Adrien Brody was not yet a household name when he showed up at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles for the 75th Academy Awards Ceremony.
Brody was up against A-listers Nicholas Cage, Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Caine and Jack Nicholson for the Best Actor in a Leading Role award that year for his performance as Wadysaw Szpilman in Roman Polanski’s World War II epic “The Pianist.” When Halle Berry announced Brody’s name, the Woodhaven native stepped into history. At age 29, he became the youngest Best Actor winner ever.
During his acceptance speech — delivered just days after the start of the Iraq War — Brody referenced his home borough and a childhood friend.
“I have a friend from Queens who is a soldier in Kuwait right now,” he said right after making a reference to the war and hoping for a quick peaceful solution.
Brody was born in Woodhaven on April 14, 1973 to Sylvia Plachy, a photojournalist, and Elliot Brody, a retired professor. He attended school in Jackson Heights, went to high school at Fiorello LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts and briefly attended Queens College.
He appeared in Off-Broadway plays and low-budget films and in supporting roles in movies like “The Thin Red Line” and “Summer of Sam.”
Then in late 2000, he landed the lead role in “The Pianist” — the biopic about Szpilman, the Polish musician and Holocaust survivor, that also won Polanski a Best Director Oscar. Brody won the role after Polanski became unsatisfied with the more than 1,400 men who auditioned for it. Brody had to lose 29 pounds and learned to play Chopin on the piano for the role.
Besides earning him the youngest Best Actor winner ever, his performance in “The Pianist” also won Brody a Cesar Award, the French equivalent of an Oscar, making him the only American to ever win one.
Brody’s victory came as a surprise to many — especially Brody — who famously kissed Berry on live television upon winning the award.
It also served as a catalyst to launching his career, which later included starring roles in Peter Jackson’s remake of “King Kong,” “Cadillac Records,” and as painter Salvador Dali in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”
Brody was also famously banned from “Saturday Night Live” after doing an unscripted performance while hosting the show on May 10, 2003.
Besides acting, Brody has had a successful career as a model for Prada and has done commercials for Diet Coke, Schwepps, Stella Artois beer and Gillete razors.