04/07/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
BEST ACTOR Adrien Brody
Here's what Oscar viewers now know about Adrien Brody: He likes his mom. He really
likes Halle Berry
. And he left big-name scenery-chompers like Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis in the dust with a quietly devastating performance that in the end Academy voters couldn't deny.
No more Mr. Cellophane: Defying the oddsmakers to become the youngest Best Actor winner in history (edging out Richard Dreyfuss; see p. 126), the little-recognized 29-year-old star of The Pianist
has finally hit the big time. The Queens native—whose parents, teacher Elliot Brody and photographer Sylvia Plachy, signed him up for acting lessons as a preteen "to keep me from getting into trouble on the streets"—shed 30 lbs. and mastered Chopin to portray Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish musician who eluded the Nazis. "I came home feeling like a different person," Brody says. "I am much more appreciative of all I have."
Including that statuette. Brody's four-minute speech proved a dramatic high point, drawing a standing ovation for his plea for peace. "When the music started playing, I knew I wasn't finished and I sensed the audience wasn't either. I felt it was important that I say something," he says. "I felt the response back from the room—it was intense." And any response from Berry's husband, Eric Benét? "Eric and Halle are both friends of Adrien's," says the singer's rep. "He's not mad at all."