Adrien Brody Plays a ‘Relatable’ Masculinity Cult Leader in Manodrome

Adrien Brody is not interested in the culture wars. It’s fascinating, he admits, “but it’s really tragic.”

“We see how fractured our world is. Look around: It’s not hard to see,” says the Oscar-winning actor from his home in New York. Brody had to dive into these dark corners when preparing for “Manodrome,” in which he plays a masculinity cult leader, and was quick to dive right out. “I tried to put this stuff down,” he admits.

But his character, “Dad Dan,” isn’t the super-serious, nefarious figurehead one summons when envisioning a libertarian masculinity cult. Rather, his is a friendly, hoodie-wearing man of leisure who opens his house to all who need sanctuary. Sanctuary, that is, from the evil, entrapping ways of women and modern society.

“It was important for me to not be a superficially manipulative villain,” the 49-year-old star tells Variety of the part. “I feel like there’s a lot of complexity here. There’s a sense of fatherhood.”

“Manodrome,” which premieres in competition in Berlin on Saturday, follows Ralphie (Jesse Eisenberg as you’ve never seen him), a gym-obsessed Uber driver who’s recently lost his job and is expecting his first baby with girlfriend Sal (Odessa Young). When a friend offers him a lifeline in the form of a group of men who like to help out down-on-their-luck guys, Ralphie takes it. But he soon discovers that his new friends have some pretty specific proclivities, and have all but banished women from their lives.

As Ralphie struggles to reconcile being part of the group while still loving Sal, he also wrestles with his sexuality. The result drives him to extreme lengths — all of which is keenly observed, and even guided, by Dad Dan.

“I wanted [Dan] to be, on the surface, a very relatable kind of guy,” explains Brody. “I think there are a lot of ways in which he feels he’s doing a very positive thing. There’s an underlying sinister quality about his own fascination with Ralphie and watching the simultaneous demise and [Ralphie’s] own identification with his power within, which is something [Dan is] cultivating in all of these men.”

Brody details a “very intense” set in Syracuse, in upstate New York, in the dead of winter, and “a real austerity” that lended itself to “Manodrome’s” severity. He heaps praise on Eisenberg, who was game for Brody’s constant experimentation in their scenes. It’s not the first time they’ve starred in a movie together: Eisenberg had a small role in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 thriller “The Village,” in which Brody starred off the back of his Oscar-winning turn in World War II drama “The Pianist.”

For “Manodrome,” which is being shopped in Berlin by CAA, he delved into various documentaries about masculinity cults in preparation for the role. But Brody doesn’t once invoke the name Andrew Tate — a controversial influencer associated with a dangerous misogynist movement. Tate is currently in police custody in Romania, facing allegations of rape and trafficking, but his enduring impact is undeniable. A disturbing new poll by anti-fascist charity Hope Not Hate revealed that more young men in the U.K. have seen Tate’s material than have heard of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

CAA is shopping John Trengove’s “Manodrome” in Berlin.
Courtesy of Wyatt Garfield

“There’s a lot of hurt, a lot of anger and a lot of need for real, positive change,” says Brody. “So much of what this stems from is — in my belief — a feeling of a lack of control of circumstances, and helplessness, and almost a backlash to feeling emasculated by finally having room for more gender equality in a world that’s been largely dominated by white men.”

His challenge in “Manodrome,” however, was “trying to make [Dan’s] actions somehow feel acceptable and normal.”

Brody is seemingly ubiquitous these days, consistently popping up in the Internet’s favourite TV shows and playing key roles in the likes of “Poker Face” and “Peaky Blinders.” He delighted audiences when he turned up in “Succession” as suave billionaire investor Josh Aaronson, but remains tight-lipped when asked about the character’s prominence in the forthcoming season.

In the last year, Brody also starred in “Blonde,” “See How They Run” and “The French Dispatch.” He’ll reunite again with Wes Anderson on the director’s next film “Asteroid City.” “Any chance that I have to collaborate with Wes is such a pleasure for me,” says Brody. “He’s always pushing the bar higher, and I just love his creativity and his mind. It’s always a really interesting, creative experience.”

The “flow” — that is, the momentum of good projects — is oft-referenced by Brody. It’s all about the “flow,” he explains.

“There’s an expectation that once an individual receives a certain level of fame or notoriety or even possesses a degree of power, that that should always flow. And they don’t always flow,” says Brody. “When things don’t flow, you’re against the current and it’s a struggle to deliver the calibre of work that you’d like to deliver.”

But right now, he says, “There’s been more flow.”

“I love my work. I’ve always loved my work, but I love it more than ever. I have a clearer sense of protectiveness for the work — meaning my time and space and what I want to do with my life — and that is also partially being offered very interesting characters to immerse myself in. One begets the next layer of immersion.”

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