Adam Brody denies that he's suave: "I haven't ever bought drinks for a stranger and sent them across the bar by way of introduction."
It's the kind of brash stunt that his character Charlie pulls without even the remotest hint of irony in Whit Stillman's long-awaited new film, Damsels in Distress. But given that Brody has spent most of his adult life making good first impressions, there's no surprise that he's never felt the need to make such a brash first move. After all, he made the awkward, quick-witted geek Seth the most popular character in the television show The OC and it didn't take long before he was being flaunted on lists of the best-looking men on the planet.
His film career has included turns in Mr & Mrs Smith, Thank You for Smoking and Scream 4. Damsels in Distress is the first in the line of films set to send him into a whole other stratosphere. This summer, he appears as Keira Knightley's deadbeat boyfriend in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World; he dons a moustache and curls his locks to play porn star Harry Reems in the long-gestating Lovelace, about the life of Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace; and he's filming an adaptation of Neil LaBute's play Some Girls, in which he plays a guy trying to make peace with his ex-girlfriends before he gets married.
We start by chatting about Damsels in Distress. The action is set in a fictional college of Seven Oaks, where the students speak using professorial language and a group of girls led by the slightly crazy Greta Gerwig have created a "suicide-prevention centre" to help the depressed to get through college life. There is a lot to get depressed about – mostly the boys, who are more interested in getting laid than a degree. That's where Brody's character, Charlie, sticks out like a debonair thumb, positioning himself as an "intellectual" writing a dissertation on "The Decline of Decadence".
Brody plays the character who most seems to embody the stylised look at rich kids that is the director's trademark. Yet the actor admits that he wasn't first drawn to the film by working with Stillman, who, briefly, was feted as the darling of the American independent film scene after the release of his debut, Metropolitan, in 1990. Stillman's star began to wane after the release of Barcelona in 1995 and dimmed further with the poor reception for the underrated The Last Days of Disco.
"What's funny is that I was sort of a bit uneducated in his stuff," Brody reveals. "I had seen The Last Days of Disco when it came out and I liked it, but I didn't appreciate it for all it was worth at the time. But between getting the part, I watched his films religiously and before I went to make the film, I was a diehard fan of his work."
He sees watching the previous works of the directors he works with as part of the process of getting ready for a role. Neil LaBute recently got the same treatment after he cast the actor in the short Double or Nothing, which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival, and then in Some Girls.
Brody's manner is quite erudite. He gives meandering answers, mostly in an attempt to make sure what he is saying is exactly what he means. These are mannerisms that played into his performance in Damsels. "I think to a certain degree Charlie is intellectual and he is certainly striving to better himself," the 32-year-old says. "But at the same time, he's a bit insecure about his actual standing in life and where he's going. He's probably insecure about a lot of things and I can certainly relate to that. I can't really say if I'm intellectual or the opposite."
Brody never went to college himself. The story is that he persuaded his parents to send him to college in LA but instead he used the money to go to acting school. The parts quickly began landing at his feet and then The OC changed his life. He says all the right things about the show but seems a bit tired of talking about Seth: "I think people look fondly on that show and that character and far from holding it against me are very accepting of that fact." Then he careers off the road: "I don't know. I don't care. I don't even give a shit. I look at that very fondly, but I think there are more interesting things to talk about."
He's far happier talking about Jean-Claude Van Damme. They've just finished filming Welcome to the Jungle together. "That is the most star-struck that I have ever been in terms of working with someone," he enthuses. I idolised him so much around junior high school that no one I've ever got to work with can rival that. It did not disappoint. We would sit on the beach all the time and sit at his knee as he told us stories, some unintelligible, but most intelligible and -both equally funny."
Brody is looking forward to the release of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. "I love that one. That is something where it's a great blend of comedy and melodrama together. It's a wonderful blend of tones. You'll laugh and you'll probably cry and that is quite a call. It's like a curtain call for humanity, at least to America, and everyone besides the two stars is really only just in it for one scene each. I play [Knightley's] boyfriend, who's seen at the start of the film."
The satisfaction with playing characters whether big or small comes from the intriguing way that Brody chooses his roles. Instead of choosing parts based on what they allow him to do and bring to the table, he chooses whole narratives. "I'm less concerned with the character, and more concerned with whether I want to see the movie in the cinemas and like the piece as a whole and I sort of adapt myself into the character. I like to work with someone I admire."
As we finish chatting, Brody reveals he's just finished writing a script that he himself will direct but not star in, at least not in a major role. Without revealing any more than saying it has a 1980s sensibility and is based on a book, he does decry: "I have trouble writing very personal stories from scratch. I sort of infuse my own personality into it a lot, most of my ideas are silly and broad and studio-friendly in ways that I'm ashamed of."
'Damsels in Distress' is released on 27 April