No, you’re not seeing things. That’s comedy worrywart Albert Brooks playing the tough guy, writes Neala Johnson
Tougher than your average comedian.
ALBERT Brooks was wrapping up a meeting at director Nicolas Winding Refn’s house.
The pair had been talking about the possibility of Brooks – best known for wordy, worrywart comedy – playing a Los Angeles mob boss with a mean streak in Refn’s new project Drive.
Brooks ( pictured) badly wanted the job. ‘‘ I’ve wanted to play this kind of a part for a long time,’’ says the star of films such as Private Benjamin,
Broadcast News and Finding Nemo. But how to prove to Danish filmmaker Refn that he really could play so much against type?
‘‘ As I was walking out the door I thought, ’ should I do this, should I not do it?’ I just wanted to show him physical strength, so I pinned him up against the wall by his neck,’’ says Brooks, 64.
‘‘ I’m telling you, he’s already the whitest person you ever saw . . . he turned almost clear! I said very quietly, ’ just so you know, I’m physically very strong’ and he said ’ OK, OK!’ It could have backfired but it was right for this.’’
Perhaps it’s a technique Brooks should have tried on a few movie execs earlier in his career . . .
‘‘ Oh, don’t get me started! Not for auditions, after the movie came out, after they didn’t do anything to promote the movie, I would have loved to have choked them,’’ he ponders. Suffice to say, Brooks got the part. He is clearly enjoying his time as a hard man – and not just for the murmurs it might bring him some gold booty come awards season. Tell him you’re a little frightened to talk to him after watching Drive and he says: ‘‘ That’s what I was hoping for!’’
A dyed- in- the- blood- soaked- wool indie film, Drive stars Ryan Gosling as Driver, a stunt driver for the movies who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals.
Brooks, as Bernie, enters the frame when Driver needs funding to become a professional race car driver. But when Driver takes the wrong wheelman job, Bernie quickly comes gunning for him.
Though not filled with a constant spray of bullets, in the select moments where it does get violent, Drive leaves no skull uncrushed.
‘‘ I showed it to my kids, I was hoping for some respect,’’ Brooks cracks.
But he actually did show it to his kids, aged 13 and 11.
‘‘ They wanted to see it very badly. My wife thought it was OK. The violence in this movie is almost like video game violence. I explained to them how it was done and they weren’t afraid of that. My son, who’s 13, was much more afraid of The Exorcist which I showed him about three months ago – that freaked him out. This didn’t bother him.’’
Brooks can’t say that he wasn’t bothered by the on- set pretending of the violence.
‘‘ Nicolas does 30- 40 takes, so if you do a violent action to somebody it’s disturbing over and over and over again. You’re covered with that blood, you’re stabbing somebody – there’s really nothing enjoyable about it.
‘‘ After a while you work yourself up into a temper. It’s like being in a real fight with somebody – the more you get punched and the more you punch, the more you get riled up. I didn’t find it enjoyable at all – I guess that’s a good sign that I’m not a killer in real life.’’
However, the biggest upside to Brooks’ newly found hard- man status is that 35 years after his film career began, it may give him the chance to go ‘‘ off the beaten track’’. ‘‘ Drive is just making its way into the Hollywood consciousness and I don’t know what it will bring. If it brings something interesting, that would be fantastic,’’ he says.
‘‘ This year, I wrote a novel [ 2030] and that was a brand new feeling; I didn’t know that I could do it but it turned out very successfully. Hopefully, I’ve got some roads left to travel.’’
He’s not ready to look back on his career: ‘‘ On my deathbed, which I hope is not imminent, I probably could give you an answer.’’
Still, he admits there have been frustrations along the way. Hence the dream of choking some movie marketeers.
‘‘ But anything worthwhile, for anybody, there’s struggle involved,’’ he says. ‘‘ Nothing is given to anybody, I don’t care who you are.
‘‘ I think if you’re still standing and you’ve got a few friends and maybe a kid who likes you, you get an A. That’s all.’’
Those marketing Drive should have no fear of Brooks’ strong grip. He reckons they may have had a hand in the spreading of the story of a US woman suing after the Drive trailer made her think it would be more like
The Fast and the Furious.
‘‘ Oh that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. It makes me want to sue every movie I’ve ever wanted a refund for. Every film should have that,’’ he says.
‘‘ I could have had a great lawsuit on my film Defending Your Life: ’ That’s not what happens when you die, my cousin died and he told me!’
‘‘ I wish I had thought of that.’’
Now showing State and Village cinemas