Interview: Adrien Brody, actor

Dipping a herbal tea and nibbling on a biscuit, Adrien Brody has just one last thing to do before he's ready to talk: kick off his shoes.

• Adrien Brody won an Oscar for The Pianist

It's been a long day, the wind is whipping up a storm outside his Santa Monica suite and the sofa is just too inviting to ignore. Turning abruptly as if driven by a silent stage direction, the Oscar-winning actor fixes me with his soulful stare and says: "You don't mind, do you?"

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I'm not sure it would ever be possible to say no to those impassioned green eyes, so with both pairs of shoes cast to one side, we settle down to talk in our bare feet (me) and socks (him).

He's aptly dressed for comfort in jeans and a military-style shirt and is clearly delighted to be talking to The Scotsman, being, as he admits, rather fond of Scotland. The last time Brody waxed lyrical about the capital was in 2003 when he came to film The Jacket, with Daniel Craig and Keira Knightley, and discovered Deacon Brodie's, a city hostelry, bearing his name.

"I always prefer to seek out the local flavour and sit relatively anonymously, though that's a luxury which is not always affordable," he reveals with a small sigh. "But I returned to Scotland last year for a vacation. I went to the Highlands, to Skibo Castle and stayed with a friend. It was so great I wanted to buy it. In fact, I looked at buying a castle near Loch Lomond but I didn't – it was either that or a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan."

Movie-star property dilemmas aside, the past seven years have seen Brody go through an interesting transition. He's known as a thoughtful, private man, and I remind him of a quote he gave this magazine then, when he said: "Acting was new for me one day. Now that I know I love to act that doesn't mean that's all I do. There are other things."

So what else does he do? If you study his CV he doesn't appear to have filled his days with anything but work; post-Pianist, he's been seen in King Kong, The Darjeeling Limited, Hollywoodland, Cadillac Records, The Fantastic Mr Fox and coming up this year, there's the much-anticipated Predators reboot and a remake of a German film, The Experiment.

"Acting is my day job and it's something I am very passionate about, but I have other interests," he insists. "I've been thinking about directing, more so because of the freedom that it gives you but in all fairness, my work as an actor is something I would like to do my entire life."

But what about interests outside of work? I ask him about his love of hip-hop. Yes, you read that right: Adrien Brody, the actor who won the highest acting honour for his role as the accomplished Polish Jewish musician in a Holocaust movie is a massive hip-hop fan.

"I grew up listening to rap. It was a big part of life in New York in the early 80s," says the 37-year-old, who befriended the late Tupac Shakur after they starred together in the 1996 movie, Bullet.

"I think it's interesting to people because it's incongruous with the guy who did The Pianist. I also make sequenced computer-assisted music and there's a French rap artist I would like to produce. I understand people's surprise but many things are interesting to me."

I offer that it must be a tough position to be in, having realised your dreams at such a tender age. At 29, he became the youngest actor to bag an Academy Award for Best Actor, surpassing Richard Dreyfuss, who won one for The Goodbye Girl. It was a wonderful moment to behold – especially when he gave Halle Berry, who presented him with the gong, a full-on snog. But where does an actor go from there?

He thinks for a moment and says: "Well, it's a complicated thing to fulfil your dreams because they don't just disappear. On one hand I have much less to prove to myself. I've achieved the highest level of recognition an actor can receive for the most meaningful piece of work that I had invested my energy in. If you look at great film-makers and actors they're rarely given acknowledgement for the one defining moment in their life. I don't think de Niro won an Academy Award for Raging Bull or Scorsese for Taxi Driver."

He takes a sip of tea before adding: "I think it changed me as a person in a positive way, and was my introduction into adulthood. Finally, I had things in a very different perspective but after that you have to continue to look for inspirational work. It doesn't mean you stop trying or you lose focus, but it gives you freedom to do other things."

And playing the action hero in Predators is one such freedom. Those who are old enough will remember Arnold Schwarzenegger's testosterone-fuelled performance in the original back in 1987, so the decision to cast Adrien as the lead beefcake will no doubt surprise some.

He admits that he had to fight for the part – those at the studio holding the purse strings were not initially convinced that this wiry intellectual could pull it off – but by packing on 25lbs of muscle and sticking to a diet that would slay anyone less committed, Brody has made the role his own.

This new chapter in the Predator franchise is produced by Robert Rodriguez, the auteur behind Grindhouse, Sin City and Desperado. He wrote a Predator script in the mid-90s that Schwarzenegger passed on. This rebooted version sees a group of cold-blooded killers land on an alien planet where it appears they are now the hunted and not the hunters.

As mercenary Royce, Brody appears alongside a cast that boasts Laurence Fishburne, Alice Braga, Topher Grace and Danny Trejo. By all accounts, the rain-sodden shoot in the Hawaiian jungle was tough, so the cast, a tight-knit group, would work out together on set. Discipline was key – but Brody's no stranger to "the method", having lost 30lbs for his role as Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist.

"I took it one day at a time. It takes a lot of work to change your physique but it's not just about doing exercise, it's about specific strength training and gaining mass, which is something I wasn't used to doing.

"Eating becomes a full-time job. I ate six huge meals a day, plus protein powders and supplements. Towards the end of training I was not allowed to eat carbs, sugar or drink alcohol. I remember, on the flight back from Hawaii after the shoot had wrapped, taking a bite of one of the crew's bagels. It was delicious. When you don't have bread for two months it's almost as hard as not having any alcohol!"

His commitment is partly due to being such a huge fan of the original movie. He remembers seeing it as a "scrawny 14-year-old" at his local cinema in Queens, New York. "My buddies and I snuck in and smoked cigarettes in the front row," he laughs. "That style of movie-making was enormously entertaining. There's a real adrenaline rush between the ferocious firepower gun battles, the supernatural element and Schwarzenegger, with his imposing and powerful physique."

So how did he take to packing on the muscle so drazmatically? "When I looked in the mirror I saw someone different, like the guys I would see in Queens who were the troublemakers," he admits. "Clothing fit me differently but when you're that muscly you feel incredibly strong and confident."

Unfortunately he succumbed to a severe bout of food poisoning a few days after the shoot wrapped and immediately lost 10lbs from his newly powerful frame. But he isn't complaining.

"The idea that achieving success in one area of your life will remove all of your problems is a delusion that most people have. I fortunately have seen both sides of the coin. I was a struggling actor in Los Angeles for many years and now as a successful actor, I have become very grateful for what I have."

He's a private man who has been linked to many beautiful women, including Keira Knightley, and he was engaged to actress Elsa Pataky until they broke up last year. However, he refuses point-blank to answer any specific personal questions.

His explanation, though, is charming and sensitive. "I'm not secretive, I'm relatively shy. That's not me being private, I just don't think it's appropriate for me to talk about friends or my relationships to strangers because I wouldn't want someone to do that about me."

He is, however, happy to talk about his parents, who have provided him, their only child, with all the tools he needed to go out into the big wide world and become a successful actor.

His father, Elliot Brody, was a history teacher of Polish-Jewish descent and his mother, Sylvia Plachy, is a Hungarian-born photographer. They settled in Queens, and in an effort to help their teenage son avoid falling in with troublemakers in the neighbourhood, enrolled the young Adrien at the LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts.

"My parents are lovely. They are still together and we are very close," he says with a warm and clearly genuine glow. "My father is a very loving husband to my mum. He's such a unique man because he's very thoughtful and compassionate. He was a public school teacher, and a great educator for me. He gave me a tremendous amount of respect and I'm very grateful for that because he encouraged my own creativity."

His mother, who recently accompanied him on a trip to India, is also a huge influence. "She's a very pure, emotionally driven artist in the truest sense. Money isn't relevant and business decisions aren't relevant," he explains with pride. "She prints most of her stuff and works non-stop. We went to India together and as soon as we returned to the States she flew to Alabama to photograph the homeless there. Her aim was to depict the struggles they have. She also works a lot with the Humane Society and is the saviour of all animals in Queens!"

Another landmark looms in the distance – his 40th birthday. Many people look on this one as a significant milestone but Adrien, for whom it's still three years away, is philosophical.

"You go through different phases and points in your life and that's interesting. Someone may turn 40 and be thrilled to be out of their thirties, you know, but I don't think about it a lot.

"I feel younger than I did years ago. I have a better sense of myself and what I'm willing to accept in personal and business relationships. That can only come with age, so I value the toll those years have taken on me for the positive aspects they've brought. I wouldn't want to relive the drama of my early twenties because those were very angst-ridden."

So if there's no angst, isn't he just a little concerned that his legions of fans might be shocked to see his action man transformation in Predators?

"I want it to be exciting for people and for them to be surprised that the guy from The Pianist is in the Arnie role," he says with relish. "I've been looking for a long time to find a flawed heroic character and that's why I pursued the role of Royce.

"When you excel in a role such as The Pianist there will be a hundred similar offers because it's a safe bet. But to me the whole beauty of acting is to be a chameleon; to step into worlds and states of minds and emotional places that are not my own."

And with that observation, he reluctantly slides off the sofa, slips his shoes back on and takes another bite of his biscuit. "Don't worry," he explains with a grin, "I have a fast metabolism."

Predators is released nationwide on Thursday 8th July

• This article was first published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 3, 2010