ADRIEN Brody nearly caught malaria familiarising himself with the tropics for his role in The Thin Red Line. For his Oscarwinning performance in The Pianist . . . at 26 he was the youngest actor ever to be named Best Actor . . . he went into seclusion for several months, gave up his apartment and his car, and learned to play Chopin on the piano, "immersing myself in the sadness". Earlier this year he trained as a matador to portray one of Spain's greatest bullfighters in Manolete.
None of which was much help when he was cast as one of three American brothers who set off on a train journey across India to find themselves in Wes Anderson's quirky The Darjeeling limited. Anderson wrote the script in collaboration with Jason Schwarzman and Roman Coppola while they themselves made a similar journey. The idea was then to shoot the entire film on an actual train as it crossed India, treating the actors as real people making the trip.
"We had to embrace the authenticity of it, " says Brody.
"We were on this train from morning to night. There was no make-up. There were no wardrobe changes. There were no trailers. The lighting was built into the train. The cameras were in the carriages. That's not something you could research. A lot of it doesn't reveal itself in the writing. It's something you need to connect to in the moment. I didn't know what I could specifically do to prepare for it."
Brody had been in India before, with a Sikh friend. "But it was a very different experience. I think I was more overwhelmed by the sadder aspects of India. But it may also have been a reflection of my state of mind at that time in my life. I think I was much more open on this journey. I had to be."
Owen Wilson, who plays the older brother who persuades his younger siblings Brody and Schwarzman to go on the journey with him after the death of their father, is one of three brothers.
So is Anderson. Brody, however, is an only child. His father is a New York Jewish school teacher, his mother a photo journalist, Sylvia Plachy, who fled to Vienna from Hungary and then to the US after the 1956 uprising. Both are still living. "Not having siblings doesn't prevent me from understanding sibling relationships, whether it's rivalry or intense love or distance, " he says. "You don't have to lose a parent to play someone who has.
If you can manage to find the emotion of grief and loss within you and it's fresh enough that you can draw from it and connect to it, that's what it's about."
He developed as an actor by working with a range of auteur directors who posed widely differing challenges in the way they work. "Wes is unlike any director I worked with before, " he says. "His way of shooting is very specific, but there is freedom in the physicality and the kind of personal things you bring to your character. But the script was what had to be delivered. There was a particular version of how he wanted things to look. Although it might seem improvised, because of the confined quarters and camera moves, none of it was. I was concerned that maybe he did not linger enough on certain moments, because he shoots much less coverage than usual.
When I asked him for some insights he alluded to writing the character with me in mind. I didn't see the parallels. I didn't know whether it was an insult or a compliment but when I saw the film I saw a lot of similarities.
The character's dilemmas are not mine, but I do get a bit tense.
I do have headaches. So the connections are there in a weird way. It's less dissimilar than a lot of other characters I've played."
Menno Meyjes's approach with Manolete was quite the opposite.
"It's full of powerful profound lingering moments, " he says. I'm this man who faced death and delivered death. Penelope Cruz is my mistress. It's essentially a love story. Meyjes had wanted me to play Manolete years before. It kind of fell apart and then it came around again. Part of what Manolete was dealing with was an intense almost overwhelming sense of fame, which is something I wouldn't have had much understanding of.
Manolete had that pressure of being such a symbolic powerful figure for Spain and it passed on to me. It was a very strange surreal experience. I kind of never left being Manolete."
Meanwhile he's just finished The Brothers Bloom, a crime drama directed by Rian Johnson.
"I'm a reluctant con-man who tries to relieve an heiress played by Rachel Weisz of a chunk of her fortune on a tour of the world.
Being a con-man is similar to being an actor, or for that matter a magician. You're creating an illusion for other people. When you connect enough to someone who is not you to a point where it looks like you even to yourself, it's truly magical."