An actor who hovered far too long on the brink of stardom before getting his due recognition, Adrien Brody spent much of his early career falling victim to the slings and arrows of outrageous PR. Possessing undeniable talent and looks that recall both the wasted elegance of an Aubrey Beardsley illustration and a young and hungry Al Pacino, Brody spent much of the 1990s as a candidate for his generation's "next big thing." But despite roles in two high-profile movies -- Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998) and Spike Lee's Summer of Sam (1999) -- and the publicity that accompanied them, it was not until Brody was cast as the lead in Roman Polanski's The Pianist (2002) that he won the recognition which had previously eluded him.
Born on April 14, 1973, in New York City, Brody was raised in Queens. The son of a schoolteacher and a celebrated photojournalist, he was drawn to acting from an early age. Brody's first taste of show business came when he was 12-years-old and performed as a magician at children's parties; with his mother's encouragement, he subsequently enrolled in acting classes, attending both the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the High School for the Performing Arts. He found his earliest work in off-Broadway productions, and made his television debut in 1998 with a PBS movie and a turn as Mary Tyler Moore's son in the comedienne's ill-fated sitcom Annie McGuire.
Following his professional debut, the actor returned to school and attended a year of college before being cast in Steven Soderbergh's 1993 Depression-era drama King of the Hill. The film, which cast Brody as its protagonist's delinquent mentor, met with wide critical acclaim and presented him with new opportunities. He won roles in several films, including 1994's Angels in the Outfield and 1997's The Last Time I Committed Suicide, a paean to the beat generation that co-starred Keanu Reeves, Gretchen Mol, and Claire Forlani.
That same year, Brody had lead parts in The Undertaker's Wedding and Six Ways to Sunday, two fairly obscure films that paved the way for both more high-profile work and a turn as one of Vanity Fair's "Hot, Young, and Full of Fun" cover boys. With the 1999 cover and principal roles in two highly anticipated films, The Thin Red Line and Summer of Sam, Brody seemed perfectly positioned to step into the limelight. Unfortunately, his scenes in the former ended up on the cutting room floor, victims of time constraints. But Brody's turn as a bisexual punk in the latter earned positive notices, and was hailed by numerous critics as one of the strongest points in Lee's flawed but compelling film.
Brody continued to do solid work in films like Barry Levinson's Liberty Heights (1999) and Ken Loach's Bread and Roses (2000), but it wasn't until he was cast as the eponymous protagonist of Roman Polanksi's The Pianist that critics -- and the Academy -- really took notice of his work. For his portrayal of the real-life Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish pianist struggling to survive the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto, Brody invested himself mentally, emotionally, and physically in the role, and was rewarded for his dedication with numerous honors, including the French César and an Oscar that made him the youngest-ever recipient of the Best Actor award. Many observers felt the quality of his performance in the film was matched by that of his acceptance speech, given only days after the U.S. went to war with Iraq: after bestowing a long kiss on a very surprised Halle Berry, who presented him with the award, he went on to give a speech that managed to combine heartfelt gratitude with an eloquent plea for peace and goodwill. It was an accomplishment that brought much of the ceremony's audience to a standing ovation and ensured that although fame had eluded him in the past, Brody had finally and deservedly won his time in the limelight.
Brody followed up his triumph as The Village idiot in M. Night Shyamalan's allegorical film, and starred in the little-seen psychological thriller The Jacket. However, in 2005, Brody starred in Peter Jackson's gargantuan remake of King Kong. He returned to more independent films as a man attempting to unravel the mysterious death of George Reeves in Hollywoodland, and teamed with Todd Haynes in his unconventional Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan. Brody would cement himself as a leading in Hollywood over the coming years, with appearances in everything from precocious, indie-fare like Darjeeling Limited and The Brothers Bloom to action explosions like Predators and Wrecked.