Albert Brooks on his ‘Drive’ Role: “First and foremost, the part was something I thought I could do and was different than I had played before”
Was there a bigger surprise performance this year than Albert Brooks in Drive? The Broadcast News funnyman reached an unprecedented level of dramatic performance for his role in Drive.
As he explains to Interview Magazine, that challenge was his main motivating factor with taking the role on, and he also comments on all the awards buzz that his role has generated.
Many have commented on how Brooks really went against his typical comedy type for his role, and he confesses that this change is what attracted him to the role in the first place. He points out, “It was playing a different character than I’ve played before, that was first and foremost. I was looking to do that. Also, I was familiar with [director] Nicolas Refn; I had seen Bronson and thought it was terrific. Ryan Gosling was attached. So you get enough things that draw you in—because sometimes you get sent a script, and the people attached you don’t respect. It all sort of has to gel. But first and foremost, the part was something I thought I could do and was different than I had played before.”
Though the character originated in the novel that the film is based on, Brooks explains that the film version of Bernie Rose developed as the film began production, saying, “Obviously, the character was there, because it came from the novel. What we did is, as soon as he [Refn] cast it—I think I came on after Ryan, and Bryan Cranston, then I think Carey Mulligan came on, and then I think Ron Perlman came on. Once Ron Perlman was cast, we would rehearse for several weeks at Nicolas’s house. I think that sort of developed a relationship, how Bernie would react to Nino. Once the cast was in place, the writer was there and we sort of did improv, and rehearsed, tried to develop—for example, the ways in which these murders took place were not specific. They had to be thought out. It didn’t just say, ‘Slits his arm.’ It had to be figured out. Certainly the frame work was there, in a very good way.” Much of that development went into designing a look for Rose. Unlike most films in which the costuming designers pick the wardrobe, Brooks takes credit for Rose’s look. He explains, “I found a hairpiece… and I knew what I wanted the character to look like. I had make-up people that I work with on my movies, and I went to work. I emailed him photos, and I would wait with baited breath, and he would write back, ‘Terrific!’ [laughs] That’s my job. Sometimes a director will have it down to that, but mostly when you hire an actor, you want the actor to come at you with these thoughts, because the actor’s going to be the one who has to actually say the words and play it. I knew how I wanted Bernie to look. There’s a style in which you walk, and look, and what kind of jewelry you wear.”
Nonetheless, though Rose is a vastly different character for Brooks, he states that he actually finds a lot of similarity between his comedy roles and his role in Drive when it comes to getting angry. He says, “Even in my comedies, I don’t take anger as a joke. I think anger and laughter are very close to each other, when you think about it. One of the things I like about a character: I always think it’s fascinating when a character can turn on a dime and go from one emotion to another. I like watching that.”
Despite all the awards season talk — Brooks has already won the Best Supporting Actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association, and the Boston Society of Film Critics — Brooks realizes that there’s not much he can do about it even though he finds it very exciting. “You’d be an idiot not to enjoy hearing it, because it only means that people are enjoying the performance, but there’s nothing really to do—it’s sort of a betting game, and I guess it’s fun to have a chip on the table, but I can’t really do anything about it. All it means is—you know, I’ve been in a lot of movies where they didn’t make it into the discussion. Would you rather have the discussion or no discussion? It only means the movie kicked some ass.”