In a world consumed by connecting through technology, people are becoming more emotionally distant from others, even though they still feel the need to connect. ‘Detachment,’ the long-awaited drama from ‘American History X’ director Tony Kaye, effortlessly shows the contemporary vision of people’s increasingly disconnection from others.
‘Detachment’ follows Henry Barthes, played by Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody, a substitute teacher who conveniently avoids any emotional connections. He never stays in any school long enough to form meaningful bonds with his students or colleagues. As Henry deals with his troubled past, he is hired at a public school where the student body is apathetic, and the administration is frustrated and burned-out.
Henry inadvertently becomes a role model to his students. He forms an unlikely bond with a runaway teen, Erica, portrayed by Sami Gayle, who is just as lost as he is. While trying to help give up her life of prostitution, Henry realizes that he can find love in a seemingly vicious world.
Brody sat down at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City to speak about the filming of ‘Detachment.’ The actor discussed, among other things, what it was like working with Sami, and what he enjoyed about Kaye’s approach to the film’s sensitive subject matter.
Written by: Karen Benardello
Question (Q): What was it like working with Sami during the filming of ‘Detachment?’
Adrien Brody (AB): Well, it’s rare to meet someone who’s so full of life and enthusiasm. She possesses such a degree of emotional intelligence at such a young age (16), and isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and intimate. It’s a great age, I started acting around that age as well.
I know right before adolescence kicks in, it’s a really crucial time in a young man’s development, and I’m sure for a young girl as well. There’s a large transformation that happens within that. You undergo all kinds of chemical and biological changes. It’s a new stage of development, and with it comes all kinds of insecurities.
I think your early, early teens, you’ve triumphed childhood, and you’re strong. Then you come into the new wave, and you’re figuring things out. That’s a harder time to be free. She gave a lot, and it’s the right age to have a meaningful experience as an actor.
Q: Was there one particular aspect of the film that struck you the most?
AB: Oh, yes. It’s an opportunity for me to teach, spread some insight of my knowledge. My aspirations as an actor has always been to find material that speaks to me, and I can share those experiences with others. Not just entertain people, I’m not just in it to entertain people. I think it’s important that I remain interesting, and the work is entertaining. But the work should also stem from something greater than that, and create this community in the theater. I look to find films that have this kind of relevance.
My father was a public school teacher. I’m a product of public school in New York. So I understand the pitfalls, and how much generosity my father has in dedicating a lifetime to teaching. The profession really isn’t glamorous. He was very kind and patient with his students and myself. A large degree of my success stems from that.
Q: Did you pull from your father to bring this film to life?
AB: Yes, yes. It’s almost an homage to my father in a lot of ways. He’s very different from that character, thank God. (laughs) But my father overcame a great deal of poverty, and put himself through school, and did something very meaningful. I admire him for that, and his patience, which is hard to have, and his thoughtfulness. He was very good to his students.
Q: You’re dealing with a character who’s mentoring someone, but you’re also mentoring off the camera. What did you learn from that experience? Would you be interested in doing other things that involve teaching in some way, like maybe on a faculty or as an adviser?
AB: I don’t like formal arrangements. That’s what I love about acting, it’s a short-lived, kind of peculiar existence. You completely inhabit a character, and get to know some interesting people, and not so interesting people. The luxury is that you don’t have to see them again. You’re not showing up to the same office or boardroom.
I love that freedom. It’s not something I take for granted. It’s also encouraged me to learn a lot, because of it’s unusual nature. It’s a privilege to share anything I learn with anyone who’s enthusiastic about learning. You can have that exchange in a press conference or in a bar or on a film set. It just depends on if the right subject matter comes up, and if someone in that discussion has some insight.
You benefit by being present, and that’s what this film is about. You don’t have to be removed or isolated, and so many people do feel that. It’s about getting young minds at the right age, like Sami’s age, and encouraging creativity and the belief of pursuing your own individuality.
That’s a luxury that I have had, and my friends have not had. It’s unfortunately prevented my friends who I grew up with from a level of success that I’m fortunate to know, and that I attribute to my parents. I came home to a proper home, and didn’t just have the influences of my cool friends, who were tougher, and the street life, which was unfortunately a lot of people’s home.
They would come home to disjointed, broken families, and parents who were dealing with financial strains, marital problems, their own personal problems, drug addictions. This is what this film is really about, the criticism of the education system itself. While it’s critical of it, it’s about we need to be a bit more accountable and try harder. It’s understandable, I’m very aware that life is very challenging for most people.
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