Adrien Brody on Why Some of His Watches Are Banned From the Red Carpet

David Needleman
Adrien Brody was photographed Oct. 18 at The Paper Factory Hotel in Long Island City, N.Y. He’s wearing his Bulgari Octo Bi-Retro in 18-karat pink gold with ceramic lacquered dial.

The Oscar-winning actor and collector is on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter’s annual watch special, revealing what he wore the night he kissed Halle Berry and that he hopes to design his own watch one day.

Adrien Brody points to the face of the Bulgari Octo on his wrist for emphasis as he describes the perils of a childhood in New York City. "You had to tuck your watch in on the train," he laughs, recalling long subway commutes from his home in Brookhaven, Queens, to acting classes and high school in Manhattan. "I didn't have a lot of nice things growing up. I didn't have anything valuable at a young age, but they didn't need much. They would rob you for your sneakers and send you home in your socks. I had a chain snatched."

Brody, 42, has come a long way since then, bolstering his acting credentials with rising credits as a film producer and a force in the Chinese market. He burst into public consciousness in 2003, when he became the youngest winner of the best actor Oscar — an honor he still holds — for his role in The Pianist. Since then, he has segued between parts in megahit and artistic films, including King Kong, Predators, Midnight in Paris and last year's The Grand Budapest Hotel, playing a greedy villain. This year, the actor — who once performed magic shows at children's birthday parties as "The Amazing Adrien" — netted his first Emmy for his work as Houdini in the History miniseries.

Brody, on why his Bulgari Rettangolo is a memorable accessory: “It was my first gold watch – and I was wearing it proudly the night I won the Academy Award…when I kissed Halle [Berry].

Brody didn't get his first serious timepiece until he was nominated for an Oscar. "I didn't possess much in a material sense prior to The Pianist," he says. "During the nominations, I had gotten a beautiful Bulgari — it was my first gold watch — and I was wearing it proudly the night I won the Academy Award."

He still owns the piece (a Deco-inspired Rettangolo that belonged to his grandfather), which became a key accessory in a now-classic Oscar moment — when Brody surprised presenter Halle Berry with an extended kiss onstage. "It's even more memorable to me because The New York Times shot this wonderful iconic photograph when I kissed Halle," recalls Brody. "The photograph was perfect, and the watch is prominently on display."

That Oscar experience was the genesis for what's now an official relationship with the Italian brand. "Over the years, I remained in touch with one of the founders," says the actor, who became an ambassador for Bulgari in 2013, which means he wears the brand's watches for personal appearances. (Bulgari won't comment on its deals, but watch company insiders say contracts can start in the low-six figures.) However, unlike some watch endorsers, Brody evinces not just a love of watches but an understanding of what makes them tick. Other brands in his personal collection — worn away from the red carpet — are a carbon-fiber Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore and a skeletonized all-black titanium Jacob & Co. "I like really masculine watches."

His Bulgari collaboration has a marketing component, of course, but also a philanthropic element. In that vein, the actor and his mother, photographer Sylvia Plachy (who for years was a staff photographer at the Village Voice; his father, Elliot Brody, is a painter), made a trip in October to Nepal to get an on-the-ground look at the brand's relief work there. In conjunction with Save the Children, Bulgari is bringing aid to thousands of children in the country, which was devastated by an earthquake six months ago.

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Brody's collaboration with Bulgari has both marketing and philanthropic elements.

Brody's Nepal visit was tacked on to one of his many trips to China in recent years. While he has had an established career in the West for a decade, he's now one of the most recognized actors in China thanks to the release earlier this year of Dragon Blade, Daniel Lee's historical epic in which the actor plays the Roman general Tiberius. The film grossed more than $100 million in the country (which Brody calls "the Wild East") in its first two weeks. That led to the Chinese box office beating the U.S. box office for the first time ever in February. "Besides [China] being this amazing culture, and that I got to collaborate with Jackie [Chan] and build relationships with producers there, it really opened a lot of doors," says Brody, who also has become active as a producer. In 2014, he officially started his own production company, Fable House, with an initial $50 million in development and production funding from Nigerian and Chinese backers (one of those is a Beijing-based production group that is 50 percent owned by Chan). "It's an enormous amount of work," says Brody. "When I was younger, I did not realize how hard producers have to work." And he is starring in five upcoming films — Emperor, Septembers of Shiraz, Manhattan Nocturne, Manhattan Love Story and Expiration (the latter three of which he is producing via Fable House).

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These days, Brody has a long list of personal hobbies and interests as well: art ("I've been painting a lot lately"), photography (his iPhone is packed with perfectly lit images from his Nepal trip) and cars ("I love not just the aesthetics but the engines, and modifying things and making them unique. In high school, when I didn't have a girlfriend, I'd be working on my cars, fixing them up and drag racing").

With watches, it's the inner workings that also intrigue him, such as the tourbillon — an elegantly spinning apparatus that helps counteract the force of grav­ity — on one of the pieces in his collection. "It's a special mechanism inside the watch that's like a floating wheel," he explains. "The mechanics are kind of mesmerizing." The actor even imagines designing his own watch someday. "I have a design that I've always wanted to make," he says. "The one thing I've realized is, if I spend time just doing creative things, I'm much more enthusiastic about everything else."

Brody has a long list of hobbies and interests including painting and cars. 


The Actor's 6 Prime Timepieces

1. Brody's collection includes Jacob & Co.'s hand-wound Epic X Black Titanium skeleton watch, which has a 48-hour power reserve. "I love that you can see the intricacies of the mechanics," he says. "I'm a fan of motorsports, and this piece reminds me of a race car — the central gear is reminiscent of a classic alloy wheel."

2. "I've been a fan of the Offshore series for many years," says Brody of his Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph. "I like this one especially because it's completely housed in carbon fiber. Plus, like most of the watches in my collection, it's waterproof."

3. His automatic 18-karat white gold Bulgari-Bulgari Tourbillon boasts a 60-hour power reserve, a transparent case back and an alligator strap.

4. Bulgari's Octo Solotempo watch in stainless steel: "It's really graceful and refined."

5. The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M "is a well-designed, timeless watch. I know it will still be in style for years to come. It can dress up any look, in addition to being an everyday wear."

6. Brody acquired his Panerai Luminor GMT because "I gravitate toward a substantial yet classic look. This one is elegant but also durable enough for my active lifestyle."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's fourth annual Watch Issue.