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Queens Chronicle

Woodhaven Native Adrien Brody Honored With Best Actor Oscar

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Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2003 12:00 am

The community of Woodhaven was honored in a big way Sunday night. Favorite son Adrien Brody, 29, of 85th Road, won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “The Pianist,” the story of a gifted Jewish pianist who survived the Holocaust.

After his name was announced, Brody had one of the more memorable acceptance speeches in the history of the show. He held presenter Halle Berry in an extended liplock, then cut off the producers, who tried to coax him off stage by starting the traditional exit music.

He thanked the Academy, his parents, and sent a surprise message to Rego Park’s Tommy Zarobinski, a childhood friend now serving in the Army National Guard in Kuwait.

“I have a friend from Queens who’s a soldier in Kuwait right now, Tommy Zarobinski. And I hope you and your boys make it back real soon. God bless you guys. I love you. Thank you very much,” Brody said.

The statement came as a shock to Zarobinski’s parents, just as it did to Woodhaven residents who were thrilled to see one of their own take home one of the industry’s biggest prizes.

“I was thrilled. I thought it was great news. I’m so proud of his acting abilities and the way he handled himself. He spoke so eloquently and compassionately. Even the kiss was impressive,” said Maria Thomson, a longtime Woodhaven resident and president of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation.

Libby Frischer, another Woodhaven resident, said her neighbors used to play with the outgoing Brody on 85th Road, and that she bought 10 tickets to see “The Pianist” when it opened.

“I loved it, but I didn’t think he was going to win because all the films this year were so good. But it was just wonderful. We’re proud to have him in our community,” she said.

Thomson said plans are under way to honor the actor. The GWDC will likely hang a banner somewhere on Jamaica Avenue or near his home, but the details have not been worked out.

Brody is the son of the acclaimed photojournalist Sylvia Plachy and Elliot Brody, a retired public school teacher and painter. Plachy herself escaped the Hungarian revolution in a corn truck and settled in Austria before coming to America. Brody took his parents as his dates for the Oscars, and appeared with them on the red carpet and at post-Oscar parties.

Plachy has been the staff photographer for the Village Voice since 1977, and instilled in her son the love of performing from a young age. In response to his mother’s wishes, Brody performed as a magician when he was a young boy. That imagination led him to the LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, where he studied drama and met Zarobinski, who studied art.

After high school, Brody had a major role on a short-lived television series called “Annie McGuire,” which co-starred Mary Tyler Moore. His first major film role was in 1994’s “Angels in the Outfield,” a Disney baseball movie.

He has appeared in several major films since then, including Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam,” the 1999 film recalling the 1976 Son of Sam murders, and had a role in Terence Malick’s 1998 war movie, “The Thin Red Line.”

But the role of Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman is what Brody will be remembered for. Szpilman, a Polish Jew, spent six years evading the Germans in Nazi-occupied Warsaw in attics, basements, and anywhere he could find shelter. He was alone for virtually the whole time.

To prepare for the harrowing isolation of the role, Brody cut himself off from the outside world for two months before filming, eschewing a cell phone, communication with his family, and modern music. He also lost 30 pounds and grew a beard. As filming progressed backwards, he gained weight and trimmed his facial hair. He also had to perfect a Polish dialect, and learn the piano (it was not the first time he had to learn an instrument for a role: he learned the guitar for his punk-rock character in “Summer of Sam”).

Brody has said he was pushed to the brink by director Roman Polanski, who won the Best Director Oscar for his efforts and whose mother died in the Auschwitz death camp. He has also said Polanski was the main reason he wanted to work on “The Pianist.” Unlike Polanski, though, Brody’s life has proceeded relatively smoothly. Now, as the youngest man ever to win the Best Actor award, he has a whole community behind him, and the recognition of the whole country.

“He is one of the best actors in the United States at this time. I’m very, very happy,” Thomson said.

Welcome to the discussion.