EXCLUSIVE: From 'Undressed' to 'StartUp,' a Career Retrospective With Adam Brody

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Adam Brody
Photo: Ray Tamarra / Getty Images

For better or worse, Adam Brody will always be remembered as Seth Cohen from The O.C. The affable and awkward teen is easy to find inside the weathered and wiser 37-year-old Brody, but the San Diego native might never be able to shake his early-aughts pop culture iconography. Despite that infamous role, Brody has had a pretty consistent career over the last two decades, playing opposite Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, being directed by famed playwright Neil LaBute and making guest appearances on beloved TV shows like House of Lies and The League. This month, he’s in the buddy comedy Big Bear, where he gets to sport a pretty mean mustache, and returns with the second season of StartUp on Crackle

With two such diverse roles coming out in the same month and nostalgia for shows like Gilmore Girls and The O.C. at an all-time high, Brody sits down with ET to take a look back on his varied TV and film career.  

Lucas, Undressed(2000)

Rewind nearly 20 years and he was sans ’stache and up for anything. Although Brody was already 20 and “somewhat of an adult,” as he describes it, by the time he landed the role of Lucas on MTV’s Undressed -- an anthology show about modern-day sex in all its many forms -- he was new to acting and new to Los Angeles.

Undressed was so cool because everyone I know was on it,” Brody says. The show since has become notorious for the number of careers it kick-started, including Brandon Routh, Christina Hendricks, Max Greenfield, Pedro Pascal, Sam Page and Taran Killam. “I met people who became my best friends -- or at least my best friends for the next decade -- on that show. Thank god for Undressed.”

Barry Williams, Growing Up Brady(2000)

Growing Up Brady
Photo: Getty Images

For many a young actor trying to make it in LA, much of the decade between the late ’90s and early 2000s was spent at the MTV building on Colorado Street in Santa Monica. Brody describes it as a “hub of 20-something activity” and recalls fondly the many, many auditions he attended there. In 2001, he landed another MTV role, Zack Altman on Now What?, his first series regular role on a show that was essentially the American Pie of TV at the time.

“The truth of the matter is,” he levels, “nothing was ever as big a leap forward for me as this TV movie I did, Growing Up Brady [filmed] in 1999. And even though it was a really silly NBC television movie, before that I’d had two lines on The Young and the Restless, and then I was the lead of this movie I shot every day for four weeks on the Paramount lot. It felt life-changing.”

Dave Rygalski, Gilmore Girls(2002)

Gilmore Girls
Photo: The WB

In 2002, he landed at The WB as Dave Rygalski, Lane’s band leader and secret boyfriend on Gilmore Girls. Brody agrees that while not as significant as that first leap, the fast-chatting mother-daughter sit-dram was a seminal step in his career that likely led to him playing Seth Cohen on The O.C.

“[Rygalski] was one of those characters that in terms of my resume has stood the test of time,” Brody says. “It’s in the top five things people would know me from. But I don't think I was awed at having landed that job initially [because] I wasn't educated on how well written it was. Once on, I loved it, and to this day it's some of the better-written stuff I've gotten to do.”

Seth Cohen, The O.C.(2003)

The O.C.
Photo: Getty Images

While Gilmore Girls wasn’t a direct bridge to The O.C., it certainly didn’t hurt Brody to have that resume booster when pilot season rolled around in the spring of 2003. By August of that year, Seth Cohen was gracing teens’ living rooms nationwide.

“I don't know if it's this generation or all generations, but I had that same affinity for high school movies,” says Brody. “I was so happy to be on a show that emulated 90210 and to have a big pop culture character in my past; I'll probably always be known as Seth Cohen, but that's OK.”

Brody is quick to point out that he’s done a lot of other things since The O.C. -- “It was three and a half seasons and over a decade ago.” In the beginning, it was a perfect fit for him, it was what he was good at and it was what the network and audiences wanted, but his feelings changed in that short period between 2003 and 2007.

“I think anyone who watched the show would agree that it wasn't nearly the same show toward the end,” he says candidly, but careful not to offend. “If you did 10 or 15 [episodes] per season like you do now, it would have been a different animal; I think the quality could have maintained a lot longer. The first season was 27 episodes, and we just burned through so much story. I’d feel that way after 100 episodes of anything.”

Nikolai Wolf, Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Jennifer's Body
Photo: 20th Century Fox

The then-28-year-old was eager to do other projects, anyway, and he was smart enough to use the opportunity The O.C. afforded him to make that next leap. He had taken bit parts in Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Thank You for Smoking while still shooting the series, and then began a string of B-list movies that kept him working and honing in on his craft. One such B-lister -- perhaps undeserving of its rating -- was 2009’s Jennifer’s Body, a high school horror-comedy written by Diablo Cody and starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried.

“There was this big backlash against Diablo,” remembers Brody. “People were already like, ‘F**k her, f**k Juno and f**k Megan Fox,’ and I think that was a little misogynistic. I'm definitely proud to have been in it.”

Brody blames Fox’s marketing campaign, which he feels missed the mark completely -- “[They went] 180 degrees in the wrong direction, and sh*ttily at that.” Cody had just won a screenwriting Oscar the year prior, the film was directed by a woman, Karyn Kusama, and it starred two women who aren't really fighting about guys. “It’s kind of a feminist movie,” he explains, “and Fox Atomic -- the short-lived subdivision of Fox -- wanted to sell it as ‘tantalizing,’ The poster is this terrible R.L. Stine-looking image of Megan Fox in a schoolgirl outfit, which she doesn't even wear in the movie, with a zombie hand sticking out of a desk. There were so many beautiful and hip images from the movie that could have been great posters. And the trailer makes her look like a man-eater. So it didn't deliver on that front, but I guess I don't know that it ultimately would have changed much in terms of box office.”

Deputy Ross Hoss, Scream 4(2011)

Scream 4
Photo: Dimension Films

The next few years represented a transition of sorts as Brody made small but memorable appearances in the movies Lovelace, Damsels in Distress and Some Girl(s). His most notable film role at the time was a part in the fourth installment of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s slasher franchise, Scream -- the first of which Brody thinks is a masterpiece -- as Deputy Ross Hoss.  

“I have an affection for Scream. I have an affection for, certainly growing up, Nightmare on Elm Street. I have a Wes Craven affection,” he says, describing his choice to be part of Scream 4, which was crammed full of stars in supporting roles, as a pragmatic one. “My only regret about that was it was a small part. Fine. The problem was that I was in and out of Michigan for, like, two and a half months, which was annoying. I'd rather have a small part I can film in a few days or a part where you're just in the bathroom for the whole f**king movie.”

In 2011, The Oranges was also released. It was on the set of that rom-com that Brody met Leighton Meester, the beloved and hated Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl. They worked together again in 2014 on Life Partners. Few details are known about their early days as a couple -- and that’s the way Brody likes it. The two wed in a private ceremony in early 2014 and welcomed a baby girl in August 2015.

Billy Jones, Billy and Billie(2015)

Billy and Billie
Photo: Audience Network

At the same time that his personal life and partnership was solidifying, Brody returned to TV with recurring parts on shows including House of Lies, The League and the reality TV farce Burning Love, which was followed by Neil LaBute’s second foray into TV series writing, Billy & Billie. The dramedy about two stepsiblings who try to navigate their romantic relationship marked Brody’s first starring TV role since The O.C. It aired for only one season in mid-2015 on the Audience Network, receiving mixed reviews, but ultimately never found an audience.

“He surprised me,” Brody says of the playwright. As for the show itself, “I don't want to say it was experimental, but it was very much like a play; incredibly talky. I had no illusions about it taking over. As much as I loved it and as much as I had a good time, I also can't and won't defend it in terms of critical response. That said, I'm very proud of it.”

Nick Talman, StartUp (2016)

StartUp
Photo: Crackle

Not long after that series ended, Brody was offered a dramatic role in StartUp, a drug-and-money thriller put out by Sony’s free-streaming site Crackle. The second season premieres Sept. 28 and it has already been renewed for a third, and it’s Brody’s first serious role, both on and off the screen -- he’s producing the show as well.

“It's something your agent gets you when they can't give you any more money,” Brody half-jokes, “but I have come to produce the show in a real capacity now, in that I've spent a lot of time in the writer's room [for this and the next season].”

The show came out of left field for Brody, but he felt it was a good opportunity to work with “a bunch of good actors I really like,” he says. “Ben Ketai, the creator-writer-director, is a really sharp guy and a really good director. Being in Puerto Rico for a full month, and with my family, it was just a great experience.”

This is one of the many things that have changed in his life since getting married and becoming a father – his priorities. “Without seeming too corny,” Brody glows, “I'm the happiest I've ever been. It’s common knowledge that when you get married or start a family your priorities change, and that turned out to be a really good thing for me. I don't want to say anything is more real, and I don't want to say Hollywood and movies are fake -- I think that's such a stupid trope -- but it does allow me put less stock in my status as an actor and the town's opinion of me. I just have other priorities now.”