He dreamed of getting away—of finding a place somewhere in upstate New York, the kind of house his dad would point out in the real estate listings when he was a kid. His friends Mark Ruffalo and Vera Farmiga had places away from the city, proving that escape wasn’t incompatible with a Hollywood career. He was dating the actress Elsa Pataky at the time, and he thought they could do the same thing. “I had way too much attention for my liking, and I thought I could retreat, come in, do my work and have this honest… I don’t know why, but I imagined it would be simple.”
Brody being Brody, it was not simple. He was working on a movie in Serbia and poking around at real estate listings online when he found the Stone Barn Castle. The enormous cobblestone-and-cement home, some four hours outside New York City, featured stables for horses and even an apple orchard. Brody was smitten. “I’d been dreaming of something dramatic,” he says. He bought it, and surprised Pataky with the purchase.
They set about on a massive renovation. But the relationship ended before they could move from the guest house to the main building.
It would be three or four years before Brody could move into the main house himself, so intensive was the construction. What began as an escape became an all-consuming project, equal parts distraction and balm. He traveled to India and China to find the right materials. He bought church windows and hand-hewn beams from farms in New York and Pennsylvania and Canada. He had a team re-pointing stones for four years. Free home makeover advice from Adrien Brody: Don’t worry about re-pointing stones. “I employed a group of men to come and chisel away every stone, underground and up above. And then when it’s all done, it looks the same. It is a little bit neater.” That feeling suffused the whole project: “I don’t know what the purpose of it really is yet,” he says. “But it is an achievement.”
And then, five or six, or maybe eight, years ago, he looked up and realized that his day job wasn’t getting any easier. He was still applying the maniacal effort that shot him to fame, but the work no longer seemed to repay his exertion. “There was this protracted period where I realized that that path wasn’t working, for whatever reason,” he says. “I aspired for more, and it felt like my theory of contributing and pouring my blood, sweat, and tears into a project didn’t yield the results. There was a disconnect somehow to what I had done for so long, and it just wasn’t working.” So he stepped back. He finished off the projects he was working on, and said no to the ones that came in. He grew his hair long, and started wearing a beard. He hung out with artists and started painting. He made music. He traveled the world.
Eventually, he came to understand the hobbies he’d thrown himself into less as attempted diversions from acting and more as ways of buttressing his belief in his own creativity—different, and often less painful, ways to channel his energy. “That’s living, that’s not running away,” he says. “It’s being present with something, and trying to create something that endures.”