With time, Brody has gotten a little wiser about what is worth suffering for. By way of explaining this shift, he tells me a story about a movie he made more than a decade ago. Wrecked was a queasy thriller that opens moments after his character suffers amnesia (and worse) after crashing his car into a ravine. Brody appears in nearly every shot, in varying degrees of agony. “You just watch me scream and flail about for a couple of hours” is how he describes it. The shoot was brutal—the character spends the whole movie with a broken leg, which meant that Brody spent most of the production crawling on his stomach across the forest floor. After a while, he started using the backs of his hands to crawl, since his palms were stuck full of thorns.
One day, the crew was shooting by a river, and Brody noticed that the rushing water had carved this perfect little oval pool in the center of a rock. In this pool Brody saw “a drowning earthworm, undulating on the bottom of the stone.” It looked like one of his mother’s photographs. This little worm—drowning but still wriggling for the surface, fighting a battle Brody could see it was doomed to lose—filled him with emotion. This, he knew, was why he was suffering through the shoot—this was his character in a single shot. “That guy’s not going to make it, and it’s so beautiful,” he says. “It’s so picturesque and tragic, and it encompasses all that we’re saying.” He asked the director to shoot it.
But Wrecked was an independent feature, strapped for cash and perennially low on time. The director said no. Brody asked again. The director said no again. “I’ll eat it,” Brody offered. The director asked for his camera. Brody ate the worm.
“It was disgusting,” Brody tells me. “I think it got me sick.”
He paused. “But it’s in the movie.”
He shares this story with me on a rocky trail high above sunny Los Angeles, the exciting third act of his career laid out like the freeway humming beneath us. Thinking back on the worm he ate, Brody wonders now what purpose his sacrifice really served. “For what benefit?” he asks. “Who even notices it?” Wrecked was a little-seen indie, and you can barely spot the scene if you’re not looking for it. He knows he didn’t have to do it. “But somehow,” he says, “I’m compelled to.”
What he’s learned, I think, is something about his own expectations. Something liberating, perhaps. You don’t need to believe that eating a worm will turn a fine movie into a great one. Or that re-pointing the below-ground stones—the ones nobody will ever see—will redeem a years-long renovation debacle. Doing the hard thing isn’t always the answer. Suffering doesn’t make you a better artist, and it definitely doesn’t make you an easier person to be around. But you can’t learn what you’re really made of without doing your fair share of suffering.
I’d asked him, earlier in the day, why he held onto his castle—whether, once the renovation started dragging on, he’d ever thought about just getting rid of what had become, inescapably, a very expensive reminder of a difficult time. He’d considered the idea. Of course he had, he told me. How could you not? “I could’ve sold. I could’ve got out immediately and said, This is too much,” he said. And then, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world: “But I can’t do that.”
Sam Schube is GQ’s deputy site editor.
A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2021 issue with the title “Adrien Brody Finds His Chill.”
Photographs by Jason Nocito
Styled by Jon Tietz
Hair by Thom Priano for R+Co. Haircare
Skin by Kumi Craig for The Wall Group
Tailoring by Ksenia Golub
Set design by Robert Sumrell for Walter Schupfer Management
Produced by Eric Jacobson at Hen’s Tooth Productions