Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Adrien Brody Explains Why Clean Was A Labor Of Love A Decade In The Making - Exclusive Interview

It has been close to 20 years since Adrien Brody became the youngest best actor Oscar winner for "The Pianist" and memorably locked lips with presenter Halle Berry. Since then, his roles have run the gamut from "King Kong" and "Predators" to four Wes Anderson films, including "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel." One thing he hasn't tackled is portraying an ultraviolent anti-hero — until now.

Enter "Clean," Brody's first major foray into filmmaking. He co-wrote, produced, and even scored the IFC Films feature, which follows a New York garbageman named Clean who seeks to make peace with his violent, drug-addled past. When a young girl who reminds him of his daughter gets caught up in the wrong crowd, he must embrace his inner demons to save her.

"Clean," which is currently in theaters and available on demand, turns Brody into a one-man wrecking ball wielding an industrial pipe wrench. It's an unexpected turn for the seemingly mild-mannered actor, but it's a project he has been passionately working on for over a decade. When Looper recently sat down for an exclusive chat with Brody, he explained exactly what makes it so important to him.

Clean is 'a classic story of redemption and retribution'

"Clean" has been described as your "passion project." You co-wrote it, produced it, and even scored it. Why was this an important story for you to tell, and how did you come up with a concept?

Yeah, it is definitely. I think it's an understatement to say that this was a passion project. For me, "Clean" is representative of many creative yearnings in my lifetime and many influences that have affected me as an artist.

On a basic level, it is a classic story of redemption and retribution. There are great movies within that genre, and I love that space. As an actor, I've found it hard to find a role within that space that speaks to me on a truthful level, with nuances in human behavior, and [a role] that references, to a degree, the reality of the world around us and the tragedy and the oppressive forces that are around us and so difficult, for young people in particular, to escape, to blossom, and have a full life, especially in impoverished communities.

I grew up in New York City — I'm from Queens — and I've seen a lot growing up through the years, especially the '70s, '80s, and '90s. I've also been influenced by our movie culture and the movies of the '70s. This is an amalgamation of all those influences, all of those things that have had a profound effect on me.

It was a chance to step beyond my normal role as an actor, which is to interpret somebody else's idea of a character and to make it my own. This was my chance to start from an idea that was my own character, and to make him come to life, and to breathe life into all the other elements of this ... I had wonderful people to collaborate with, co-writer and director Paul Solet, and the many talented and generous actors who came and braved the elements and the harsh realities of independent filmmaking to pour their soul into this project. I'm really proud of that achievement.

Clean represents Adrien Brody's own internal 'rage'

Now, tell me about the original music and score. This is really the first big project you've done that for, but I know music is also a passion of yours. What does music allow you to do that acting doesn't?

Music is a language. It's a form of [language], expressing an emotional space. Acting, similarly, is a way of communicating and expressing and inhabiting emotion. I've been making, producing, and composing music, making beats, that's similarly influenced from my culture and growing up in New York. As I was making this film, I couldn't help feeling this deep connection between the sounds that emanated from me, and maybe they were even more keyed into a kind of dark longing as I was living and feeling the energy of this character that I was portraying day in and day out.

I first came up with a theme for "Clean," and then I came up with some other tracks. I started to realize that voice that was within me, that yearned to tell this story, was also similarly inspired by the music that I'd been making for all these years. I had been struggling with how to justify putting that music out into a place that made sense in a cohesive way, and this was it. It was a wonderful creative process. Essentially, I got to further express the characters, the world, and the heartache and longing within this character through the music that I got to compose.

"Clean" is a little different for you. It's like a one-man vigilante action film. Was it fun to explore that angle of yourself and that angle of film?

Oh, yes, definitely. That's also part of the inspiration. I mean, I definitely yearned to play a complex, flawed protagonist. But within those, there's a strength. It represents my own, I would say, rage at our collective helplessness against all of these oppressive forces that are dominating us, that are destructive to our communities, and the vast chasm between the impoverished people in this country, and the world, for that matter. But in our great nation, people are feeling very helpless and isolated. And this is pre-pandemic that it plagued me.

And so, to purge that in a fictional sense is very cathartic. I think it's relatable, and I don't think I'm the only person that feels like they're so done with feeling crushed by these things, or witnessing these things crushing people we love. What we try to accomplish is to make that a relatable, exciting, accessible action-oriented thing, but with a lot of sensitivity.

He views Clean as a 'broke' version of Batman

You're known for your intense physical and mental commitment to roles. What did this role take out of you, or put in you?

I've been involved with this for longer than any project, or numerous projects combined, and I've made very long projects ... It's been over a decade of this concept, swirling in my head and looking for it. I would've preferred to have somebody else man the ship and plunk down an amazing script that came to this space for me, but it wasn't coming. It took a long time to be courageous enough to step out of my box as an actor, my creative confines, and take a risk and to develop something from its inception and bring on people to help me bring that to life and to produce that and to manage all of my own expectations and all of the obstacles of making the film independently.

This has been living with me for many years, and several years of on-the-ground work that my producer and I have been just cutting through the obstacles. It's been a wonderful learning experience, but it's exhausting. It's very rewarding to be here finally at the finish line and sharing it with people and somehow taking that responsibility off my chest and out of my being so that I can move on to other things. It will be what it will be, but to deliver, it has been my responsibility through all these difficult times with a lot of uncertainty within our industry. I'm very grateful that IFC has given us quite a strong theatrical push, in spite of the many conditions that make that difficult today, especially for independent films. It's a real moment of gratitude and excitement.

One last question unrelated to "Clean." It's been reported that you were interested in playing the Joker at one point and have at least expressed some interest in becoming part of the Marvel or DC universes. That said, if you could play any comic book character — villain or hero — who would it be and why?

Oh, that's too tall an order to give you in a moment's notice. I think that too is a remarkable space, as is the way that both Marvel and DC have managed to create these worlds with such creativity and nuance and afford actors a chance to exist in that space. Whether they're playing a hero, a superhero, or an arch villain, they're wonderfully complex. I love the approach, and it's such an amazing thing to witness. It's a phenomenon. So, yes, I admire and appreciate it, but it's a bigger question than just one answer.

Clean is my version of that. Clean is broke Batman. He's the guy who is out there, whittling away and fighting crime, and doing it with very meager means, and without the machine behind him. I love the space. I love the genre. I love how powerful that is for an audience, and, yeah, I can relate to it.

"Clean" is now playing in select theaters and available for digital rental or purchase.