It may not catch on in Beverly Hills, but the Adrien Brody diet is a proven success. Make meals out of a bit of meat and a handful of beans, and sign up for 18-hour days with a barking Polish drill sergeant—director Roman Polanski. After shedding 30 lbs. from his 6'1" frame to star in The Pianist, the true-life story of Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman's survival in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, Brody reported for work to find Polanski Ordering him over a 6-ft. wall. "I told Roman, "I have no energy,'" Brody, 29, recalls. The Golden Globe-nominated performance "left me totally raw," adds Brody, whose father is Jewish. "I came home feeling like a different person."
Home for the single Brody is both L.A. and New York City, where his teacher dad, Elliot Brody, 62, and photographer mom, Sylvia Plachy, 59, enrolled him in acting classes and magic camp. By 11, "Amazing Adrien" was performing at kids' parties for $50. "His best trick was being funny," says Plachy. "He liked being the center of attention."
After he graduated from the High School of Performing Arts, roles in films like Summer of Sam built his reputation as a soulful, haunted actor. Where do those demons come from? Perhaps an early stint in L.A., when Brody played Mary Tyler Moore's stepson in the '88 series Annie McGuire. At Beverly Hills High, "girls were driving up in brand-new BMWs," he says. "My dad drove this red van with Star Trek curtains. I begged him not to drop me off in front of the school."
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