Best known for playing geeky Seth Cohen on The O.C., Adam Brody has become a familiar comedic face in Hollywood over the past decade. With a recent turn in Whit Stillman‘s Damsels in Distress and, now, the Neil LaBute adaptation Some Girl(s), he’s beginning to branch out towards scripts and filmmakers with more palpable weight. It’s a welcome evolution that I believe he’s embraced and excelled at.
Taking the time to talk to us — and being nice enough to call back after his first attempts came while I was still on the other line with LaBute — Brody talks about the joy of acting, playing unlikeable characters, and holding his own against an Oscar-nominated actress like Emily Watson.
The Film Stage: What was it like to dive into the mind of this character — a man selfishly deluded to a fault who, even without the final motivational reveal, is digging up these old feelings in his ex-girlfriends for no other reason but to assuage his own guilt?
Adam Brody: I kind of… I think, to a certain extent, he believes what he’s saying. I mean, obviously he’s lying a bit, but I do think all in all he thinks he’s a good guy and telling the truth — or, you know, the important truth. So, that wasn’t all that hard as much as he’s unknowingly — or, maybe, a little sadistically and narcissistically, but mostly unknowingly — so insulting to these women. That was sort of hard to try, only because I’m trying to argue his side of it and believe him and want to come across as…
I mean, obviously his motives, deep down, are entirely dark and sinister — in my view — but because I want to sort of side with him as much as possible while playing him, some of the stuff just… when he’s so insulting to, let’s say, the Jennifer Morrison character [Sam] — the first character — so off-handedly insulting, that can be kind of hard just because I want to soften that as much as possible so the audience doesn’t just…
And I know the audience, half the people; he’ll lose half the audience right away, but, hopefully, I can keep half of them. Or kind of win them back, and kind of lose them, and win them back a little bit, and keep you kind of guessing. So, obviously, as it goes on he’s harder and harder to root for. I wanted to argue his side of it for as long as I could — as well as I could. So, some of the insults, you know… that was hard, because he’s in the wrong so much. So much of what he’s doing — really, all of it — is so darn selfish and narcissistic and cruel.
You know, we were filming six days a week. It was a little claustrophobic in that we’re filming six days a week and, really, all in these five rooms. So I was really stuck in this room for about twenty days — eighteen days stuck inside this room within these scenes. So, it was definitely a little claustrophobic. It was nice to take a shower after this thing was all over.
That said, also — on the flip side — I don’t want to make it sound too… it was really fun and a joy. All the actresses are so great and I never [had] a chance to do this. To just go one-on-one with all these talented actors for great, expertly written scenes with great back and forths and twists and turns and subtext. And also a huge, huge thing I’m a fan of is, the reason I think Neil [LaBute] can do this so powerfully, is because he makes it all so darkly funny. He sees the humor in it all as well. That is just a joy to me. I love how dark and twisted and funny his stuff is, and that was always a pleasure.
And that’s what’s interesting about Neil. People are so quick to label him misogynistic or misanthropic, but he always has this authenticity with this darkly comic truth. It’s easy to see why such great actors would gravitate towards this material — his pull-no-punches style — even if audiences might not be prepared.
Yeah, I think it’s really brutal stuff to watch because it’s very recognizable. It’s not melodramatic; these are crimes perpetrated every day by all of us. You know? [They’re] somewhat magnified and highlighted, but they’re very recognizable and relatable, and I think that’s what… it’s stuff that’s inherently [there], but no one wants to talk about it. He’ll pick a thing like: if your girlfriend gained fifteen pounds, how do you deal with it? You know? [Laughs] It’s like, “Jesus, I don’t want to talk about it.” And he’ll be like, “No, it’s like a ‘romantic’ — and I’m using air quotes — comedy about it.” He really brings those subjects up that are taboo. Yes, he’s a little misogynistic — I guess. [No,] the truth is he writes about those characters and, certainly, writes about misogynists, but does that make someone that? I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t think Alfred Hitchcock was a murderer.
And in fact I would argue that knowing, if you’re doing it to the point of… it’s almost the opposite, as he’s doing it very knowingly. I think it’s the opposite. The real misogyny in film is almost every other fucking movie, where the woman has about two lines and is objectified only, and people never think about it. It’s the subtext of about 90% of television shows and movies that have no idea they’re being that way, where the real sort of misogyny — or, at least, chauvinism — lies.
Especially with this movie, where you have the high school sweetheart, the one who got away, the sexual fling. We’re bred to see these characters as victims, but in this film they all get the last word on your character.
They do to an extent. It’s funny: he, ostensibly, goes around for closure and almost every one of the characters — in fact, I think every one of the characters leaves, ironically, in a better spot than when they went into the scene. They’re the ones who got, I guess, some version of closure. And he’s the one — maybe not in the play as much — but certainly in the movie, with the addition of Zoe‘s [Kazan] Reggie scene and the addition of the extra scene on the plane where he’s calling his fiancé and making eyes at the stewardess. I mean, he’s learned nothing. The movie might as well have not happened, as far as he’s concerned; I feel like he didn’t learn a thing about himself, or anyone, but everyone else kind of did. They got closure by raking him over the coals a bit and making him — at least, seemingly making him — face what he’s done. And, b.), I think some reassurance of what an asshole he turned out to be. You know? [Laughs] They all feel better off no longer having any relation to him.
They’re better off that he left.
You were talking about being claustrophobic on the set. Was the film shot chronologically so you could at least infer on what happened before the next encounter?
It wasn’t. No. We sort of shot around schedules for who would get what day. I mean, I would have preferred it the other way if it had worked out, but, at the very least, we were shooting the scenes chronologically in terms of within the scene. And each scene is its own story so obviously the whole thing informs… every scene informs every other scene, but still we’re shooting a main movie on its own as well. So, I didn’t feel too adrift.
It was okay; I didn’t mind it. Really, you shoot so much more out of order on everything else just because you don’t have eighteen-page scenes to do in order. So, in a way, even though every scene is shot out of order, it still felt much more chronologically correct than most things I do.
Now, did you approach this differently, being that the film still kind of feels like a stage play? Have you ever had any aspirations to do theater?
I’ve never done it, certainly. I’d like to. I’m interested and at least curious. I sort of feel like, as a professional actor, it’s something I have to at least experience — even if it’s not a burning desire. I think it’s probably a really fantastic experience, a rush. But this was certainly the most dialogue I’ve ever had; it was great. It was a joy just to get to go back and forth with actors for as long as I did in each take.
And, also, to get to have someone — to kind of be saying an auteur’s words, somebody with such a distinct voice who puts so much time into crafting a scene, and really workshopped the scene in different cities and in different versions of the play. Neil’s rhythms are so specific and he’s such a wordsmith; that is also something I rarely get to do. So, I got a lot of enjoyment out of trying to be as exacting as I could with his words in knowing how much time and skill he put into them — and treating it like a play, in that sense. We all had to do it our own way, but we all had such a reverence for the writer, and I do for anything I’m working on with a good screenplay. The story is the basis: that’s obviously why everyone’s wherever they are making a movie. But this in particular—he weighed so heavily on the proceedings.
You’ve given a really great performance in this and I, personally, kind of let your character in at the beginning, because I have this image of Seth Cohen — this harmless neurotic. He’s genuine, and it kind of makes that gut-punch at the end more powerful because of that connection.
And, in London it was created with David Schwimmer, who played a similar type of role on Friends. Do you think that connection helps? Hinders? Does it diminish the performance to even think about that?
No. I think it’s good. I mean, the people who have played it — David Schwimmer, Eric McCormack, and Mark Feuerstein — are all very affable, instantly likable actors who, more often than not, [play incredibly] likable characters. I think you’ve got to be with this guy for a while. This isn’t like an overly ruthless character, like Rachel Weisz in The Shape of Things or Jason Patric in Your Friends and Neighbors. He’s more insidious and doesn’t even realize it himself.
Again, I think you can still enjoy the movie. I think it’s still enjoyable, even if you’re just on the girls’ side — if he’s lost you in the first scene and you’re just kind of watching the drama unfold. I still think it’s an engaging movie, even if you hate him from the get-go — and you wouldn’t be wrong. But, no, I think it works to an advantage.
Also, I think to a certain extent he had to have something about him that these women liked to have dated him once. You know? If he’s just a hardcore prick on the surface you can’t even really relate to them ever having dated him, whereas I think it allows — even if you aren’t with him — you to relate to these women who were duped at least for a short time by being with him. And I think it does make the end a little more surprising.
Can you speak about acting against these great women? The first couple you can kind of… everyone’s kind of had that growing apart from a high school love and that stuff. But the film gets pretty heavy with Reggie and Emily Watson’s character.
Yeah. I knew three of the actresses — they’re all just equally fantastic. I think they’re all so well-cast; I think they’re all… they make such a nice ensemble. I think they all complement each other so well.
In terms of the material, it’s funny: the Reggie scene, certainly in the crimes he did, is the worst. They’re the darkest, and he has the most to account for. But, in terms of me — since that happened so long in the past — even if it’s uncomfortable and it’s uncomfortable to the audience as she’s accusing you of this, oddly enough, again, I felt it more challenging to do the Jennifer Morrison scene, the first scene. Because I actually find him to be the most casually insulting to her when he’s talking about, “You were going to be… I can see you at the grocery store working and I didn’t want to do that. You understand, don’t you?”
I just think he’s… he didn’t sin as heavily as he did with everyone else, but, in that scene, I find him to be so casually dismissive of her life that my goal was to try and soften those as much as possible. It was hard and I felt saying them — trying to sort of side with him in those was hard. So, in a way, that was sort of more challenging to me in terms of his behavior. Even though, obviously, the Reggie scene is by far the darkest.
And, then, getting to act off of Emily Watson is just incredible. She’s just a powerhouse. She just, even — I don’t know. To even bounce back and forth from her was such a pleasure, and to be able to say I did it — and, to a certain degree, held my own — is great.
With what you’re saying about Jennifer Morrison’s character, Sam, the reaction he seems to desire from her is exactly what Kristen Bell gives him at the end. Bell puts up the fight it seems like he wanted from Sam. But, after everything he’s now gone through, he’s the desperate one wanting her back. It’s an interesting bookend.
Again, I think it’s unknown to him, but I think he’s seeking some sadistic pleasure in knowing how much he broke their hearts and how much they wished… the thing about Jennifer that he gets — Sam — [is that] she, for a second, is open to some sort of reconciliation. Not that she’s going to leave her life and kids, but he still holds some sway over her in a way that feels good. [Laughs] It obviously feels great to him.
I think, [with] Bobbi, Kristen’s character, he doesn’t. He can’t get her to sort of side with him. And, also, upon reassessing her and her beauty — I mean, he certainly keeps commenting on her physical appearance — I think he has legitimate second thoughts. And in that moment — obviously, in the movie, a quick hour later, by the time he had gotten to the airport on an earlier flight — it’s all washed off his back and he’s forgotten about it. But, in that moment, I think he’s genuine in his want for them to be together. And part of that is, perhaps, because back then he feels what he’s saying is real, and part of that is that she’s just so damn pretty and charming in that moment.
Some Girl(s) is now in limited release and available on VOD.