They’ll pull from so many terrible experiences in their lives, and things they know, and things they’ve put on in the street to survive. They’re great, and make successful actors. That’s something I’ve thought of doing often, and doing a workshop in that sense. There are opportunities for even troubled people to find outlets for them to create and maneuver through this.

Q: You’re known for making independent movies, and you don’t make films because of the money, but because you feel a connection. How much does that happen in the industry?

AB: That’s a really important question. Not often enough. You may not love this movie, and that’s fine, but you can’t deny that it’s brave, powerful, provocative and important. It’s very hard for films like this to get funding, because of the nature. It’s a business, and people want to make safe bets.

It’s been a dilemma for me, because in one sense, I’m not perceived to be as successful as I should be. I’m not a big box office draw, because I’ve made a conscience decision to make more interesting films, and support independent filmmakers. It’s a shame, because it also limits access to box office films, because people view things in a very different way. You can’t be both.

Q: You did well with ‘Predators.’

AB: “Predators’ was a big coo for me. Rightfully so, I don’t fit the bill of the iconic action character, which is what I told them would be great about it. Why would you want to do a knock-off of a buff guy stepping into this ’80s character that Schwarzenegger played?

Everyone knows what a soldier looks like, open up a paper. They’re not ripped guys, they’re military guys who have to be emotionally hardened, intelligent, cut-throat individuals. That’s very different from me, so I liked the idea of playing a character who’s completely cut off emotionally.

Physically, you have to be able to handle a situation. But you have shot-gun, and know all these tactics and training, and you’re lethal. That’s what it’s all about. Even in the original ‘Predators,’ his brawn wasn’t what defeated them. He outsmarted them.

But that’s a coo, and it’s not because I’ve done all these great independent films and am perceived as a great actor. They believe in me as an actor, but they took a big risk, in hopes that I could deliver what an audience wants. So it was brave of them and (producer) Robert Rodriguez and the director (Nimrod Antal), and I appreciate that.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Adrien Brody

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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