Fall Arts: Albert Brooks, Gangster


If you only know Albert Brooks from his prophetic comedies (Lost in America, Modern Romance, Defending Your Life) or other neurotically droll performances (Broadcast News, Finding Nemo), it might seem hard to envision the actor, filmmaker, writer, and recent Twitter conqueror’s darker side. However, he absolutely kills it (spoiler alert?) as a chillingly unruffled gangster foil to Ryan Gosling’s getaway-driver antihero in Drive—a synthesizer-sexy, impossibly cool neo-noir from Bronson director Nicolas Winding Refn. Brooks called in from the film’s setting of Los Angeles, where he’s no fan of car culture.

For many New Yorkers, driving can feel like a luxury. You’re talking to someone who grew up here [in L.A.]. When I was a kid, you made a plan, and the plan was about after you arrived. Now you make a plan, and it’s about how you get there.

Speaking of which, congrats on surviving Carmageddon. It was empty, exactly like the [1984] Olympics. It was fantastic! They should close the freeways down once a month and make it a bicycle lane, or run a marathon, or have a farmers’ market. It changes the whole feel of the city. I don’t think anybody has to go anywhere on the weekend enough that it ruined lives.

So you’d vote for Carmageddon Fridays? Yeah! I’m dead serious. I tweeted that, and then I got people from Rio saying, “We do it here.” I’m thinking, “Well, look at their bodies.” [laughs]

Drive isn’t your first display of onscreen villainy, but it’s still fun to see you play the heavy when you’re associated most with comedy. Is that part of the appeal? If you’re a good actor, you can’t even measure the difference between funny and anger. They live in the same emotions. We all know that clichéd, blond-haired German that hijacks every flight in every disaster movie. Once you see a person like that, your gut says, “I know what’s going to happen.” In real life, people who go off the tracks are really charming. You’d have a beer with them. What you have to do to play a nasty guy in a movie is do something nasty. If I shoot you in the ear, you don’t want to fool with me anymore. Nicolas said that when he was younger, he saw Lost in America, and when I yelled at my wife, it scared him. I thought, great!

Your new novel, 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America, is a sharp, funny, and depressingly believable vision of our future. How do you keep from obsessing over mankind’s folly? I guess I try to take the little details and make a living out of it. [laughs] When I think about something enough, I try to make it into something I can then show you. That keeps me sane. If I didn’t have an outlet for it, I’d probably be sitting in a dark room by now.

You originally joined Twitter to promote your book, but you haven’t signed off yet. I’m doing it because I’m still enjoying it. I comb the news every day, and it gives me a chance to say something when I’m angry. What I love about it is that you get all these comments back, and people are critical: “How dare you!” How dare I? Hey, unfollow me! There’s now an online heckler like you used to get in a nightclub. But it’s fun, I’m still enjoying it. I’ll know it’s dangerous when it keeps me from writing in a long form. Then I’ll know it’s cancer.

‘Drive’ opens September 16

(Film District),