Archive for Sunday, December 29, 2002

Pianist’ star sheds pounds to prepare for challenging role

December 29, 2002

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— Adrien Brody had done so much in preparing for his starring role in the award-winning movie "The Pianist" that director Roman Polanski had to start filming in the middle of the story.

Already a lean 160 pounds, the 6-foot-1 Brody had to shed 30 pounds in six weeks to portray Polish Jewish pianist Wladislaw Szpilman in his agonizing struggle for survival against the Nazis in Warsaw.

To depict Szpilman in the final days of the war, the actor existed on a diet of two boiled eggs and green tea for breakfast, a little chicken for lunch, and a small piece of fish or chicken with steamed vegetables for dinner.

"It was quite draining," the 29-year-old Brody recalled in an interview shortly before his recent nomination for a Golden Globe for best actor. "But it made me see (that) extreme hunger goes beyond craving food. It starts to give you this feeling of deprivation that you wouldn't normally have."

He was already so thin by the time filming started, Brody said, that Polanski decided to wait and shoot the early, pre-war scenes after the actor had regained some weight.

Largely isolated in European hotel rooms and too exhausted to exercise, Brody also had to give a credible on-screen performance of a pianist pouring out Chopin. So he took lessons. His daily hours of practicing, he said, gave him "a wonderful way of escaping that solitude, escaping those feelings of hunger."

Discipline and focus in the face of deprivation helped get Szpilman through World War II. He was believed to be one of only about 20 Jews alive in Warsaw when the Polish capital was liberated in 1945.

The movie, which won the Palme d'Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and received a Golden Globe nomination for best drama, is based on the pianist's memoir, "Death of a City." Szpilman (pronounced SHPEEL-man) was born in 1911, studied with students of Franz Liszt and became a pianist on the state radio station in Warsaw in 1935.

ACTOR ADRIEN BRODY portrays a Polish-Jewish pianist who lived in
the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust in the new film, "The
Pianist."

ACTOR ADRIEN BRODY portrays a Polish-Jewish pianist who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust in the new film, "The Pianist."

"The Pianist" begins with Szpilman playing Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor on the radio when the station is suddenly bombed by the Luftwaffe at the outbreak of the war.

He and his family are herded into the Warsaw Ghetto. When the Nazis empty the quarter by murdering or shipping off the occupants to concentration camps, Szpilman gets help from an aquaintance and goes into hiding. Living as a hermit and foraging for food, he eludes the Nazis until the final days of the war, when a German officer discovers him.

The officer, Capt. Wilm Hosenfeld (portrayed by Thomas Kretschmann), asks him to play the piano, and then protects him. After the war, Szpilman never saw Hosenfeld again; the officer died in a Russian POW camp in 1952. Szpilman died in 2000 at age 88.

Polanski, who himself escaped Krakow's Jewish ghetto and was sheltered by Polish families in the countryside during the war, said at the movie's opening in Poland this fall that Szpilman's memoir "required honesty and modesty -- there was no room for the actors to show off."

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