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Adrien Brody batted around the idea of Clean for at least a decade, but the crime drama was truly set in motion while the Oscar winner was acting on the set of Peaky Blinders in 2017. Clean tells the story of Clean (Brody), a waste collector who’s actively trying to make amends for his dark and tragic past, and Brody co-wrote, produced and scored the film alongside director Paul Solet. The duo had previously worked together on 2017’s Bullet Head, and when Solet needed to do an ADR session with Brody, he took a trip to Manchester, England, where Brody was filming Peaky season four. Inspired by Peaky creator Steven Knight and the hit series’ all-star cast led by Cillian Murphy, Brody pitched his passion project to Solet on the spot.
“[Peaky Blinders] basically led to Clean because I was very inspired and in a zone,” Brody tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It bolstered a degree of confidence that it took for me to be decisive and to engage Paul [Solet], and say, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s go and build this because it’s not just coming.’ So the writing process started right at that time [while shooting Peaky Blinders season four].”
Brody is also looking ahead to his role as Pat Riley on HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, the highly anticipated miniseries from Adam McKay, Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht.
“It was very exciting and very challenging,” Brody shares. “It’s an amazing thing to portray someone you find very heroic and learn about times in their life that precede them being the man you thought you knew. It’s an amazing thing to just start to touch on that journey of [Pat Riley’s] and understand parallels even within me. It’s that feeling that you’ve got a lot that you can give to the game, and you have to build those opportunities. So that’s something that he’s managed to do in spades, and I’m very impressed by him and what he’s accomplished in life.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Brody also explains how his Oscar-winning role in The Pianist influenced his own original score for Clean. Then he shares his impression of Andrew Dominik’s Marilyn Monroe biopic, Blonde, in which he plays Arthur Miller, the esteemed playwright and third husband of Monroe (Ana de Armas).
Crime drama is my favorite genre so Clean was right in my wheelhouse.
I love it, too. I’ve dreamt of this for so long and here we are.
So what got the ball rolling?
What got the ball rolling was this endless quest to find the right role within this space. It wasn’t coming to me. Nobody was writing it for me. I hadn’t seen this quite in the way we’ve managed to depict it, and I’d been yearning for that for a long time on many, many levels. I wanted to honor all the influences in my life growing up in Queens, in New York, through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and my film influences and the screenwriting I admire. So I couldn’t really wait any longer. I hadn’t officially helmed a screenplay and I had this brewing in me for a decade, at least. I’d worked with Paul [Solet] several years before, and while I was shooting Peaky Blinders in Manchester, he came to visit and do some ADR. So I pitched him the tone of what this needed to be and what I felt like I’d been yearning to do. I said that I wanted to set out and really make an independent film from scratch, with my production company, and I asked if he’d help me tell the story. And he loved it and had wonderful ideas right away. He, too, had a lot of similar influences and it was very personal to him as well in a lot of ways. So we got cracking. It was a very long process that led to a lot of other creative discoveries for me with the music. I got to bring in wonderful people I’ve worked with and love. All the actors are so wonderful and everybody gave so much to this. So I’m really grateful for that. It’s an amazing thing to watch it come to life, and to finally offer myself the opportunity that I’d been yearning for for so long.
I did a double take when I saw your name credited as a composer, but I shouldn’t be surprised when I consider your past work in The Pianist.
Well, I’ve been making beats and hip-hop music since I was 19, so it’s interesting that you made that connection. I can play a little bit, but there’s a lot of influence from that movie in my music. In portraying [Wladysław] Szpilman and putting down my love for hip-hop and my connection to the style in which I created music, I found a similar, melancholy longing within a more elaborate way, particularly in Chopin’s work that Szpilman was playing and the work that I had to learn to play. So that’s influenced me quite a bit. But I never had an opportunity quite like this. When I set out to make this film with Paul, I had ideas, but I was actually going to hire another friend of mine, who’s a classical pianist, to compose a score. It was going to be more of a solo piano thing that was a bit more austere because I felt like that would work with the landscape as well. But that voice within me paralleled the same yearnings I had in telling Clean’s story. It ultimately gave me a way to create an additional character and bring in the whole cacophony, not only in a musical sense and composing original music, but also in an aural soundscape where the ever-present cacophony of sirens and disruption in urban life affects society and the animals and the people that are constantly being bombarded by all of that hostility, so to speak.
Since you wore many hats on this film, how close are you to directing a scripted feature someday?
It’s a great question. I’d be a lot closer if I had the financing. (Laughs.) I would love to direct, but the timing has to be right. As you know, it’s a very immersive, time-involved process. The luxury of being an actor is that you can become a character and let go of that, but the director really has to hold on to everybody and everything for so long and really carry it. But I feel very ready for that, and I’m very blessed to have worked with some of the greatest directors ever. My mother [Sylvia Plachy] is a genius artist-photographer, and I grew up steeped in her imagery that taught me so much about storytelling and composition just through images. I would also like to help actors be able to excel. I know how to communicate with actors and I understand the process very well, obviously. So hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to put that all together. Clean is already a big step toward understanding what I’m able to do and what I’m able to endure, and I have a lot of creative yearnings that I want to share with people. I’m so grateful that I’m still able to do that after many years and that it’s blossoming.
Clean’s backstory is shown in glimpses until the beginning of the third act, I’d say. Did you and Paul have a lot of discussions about how much to tease and when to fully reveal it all?
Yeah, it’s a challenge. You don’t always know it initially when you’re drafting something, but what we did want was to have it be a very slow burn to really understand the world, his world and his life. We wanted to pull it out piece by piece and reveal what Clean’s opponents are up against and what he’s up against in trying to quell the layers of failure and the sheer power that he posses and suppresses in an attempt to give back and do good in the world and not fall into old patterns that were extremely destructive. The irony is that he ultimately has to resort to that to actually do good and help this poor girl [Chandler DuPont] that he’s mentoring. He’s the wrong guy to mess with.
Did you actually learn to drive and operate a garbage truck?
Oh yeah! Travis [Bliss] is the owner of Bliss [Environmental Services] and he’s such a great guy. He really took good care of us. So I spent a lot of time with some of his drivers and I did routes with them. I could pick up those giant bins, load them up myself, bring it down and dump the trash. I had to do it with my eyes closed, basically, because we were doing dialogue scenes and I was acting. (Laughs.) This is independent moviemaking; I didn’t have time to mess around on the day, so I had to learn the craft. It’s funny, I considered being a trash collector at a very young age because a friend of mine, his father, was a garbage man, and I found out at a very young age that it was a decent living. I had wanted to be a space scientist, but I realized that my math levels were just terrible and that I would never be a space scientist. So my next thought was, “I guess I could be a garbage man,” and there you have it. I actually told that story to Paul as we were doing this. I was like, “I actually dreamt of this as a young, young child.”
Shifting gears in our closing minutes, have you seen Andrew Dominik’s Blonde yet?
I saw a rough cut a long time ago, and it is so powerful and great. Andrew Dominik is just so amazing, and god, I’m so grateful to have gotten to work with him. He’s just such a talented soul, really. And Ana de Armas is just outrageously good. She’s so compelling as Marilyn, as Norma Jeane. Just so compelling.
How was your experience as Pat Riley on Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty?
It was very exciting and very challenging. It’s an amazing thing to portray someone you find very heroic and learn about times in their life that precede them being the man you thought you knew. It’s an amazing thing to just start to touch on that journey of his and understand parallels even within me. It’s that same kind of driven nature and that feeling — which I’ve had many times in my life — that you’ve got more to give. It’s that feeling that you’ve got a lot that you can give to the game, and you have to build those opportunities. So that’s something that he’s managed to do in spades, and I’m very impressed by him and what he’s accomplished in life.
I was delighted to see you on Peaky Blinders a few years ago, and I know that [creator] Steven Knight had you in mind as he wrote the character of Luca Changretta. When a writer tailor-makes a role for you like Steve did, is that one of the greatest compliments in this business? Does it get any better than that?
No, I guess it doesn’t get much better than that, especially when it’s someone as accomplished and talented as Steve Knight, who wrote a role that rivals most gangster characters that you’ve seen. I’ve dreamt of playing that character as well. I wouldn’t have necessarily dreamt of writing that, so to speak, but I dreamt of finding, tonally, a role that was just like Luca Changretta. And it was such a fun thing to do. I felt welcomed. To jump on a show that you love with great writing and so many prime actors involved is exciting. It basically led to Clean because I was very inspired and in a zone. It bolstered a degree of confidence that it took for me to be decisive and to engage Paul, and say, “Let’s do this. Let’s go and build this because it’s not just coming.” So the writing process started right at that time [while shooting Peaky Blinders season four]. So there you have it.
Clean is now available in select theaters and on VOD/Digital from IFC Films.
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