Adrien Brody on Houdini and his American dream

Adrien Brody on Houdini and his American dream

Adrien Brody dives deep into the stormy waters of Houdini’s personal life and public crusades in Houdini.

By (Reuters)

Published: Mon 1 Sep 2014, 1:09 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 8:31 PM

Adrien Brody, wrapped in chains and canvas straightjackets, dives deep into the stormy waters of illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini’s personal life and public crusades in the television miniseries Houdini.

The two-part series, which debuted on U.S. cable network History, charts one of America’s first international superstars in an existential drama about death, spirituality and the charlatans who prey on people’s fears.

The 41-year-old Oscar-winner for 2002’s The Pianist spoke about how Houdini influenced his own acting career, the illusionist’s deep rationalism during the early 20th century spiritualism movement and why a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant helped defined the modern American dream.

What drew you to the Houdini story?

I was infatuated with magic at a very young age. I started learning magic and dreaming of becoming a magician as early as 6 years old, and Houdini was a big inspiration. Acting followed this introduction to performance. I see parallels and how it was a stepping stone to understanding how to make something your own, making a role your own, making a scenario and connecting with it. It all stems from developing and creating this illusion, which I learned at a very young age.

Did this role change how you look back at yourself as a child?

It has more made me re-evaluate myself as a man. Mainly because I witnessed what this man endured on a smaller level, with the risk involved, his determination, the discomfort he must have experienced, the pressure of all his routines and his unrelenting drive to overcome these obstacles.

What did you learn in particular?

What I didn’t know as a young man and as a child about Houdini was that he had many failures along the way and disappointments. He ultimately differentiated himself from other magicians of his time by becoming an escape artist and nobody did an escape routine like he did, so he figured out how to rise above the rest.

Can you speak about the spiritual tension within him?

We all have different forces pulling us in different directions, and deeply he wished to believe in the supernatural.

But the miniseries focuses much on Houdini’s campaign against the spiritualism movement of the 1920s.

I feel that set him off course. He was successful in combating it, but I look at it like it was an ongoing legal battle he was fervently right about and would prevail, but the toll was too great on himself and, to some extent, to his career and creativity.

What’s enduring about Houdini’s story? His name still widely resonates some 90 years after his death.

He represents that you can overcome and surmount most obstacles if you put your mind and heart to it, and most people don’t have the will and the endurance that Houdini possessed. It’s a mental thing at the end of the day. If you feel that you cannot endure something, you won’t endure it. That drive is extreme but very admirable.

There is something to be said for that, but there is also something to be said for a reminder that this country allows these kinds of miracles to happen and more so than any other place in the world.

I’m an example of that. My mother fled Hungary during the revolution in 1956. She immigrated to the United States. My parents worked very hard, and we knew nobody in the film industry. With encouragement and discipline and a degree of tenacity of my own and luck, I managed to achieve the impossible.

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