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The Oscars

The sweet spell of success

Life at the top isn't lonely at all for nominees Diane Lane and Adrien Brody, who suddenly find themselves the darlings of critics and the centers of attention on the street.

March 23, 2003|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

"Josh is convinced that we're having an affair," says Diane Lane, referring to her boyfriend, Josh Brolin, and laughing a full-bodied chortle as she poses alongside Adrien Brody for yet another photograph.

The Oscar nominee for best actress and the Oscar nominee for best actor chuckle knowingly. In truth, the pair barely know each other, having met recently at a slew of award shows, but they share the easy camaraderie of the tiny club of people who know what it's like to be at the center of the Oscar hurricane. Unlike this year's other nominees, legends such as Meryl Streep or Jack Nicholson, Brody and Lane are first-timers to the club whose performances in "The Pianist" and "Unfaithful" have catapulted them out of the ranks of working actors.

On this afternoon after the annual luncheon for all the Oscar nominees, the 38-year-old Lane looks like a '40s movie star in a closely fitting dusky pink suit. Age has given her fine-boned beauty character, a kind of quiet grittiness and fiercely won independence that distinguishes her from a raft of blond peers. She's a self-aware, self-protective ironist, with a deep, throaty voice that lends her wry observations aplomb. It's almost as if she's nervous about giving in to the head-spinning abandon of the moment.

Brody seems to be letting the newfound limelight lap up on his feet like a gentle tide. In a gray suit with an open white shirt, the 29-year-old appears languid, almost too beautiful for a man, with porcelain skin and bottle-green eyes. For all the loneliness he portrayed in "The Pianist," in life he has the air of someone's who's been well loved. Indeed, his date for the afternoon's luncheon is his mother, photojournalist Sylvia Plachy, who is carrying her camera.

Lane and Brody are fast becoming this year's critical darlings, the ones who seem to be stirring momentum among the film cognoscenti but are fighting the ineffable tide of star power and marketing juggernauts. In his category, Brody is not only the youngest contestant by a decade -- he's the only one who's never won an Oscar or even been the star of a studio movie. Most famously, he did have a starring role in 1998's "The Thin Red Line," but almost his whole performance wound up on the cutting-room floor.

At 14, Lane appeared on the cover of Time magazine as the poster child for a new Hollywood whiz kid, but it's taken more than 20 years, and 40 films, to finally fulfill her potential. Both she and Brody landed their Oscar-nominated roles courtesy of star directors who had the power to put the best actor in the part, rather than merely the one who could fill the theaters with the most bodies. Both turned in performances powered less by scenery-chewing theatrics than a gradual revealing of characters, as layer upon layer of civilization, breeding and decorum are systematically stripped away.

In Lane's case that was the tale of a suburban mom, undone by lust, as she jettisons every safety net in what had been a secure life. In Brody's, it was the true story of Jewish concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who endures the loss of everything except his humanity as he struggles to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII.

Lane: I wondered when you read the script [for "The Pianist"] did it ever pop into your head -- "Oscar role"? I thought it might be that way because of the [film's] moral significance.

Brody: It didn't. I actually thought [its Holocaust theme] may hinder the success of the film. Early on in making the film, I was so overwhelmed. I had done three films back to back and I was exhausted and then I began this and I had to destroy myself. I basically threw myself into this space and stopped thinking about the future or anything. I gave up my apartment. I gave up my car, my phones. I was away from my girlfriend, my family, my friends, my language.

Lane: How many filming days did you work?

Brody: Six months straight. Six days a week. Roman [Polanski, the director] hated using a stand-in. It was in Poland. There was six weeks without another actor. A quarter of this whole film, I was alone with Roman, and playing a man who's alone. Therefore the entire day I was cultivating these feelings of loneliness and isolation in the scene. Then to stay focused I would go back into my room and practice the keyboard, not mingle at lunch for the entire time, wear earplugs and lock myself out from the world. It was insanity. I didn't think about awards or anything like that. Also, because of my experience with "The Thin Red Line," my expectations are far less. My expectations of what people say to me, and promise me. I used to joke with Roman, "You can't cut me out of this film, what are you going to call it, 'The Piano'?"

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