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Coming up from `The O.C.'

With the end of the hit show that launched him, Adam Brody turns his full attention to film.

April 15, 2007|Cristy Lytal | Special to The Times

ON the day the final episode of Fox TV's "The O.C." aired, a man approached Adam Brody -- who played the show's Seth Cohen -- in Greenblatt's Deli.

"I don't want to be rude, but I'm from New Zealand," said the fan, who was as giddy as a teenage girl despite his rugby player build. "And, like, the chance of seeing Seth Cohen is pretty improbable for me. And so I was wondering if there's any chance I could possibly get a photo with you. Yeah, I know it's like such a wanky thing to do."

"Sure," said Brody. Even though he had only recently arisen at this noon hour, he managed to strike the perfect balance between being affable and not inviting a longer conversation about wankers. There was little doubt that TV's sexiest geek has done this daily for the last four years, ever since the series launched him to stardom. And given the seamless transition he's making into film, the fan love should only intensify.

Despite the arduous shooting schedule of "The O.C.," which aired its last episode in late February, directors had already courted Brody for the big screen, casting him in small but memorable roles in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" and last year's "Thank You for Smoking." Now, the actor is sliding into full-time film work and has two movies opening Friday alone. He takes his first turn as a leading man in Jonathan Kasdan's "In the Land of Women" and has a cameo as a dread-locked pot dealer in "Smiley Face." In August's "The Ten," a collection of vignettes based on the Ten Commandments, he plays a skydiver who forgets his parachute.

Kasdan (son of director Lawrence) had to suspend production on his debut feature for eight months to catch Brody on hiatus between his third and fourth "O.C." seasons. But the director thinks he was worth the wait. "The truth is, Adam is a way more confident, slightly better looking version of me," Kasdan says, laughing. "He's a pure, natural-born leading man."

Deviating significantly from the Cary Grant archetype, Brody stars as a soft-core porn television writer who, after being dumped by an actress, flees Los Angeles to become the caretaker of his slightly demented grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) in Michigan. He strikes up a romantic friendship with the girls next door (Makenzie Vega and Kristen Stewart) and their mother (Meg Ryan), who is coping with breast cancer and her husband's infidelity. "My idea of Jack Lemmon is what he reminded me of," Ryan says of her co-star. "He's got a looseness and tightness at the same time. He's light on his feet, but he has a weight to him too. It gives him an interesting kind of tension."

Brody's first sex scene, filmed opposite Ryan, was ultimately cut from the film to keep a more widely releasable rating of PG-13. "She's having a double mastectomy the next day, so it's a goodbye-to-the breasts love scene," he says. "It's the least sexy thing. I saw it in the theater by myself and I was covering my eyes because I was so embarrassed. I don't think it would be a heavily downloaded Internet scene." That day on set, Kasdan -- who battled Hodgkin's lymphoma at 17 -- gave the pair cupcakes to cheer them up.

Normally, Brody doesn't need sugar to maintain his youthful exuberance. After spending his childhood surfing and hanging out with his younger twin brothers in suburban San Diego, he moved to Los Angeles on his 19th birthday to try acting before heading to college. "When I was 18, I was too excited to read a book," says Brody. Instead, he earned a steady stream of acting work and found himself back in high school again on "The O.C."

"The thing about television is that actors can really transform their roles, so he became the leading man of 'The O.C.,' " despite the plot hinging on fish-out-of-water Ryan Atwood, says Doug Liman, who directed the first two episodes as well as "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." "Adam has really good story sense, really good comedy sense, and he made his character in 'The O.C.' -- and the show -- the hit it became. Still, four years in, he was playing the same story lines. He grew as a human being, and the part didn't grow. And I think that became tremendously frustrating for him."

Nevertheless, playing Seth Cohen was a golden opportunity that Brody cashed in at its full value. He tested the limits of TV meta-humor, injecting his own sarcasm, indie rock sensibility and comic book obsession into the character. Even as he was being swept along by the melodramatic plotlines, he improvised jokes that reflected viewers' observations about the outlandish Newport-set soap opera and the actors who inhabited it.

"He's pretty quick to say that 80%, 90% of the stuff was scripted, and that's true," says Ben McKenzie, who co-starred as his brooding best friend, Ryan. "But yeah, there'd be a little bit of extra special sauce thrown on some scenes."

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