Adam Brody doesn't mind if you think of Seth Cohen whenever he appears on the screen.
"Honestly, it's really great. I really don't have complaints. It never intimidated me, like 'Oh, maybe this is what I'll be known for' – even if it is what I'll be known for, and in many ways, it will. But it doesn't intimidate me. It doesn't disappoint me."
Fans of The OC will be relieved to hear it. But it's his role as Abe Applebaum in The Kid Detective that we're 'here' on Zoom, on opposite sides of the world, to talk about.
Abe Applebaum, a former child sleuth, is now a washed-up thirtysomething who can never regain the highs of his glory days. But when a naive client brings him his first real 'adult' case, to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend, Abe sees a way back into the limelight and out of his slump.
"The concept is obviously very hook-y. It's high-concept. It's catchy. You get it instantly, and you want to explore that. It's an easy premise to do an elevator pitch on. Kind of everyone's interested in a great version of that. But delivering on it is another story."
Luckily for Brody, he did deliver. The Kid Detective is as funny as it is wrenching, dark and crackling and slightly surreal. But most excitingly, it's totally unique, something Brody credits to "the voice of [writer/director] Evan Morgan."
That The Kid Detective follows a former star who hasn't been able to translate his success into adulthood isn't a theme lost on Brody, though the metaphor "works more for the audience than me."
Before you think he's denigrating it, he adds: "And that's great. Any way it lends to them relating to this character now is good – if we're essentially talking about my lower visibility since Seth Cohen," he adds with a laugh, dispelling any awkwardness the point necessitates.
While it served as a shorthand to which Brody could relate, he didn't specifically lean on the "'I played Seth Cohen'" metaphor in The Kid Detective. "There's a lot of goodwill for that character. I can feel that when I popped up in Shazam!. It felt like a lot of people were happy to see me and/or Seth Cohen, and that felt good."
However, it wasn't always that way. "Certainly, at the time [of The OC], I was more choosy in regards to that character: 'OK, how can I kind of differentiate myself in other work?' But now I don't think of it at all in that way. When I'm doing something, I'm not thinking, 'Well, I was Seth Cohen, so I've got to view it through that lens.'
"It's been a good thing that he's not at the forefront of my mind when I'm working."
Ditching the lens of Seth Cohen, it turns out Abe is more like Adam Brody anyway. "It's the chicken or the egg, a little," Brody says, revealing Morgan wrote the script for him. "I didn't find that I had to infuse much backstory. We talked about it a bit, of course... the backstory and stuff.
"But, I don't know how many layers as an actor I'm actually able to hold in my head at one time, in thoughts. And sometimes it's just more musical. If it's emotional, I'm feeling a tone or a key. It's not about layering seven different, you know, fictional histories on top of each other. I don't know. I'm sure the best actors can.
"As for what parts are me and what parts are Abe? I played what was on the page, but he wrote it for me. So who's to say?"
It begs another question, one that, probably, only another Jew would ask: Does Jewishness fit into his work — if he thinks about it at all? "I do. It's been an evolution for me. I knew a couple of Jewish kids where I grew up. I felt like an 'other'. Not so much that — I felt like them, but with this weird religion that was very foreign to me and that I didn't feel I had very much connection to.
But then he moved to LA at 19. "I made a lot of Jewish friends. I was like, 'Oh, I do feel a kinship, and there is something cultural, a little, that I'm recognising.' That was exciting because I felt like, 'Oh, I am embracing this a little.'"
What makes Jewishness unique — the foundational theme of our chat — is it can be secular and cultural, and there's an ease in finding kinship with others. Brody nods enthusiastically. "Yeah, yeah! Yeah! It's a deli-ness. It's a fidgetiness. I don't know," his words fade into a laugh.
Knowing the chicken-and-egg scenario with Adam and Abe makes the gut-punch of the ending (which we won't divulge) more impactful. Brody goes for a different metaphor."It kind of pulls the rug out from under the psychology of him — and also the audience.
"I definitely intellectualised the ending a lot, before and since. As for playing it, we sort of shot it towards the end, and it was kind of weighing on me the whole movie. And then we got to it, and I just used shorthand stuff that makes me feel — you know what I mean? I have enough… I don't know. I won't divulge my motivations," he says.
"I wasn't intellectualising it in the moment, clearly. But we certainly did intellectualise it a lot. That is sort of the point of the movie, besides having it be a good time and a mystery. To me, it's a sneakily deep movie that reveals its depth over time. I'm still finding things in it I didn't notice until now.
"It's just a very, very late coming-of-age. It's the story of a stunted person who never confronted adulthood and trauma at the time, and is having a very late confrontation with it."
But it's also funny. Not ha-ha funny, but subversively funny. It pokes fun at the tropes of kid-detective shows and leans into its own absurdity. It's one of the things that drew Brody to the movie. "I just saw the vibrancy, the intelligence, the dark sense of humour, really, in Evan's writing. I saw the script when only the first 30 pages were written. I didn't know where it was going to go.
"And this has been the way for me in my entire career, too. I don't think I'm unique in that." Brody considers things like plot, themes, and character when he considers a role, "but mostly, I can tell within three pages of anything, even if my character's not in it, if I'm excited or not.
"That's not to denigrate anything I've passed on, but it's so hard. It's a diamond in the rough, to find a voice that's truly unique."
So what would Brody's next role be? "I saw that Stephen Gaghan is doing Barbarian Days. It's a memoir of a lifelong surfer. I really like that book, but also I just want to get paid to surf around the world," he admits.
As a performer though, Brody wants to try slapstick. "I'd love to do Dumb and Dumber-style, Step Brothers-style, MacGruber-style… just really broad. If it leaned into a little more Ed Wood or Fear and Loathing, or a little more arthouse slapstick, even better."
One thing Brody knows to look for is the element of surprise. "I don't even care about the genre. It's clever writing. I don't want to boil it down just to surprise, because there's other things, but I think any good writer, or with music, it is surprise that perks up your... it's something fresh and new that you didn't hear coming.
"A real individuality. Like a real personality. You know, you can have a pretty generic genre thing done really well with a lot of clever plotting inside it. It doesn't have to be 'oh, no one could write like this.'"
We've landed on Shazam! without even mentioning it by name. "I thought it was very clever. What I really like about that one is it doesn't feel bloated. Everything has to be so effing bloated now. It's perfunctory. And I just don't think Shazam! is that. It's very nostalgic, but not just for superficial reasons."
"To say I'm choosy – it's when I can be. With independent projects, I'll do the ones I like. And I really, really like Shazam!, so I'll get to do that. The point is, a lot of what I do is for practical reasons.
"Very few actors can actually just do what excites them. You know, to be that person sounds great."
The Kid Detective is available on all digital platforms from March 29
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