“I went into this profession with nobody in the business and no real expectation that it would be an easy ride” – Adrien Brody
In 2007, Oscar winner Adrien Brody found an old, dilapidated stone barn that resembled a castle in the woods of upstate New York. He quickly fell in love and bought it, with a dream of restoring the building so he could live in it. He teamed up with friend and filmmaker Kevin Ford to film the whole ordeal and seven years later and a thousand hours of footage shot, he premiered Stone Barn Castle at SXSW.
The film shows Brody’s amazing display of determination and it’s fascinating to watch. And what’s admirable is he was willing to show everything – not only the restoration – but everything about his life as the filming went on. I saw the film and enjoyed it so much that I honestly can’t wait to check it out again.
I joined Brody and Ford in a roundtable interview at SXSW to talk about the making of the documentary, how he could relate the whole process to his career and the journey of acting.
How did it feel watching your project in front of everybody for the first time?
Adrien Brody: It was exciting. I mean, there were some technical things that we were working on as we were watching it that we will define, but the reaction was wonderful.
Speaking with a lot of people in the audience, they really connected with the deeper meaning and what we were trying to achieve and convey and what I felt was evident in the film. And that was really wonderful. That was really very rewarding.
It’s kind of an exhausting process because it’s obviously so personal to me and I am analyzing it, scrutinizing certain elements, and then conscious and also subject to people’s ideas and curious about that. So my brain is a little tired, but other than that I felt really great. It was actually kind of wonderful.
What did you do to find the story for the film? You had all these countless hours of footage and how did you make a narrative?
Adrien Brody: Kevin suffered through most of it. It was an enormous undertaking, obviously.
How many hours of footage were there?
Adrien Brody: Probably in excess of a thousand hours.
Adrien Brody: We filmed… we have 98 minutes and we shot for 7 years and Kevin was on site for much of that. And there were many possible ways this could have gone and even our initial rough cut was 4 hours.
Ultimately the beauty of it is that you don’t know where this is gonna end, and that is what was exciting about the undertaking in the first place. But as it is coming to an end, you have to then reign in so much that is fascinating that really can’t fit. Just like whittling away at the structure itself, Kevin in the editing process had to be very shrewd. And I kept encouraging him to take away certain things that were really meaningful to me as well. But we had to strip back to a relatively austere journey that is authentic and honest with the path. It was a big challenge.
Kevin Ford: Yeah, and to start it was just almost like panning for gold. I went through and it took me almost a year to go through all of that raw footage and start to find moments that just had any kind of meaning or visual interest or beauty, some rain shots that really… there were things that just caught our eye and then I would bend those and then put them all aside and just kept sifting and sifting. This was way before we were even thinking of a story. Just things with, you know, any kind of meaning, pull that aside.
There all these little nuggets of wisdom in the film that anybody could apply to anybody’s “stone barn.”
Adrien Brody: That’s what I was hoping that people would relate to and see how similar we all are.
You were talking about your successes in the film industry but without that that would’ve never led to the piece that you had with that. Is that a good way to look at it? Is that how you felt?
Adrien Brody: Yeah, clearly. In a deeper sense, it was a mirror of the success and the complications that came with that success, is what I was trying to convey. And that became apparent to me in the process. It wasn’t something I knew, but in realizing another dream, a lifelong dream of mine, which was I guess further exacerbated by… a need for that was exacerbated by the disconnect I was feeling with this newfound fame and how that related to me as a person. And how odd that was and this physical structure and the need to go back and rip away everything and reinforce it in a structural sense was the same thing that I needed in my life, in my professional life.
Because many things were being offered to me, lots of interest and I felt the need to stick with this experimental creative outlook as an actor and not make decisions for the wrong reasons
It’s very challenging and all of that is very new. I’ve been acting already for 17 years before that, but the shift was dramatic.
And so in realizing this other dream and how infinitely complicated that was, that’s also a parallel to how complicated your own success is of all the things that you strive for.
And then I was fortunate enough to receive the recognition that all actors yearn for. Anybody would love. And it still complicates things and it still does not finish your quest. You have to still go and pursue creative things. You have to find them and they’re very hard to find. Very few amazing roles for an actor that are really as profound as The Pianist, for instance. It’s just the nature of it. It’s very hard to make a brilliant movie.
Is that frustrating for you?
Adrien Brody: Of course. It’s frustrating. But it’s reality and I am also really grateful and I work plenty. I work a lot. I work too much probably, but I love my work and I love that I’m still able to do what I love and share that with people and I find inspiration in things that may have their flaws and whatever, but I like the collaborative process, I like to help the filmmaker have his vision or her vision come to fruition.
It’s the journey and I hope that the right filmmaker with the right moment of inspiration in their life will come to me again with a chance for that kind of involvement and for us to all collaborate and create something brilliant.
How does it feel when you are thrown in the spotlight with something like an Oscar with The Pianist? Everybody knows who you are but, like you said, you’ve worked for 17 years, you had your filmography already. Does that feel weird? Like, “Hey guys, I was here before.”
Adrien Brody: It’s not weird in the sense that I don’t feel like you should’ve known who I was at all. I get that. I went into this profession with nobody in the business and no real expectation that it would be an easy ride. I knew that I was very passionate about it, I knew that there was nothing else I could do as well that I gravitated to as much and that suited my personality in a way. And I just worked at it. I tried to nurture it and I at least had a clear path through all the adolescent years where we all are trying to figure out who the f– we are. Right?
And I’m mentally grateful for that, that I wasn’t famous too early because this journey and my journey and my solidifying my own self-awareness came from my maturity that I had gained from my life experiences prior to that. And lessons I learned even on The Pianist, which came 2 years prior to that. So the timing was just enough for me to not fall victim to getting lost in that.
And part of what this journey was about was to make sure that I didn’t, to retreat from that, have a balance. And kind of fall back, I guess, into a degree of that anonymity, to just be a man working on my house with a truck and work with the locals and do these things that I like. Get your hands dirty and there’s something beautiful, there’s something so beautiful about it.
All the other complications are a drag and I wish I didn’t put myself through all that, but they built me… they made me stronger.
This whole thing has further made me realize that the material possession at the end of the day is really not what is so valuable to me. It’s a state of mind of saying, “I want this sense of home that is fleeting. And how do I help solidify that in me in my nomadic existence?” Part of it maybe is to have this in my mind that I’ve done this or that I have this place to go to with friends and my loved ones. And had I not done it I would’ve always longed for this. But now that I’ve done it I feel like a simpler path is probably better, in that sense.
And it’s reinvigorated my aspirations to be more hands on creatively as a producer, as a director. I’ve matured a bit in this process and I’ve become a bit more confident with my own voice and in the right way, in the sense that I feel that a lifetime of work in this business aids the production, helps the trajectory live up to the expectations that I set out on in the first place. And I’ve unfortunately been down the road of movies with people who were far less experienced and it veers off course. And I’d like to have a voice in that, I’d like to help steer the ship.
There’s a line in the movie where you said, “As an actor, this would not have prepared me for anything. Maybe as a director.” Like, you were there and the camera just happened to be there.
Adrien Brody: That’s the beautiful thing of having a friend like Kevin who has the right sensibilities and also someone to confide in along this journey.
It’s a similar thing to acting. I have to limit who’s in my eyeline, what’s going on in an effort to be as intimate as possible with the person I’m interacting. And all the while knowing that that’s gonna be for the rest of the world to see, that vulnerability, that quality that’s not necessarily desirable. But real.
It was almost a way to come to terms with what’s going on all the time and voice it and question it and have Kevin there, you know?
I’m very bad at making notes or I’ll have an idea but I won’t distill it as well as if I’m just rambling on. Even telling you, philosophizing about how and why I make a choice or where I would like things to go in a career perspective, I don’t sit around and analyze it as much. And so it’s interesting to put them into words and then to even play it back for myself, to see how I’ve changed and where that resonates and how truthful that is and how universal it is. How anybody can relate to it.
And just trying to keep my head above water and trying to keep a sense of humor about this thing because it’s so f–ing crazy that it’s funny. It’s horrible in the moment, but it’s hilarious. It’s kind of Fantasia, watching me bailing water out. You missed plenty of other times that I was up there alone in the other house and it was coming up, there’s a subterranean well and that overflowed and so we fixed all of the leaks and we fixed them and it’s still coming up and nobody knows why it’s coming up. It’s coming up from a cistern that’s flowing in through the underground well. And I’m like, “Holy s–, nobody looked at that?” So we had to put a submersible pump in that in case that overflowed, because the ground water filled. There was so much coming out of the ground.
Do you think everybody needs to experience hard labor?
Adrien Brody: I think you should have an understanding of, yeah, what’s involved. The hard life it is for someone who works physically their whole life and the limitations you have and as you get older how much more hard that is on your body. I think that’s something to be conscious of and to be grateful that you’re not doing it and to be respectful of the people that do break their back for their work. I think that is very important to know. I kinda grew up in a working class neighborhood, so I know people that worked hard out of necessity anyway.
But acting is hard work. Making films is really hard work. And it is at times backbreaking and it is very physically demanding. The shifts that you do, it’s just different. I think reality, having a reality check all the time and doing physical labor and witnessing the result of that is very good. It’s harder to understand the results of your work as an actor in a way, but watching a stone facade become reinforced and made perfect and brought back to life and integrating some other panel into something… you see the achievement.