Actor Brady Corbet is having the time of his life

Just a few years after he turned in a pair of dynamite supporting performances in two of 2011’s best films, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, Brady Corbet (pronounced the French way) is riding the busiest and most creative stretch of his young career. Recently that includes the IFC Films-released Simon Killer, a disturbing character study in which Corbet (in his first real “adult” role) stars as the film’s titular character, a brooding, lovelorn sociopath-in-the-making who goes off the rails in Paris. Corbet shares story credit on Simon, which he and his close friend, director Antonio Campos (Afterschool), shot without a script while both were going through especially brutal breakups. The result: A raw, visceral and risky exploration of misogynistic impulses and a divisive cause célèbre at Sundance in 2012. 

Simon is a document of a very troubling time in my life,” Corbet says, “but in a way it’s a film that I’m the most proud of, both because of my creative contribution to it, and performatively I got to flex my muscles in a way that I hadn’t in a few years.” After a few days of doing press in New York for Simon’s theatrical release, Corbet went back to Panama to shoot Paradise Lost, a drama about Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, starring Benicio del Toro and Josh Hutcherson. “It’s been a while since I’ve done a big movie, and I almost forgot how much better you get treated,” he says of his rare foray into studio waters. “Massages on the beach of the most beautiful island I’ve ever been on in my life. It’s not an art house movie, but it’s definitely a very artistic film. The director [Andrea di Stefano] is a really soulful, lovely, beautiful guy.”

"It’s been a while since I've done a big movie, and I almost forgot how much better you get treated. Massages on the beach of the most beautiful island I’ve ever been on in my life."

I first met Corbet at a party in Los Angeles about seven years ago. He was around 17 or 18 then, and had arrived with some mutual friends, all filmmakers, everyone older than him by at least a decade. This being the Hollywood Hills, there was the obligatory gaggle of pretty young actresses hanging around, as well as a sprinkling of A-list movie stars and directors, and Brady seemed to be on friendly terms with all of them. That fact in itself wasn’t especially surprising; by then Corbet had already made something of a name for himself in the indie world thanks to standout performances in Thirteen and Mysterious Skin.

What was striking was how much genuine protective affection they all had for this towheaded kid with the face of a Renaissance cherub. We somehow ended up in a spirited, occasionally heated discussion of contemporary Austrian filmmaking, specifically the work of Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl. Corbet spoke of his two cinematic heroes with a thoroughness and heady intensity that belied the fact that he hadn’t even finished high school. After an hour of geeking out with this unfailingly earnest cineaste who always looked you in the eye and who absolutely adored movies for all the right reasons, it was easy to easy why he had so many self-appointed older brothers and sisters looking out for him. 

Brady Corbet

Brady Corbet set adrift on the Pulaski Bridge in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Soon after, Corbet took a fearless leap of creative faith in his own abilities. After starring opposite Michael Pitt and Naomi Watts in his idol Haneke’s 2007 English-language remake of his earlier masterpiece Funny Games, Corbet somehow managed to convince the film’s producer, Chris Coen, to put up a healthy amount of cash to fund his debut as a filmmaker on a short film called Protect You + Me. Corbet then lined up Darius Khondji, one of the best cinematographers alive, to shoot it. They did it because they loved him, but also because the obsessively observant young upstart was clearly a natural director. The faith paid off with a work of formal sophistication impressive for a first-timer (let alone a teenager) that received raves when it premiered at Sundance the following year.

These days, Corbet is hardly in need of his many guardian angels. Along with finishing up post-production on another acting/co-writing effort, a Norway-U.S. co-production called The Sleepwalker (“a haunting film that’s kind of the feminine answer to Simon Killer in a lot of ways”) and setting to work on his music-video reel (including a cinematic love letter to the expressive power of dance set to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Man on Fire”), Corbet is about to embark on his most daunting and risky gamble to date. As soon as he wraps Paradise Lost, he heads back to Paris to begin prep on his debut feature as a writer-director. And it’s a doozy: a WWI-era period drama called The Childhood of a Leader that he plans to film in both English and French with no genre hook or titillating graphic content.

“It’s about an American family that has to go to France for the Paris peace conference,” Corbet says. “But it’s really a dark fable about this little boy coming of age during a very politically charged period in world history.” Corbet is well aware that to many it might seem like something of a tough sell. “I’m trying to find new and evocative ways to talk about it and make it sound not so dry because it is very formal, but it’s almost a thriller. It flirts with being a thriller for sure. Yeah, it’s a strange film. I guess I’ve always been passionate about anything that feels difficult.”