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Adam Brody Talks ‘The Kid Detective’ and Revisits Seth Cohen

The actor chats about his days as a teen heartthrob and about the release of the movie he’s been making since 2012

AP/Ringer illustration

In the early 2000s, Adam Brody was everywhere: on Fox’s The O.C. as Seth Cohen, a teen heartthrob who happened to play Magic the Gathering; on the big screen in movies like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Thank You for Smoking; on posters on the walls of teen bedrooms.

After The O.C. ended in 2007 after only four seasons, Brody faded from the spotlight. But he wasn’t out of the business. Instead, Brody spent the late aughts in more under-the-radar projects, like 2007’s In the Land of Women and the 2009 cult classic Jennifer’s Body. Throughout the 2010s, Brody also appeared in small roles in Sleeping With Other People (2015) and on television shows including The League and New Girl.

But with a cameo in 2019’s Shazam!, a striking performance in 2019’s horror/comedy Ready or Not, and a brief appearance as Marc Feigen-Fasteau in FX on Hulu’s Mrs. America earlier this year, Brody is back, even though he never really left.

His latest film, The Kid Detective, comes to select theaters Friday. The Kid Detective, written and directed by Evan Morgan and starring and executive produced by Brody, is a lot of things: a satire, a comedy, a mystery, and an examination of small-town culture—specifically about how you might not know someone until you find out what’s in their backyard. But most importantly, it asks: What if one of the Hardy Boys was still a detective in his early 30s, but had never solved an “adult” case and was generally kind of a mess? And what if, one day, a teenager comes to his office and asks him to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend?

Ahead of the theatrical release of The Kid Detective, Brody spoke to The Ringer about his attraction to dark comedy, Seth Cohen, his love-hate relationship with superhero films, and how Shazam! and Ready or Not have impacted his career—and likely helped The Kid Detective, a project he’s been eyeing since 2012, get made.

How did you get involved in The Kid Detective?

It’s been a long time coming for me, actually. Evan [Morgan] actually approached me, and this is like in 2012. He sent me the first act and didn’t know quite where to take it yet, but I loved it already. We talked about it and then I didn’t hear from him for a year and a half. Then I was like, “All right, well, I don’t know what happened to that.” Then he sent me the finished screenplay. We started trying to get it made right away. A lot of people really responded to it, but it’s very hard to get the money for independent movies. It’s also kind of boring. If you’re pitching an independent film, you don’t know who you’re talking to. Sometimes they have money. Sometimes they don’t. A lot of times the part that I don’t like is they don’t even know film … They come from oil money or something and they want to get into it. You’re pitching your vision to somebody that doesn’t really speak the language. This journey has been pretty weird because after trying for five, six years I was like, “It’s never going to happen. Let’s just cut it up. It’s kind of a long screenplay. Make it six episodes. Let’s go pitch it as a show. At least we can take a bunch of meetings.” Then low and behold, this money came in and we’re making it.

With postproduction, we’ve been editing it all year. Film festivals have been mostly closed down and so we didn’t really get a chance to do that. Then Sony bought it, I don’t know, a month ago. Then last Monday, they go, “Hey, we’re going to put it on 1,000 screens, 850 screens in a week and then a bunch in the U.K. Here’s the publicity department. Talk to them, they’re going to cut a trailer.” So here we are, I’m doing press for a movie.

You didn’t know the movie was coming out until when?

Almost a week ago. It’s super weird and I want to be optimistic about it and I am ... It’s so interesting and unlike anything, any road that any movie I’ve been on has traveled and we’ll see. But I’m pretty happy about it, I have to say.

Did your involvement as an EP on The Kid Detective make you think more about doing behind the scenes work like directing or writing?

Yeah. This is by far the most soup-to-nuts involvement I’ve had in anything. It was a thrill … I feel like very much a part of this top to bottom.

Were you shocked when you finally read the ending after knowing only the first act for several years? I watched the movie as a two-hour movie. I was shocked by the ending, but I couldn’t imagine knowing the first act of the movie and then not knowing the ending for a few years.

I don’t know about shock. It’s definitely memorable. I won’t give anything away, but there’s some images and a speech that has just stayed in my mind from the first time I read it. This was one of the screenplays that where the more I read it, the more I liked it. Oftentimes, the first impression is really great, “Oh, this is ... That’s cute. That’s a surprise,” and then maybe you get the part or maybe you’re going to make it and you dig into it and you’re like, you start finding where it’s lacking. It might not be quite as rich on third and fourth read. Whereas this, I have to say and even while filming it, I mean, Evan’s given us a lot of thought and there’s a lot of subtexts there. It’s deceptively deep, I think.

He definitely has a very strong perspective that you feel throughout the whole thing. For me, I couldn’t help but think of Harriet the Spy when I was watching it because that’s the mystery kid that I grew up with. I watched Harriet the Spy and read Nancy Drew. Were there any kid detective stories that you were thinking of?

You know what? No. Funny enough, I never actually had my boy detective or girl that I really read a bunch of. I mean, didn’t do the Hardy Boys, didn’t do Nancy Drew, didn’t do Encyclopedia Brown. I would almost say Scooby-Doo is the closest.

I was also thinking Scooby-Doo, but I didn’t really want to embarrass myself, so I’m glad you said that.

If anything, Scooby-Doo. Although I wasn’t pulling from it. The town itself reminded me a little bit of the Peanuts town, and certainly there’s Mayberry and there’s Twin Peaks, those elements too. But I don’t know why I just kept thinking Peanuts. I’ve listened to a lot of Vince Guaraldi, who does all the music for all those Peanuts movies that is so beautiful and melancholy. I pushed that a bunch for the temp score and then they modeled a lot of the score on that. It does have a little Peanuts DNA.

Something I noticed about your projects is that a lot of the film and television you’ve done—especially recently with Ready or Not, Mrs. America, and Promising Young Woman, and even The Kid Detective in its own way—are female-centric. Even earlier movies of yours like Jennifer’s Body and In the Land of Women, too. Has that been a conscious choice?

No. Not at all. Not at all. I’m not an activist, but I do feel that I’m pretty aware and my wife [actress Leighton Meester] helps me a lot. My wife is a feminist and has been for a long time, so she helps me a lot. Although I think we’ve all had our eyes opened even more so these last handful of years, but we’re all still learning and certainly I am. I like to think of myself as a feminist. I don’t know if I fully live up to that or not. But as to why all the female-centric stuff, I’m not sure. I’m just speculating and it definitely isn’t a conscious choice on my part, but I have a teen heartthrob background, if you will. You know what I mean? I come from teen drama which is more female-centric than male, probably.

You’re one of many internet boyfriends in Promising Young Woman. Can you tell me anything about your role in it?

In that first trailer, you get the gist of my role, I believe. It opens the movie and it’s sort of one of the “nice guys.” It has a sense of humor throughout, which for me makes it feel less like a lecture and more risky, kind of dangerous entertainment. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and thrilling and maybe hard to watch, and has a very dark sense of humor. This movie has a sense of humor throughout the whole thing. That’s what I gravitate towards in almost anything. I just always gravitate towards the humorous stuff. Most great things have a sense of humor, even if they’re dead serious.

Even The O.C. was kind of revolutionary because it was like, “Oh, here’s this really funny character on this teenage drama.”

Yeah, absolutely.

I rewatched The O.C. back in May when it came out on HBO Max, along with a lot of other people. My take on Seth was different than it was when I was a teenager.

I bet, I bet.

He’s actually kind of annoying and mean, and very judgmental. Did anyone tell you about their new read on Seth?

I have had this conversation with a few people. I haven’t seen it since it aired. But I should watch it, I should. At least some of it. I totally understand that about Seth and I can even see it without seeing it again. I mean, I don’t recall him doing anything brave and I don’t just mean physically brave.

He went on the roof to fix the ...

Is that brave to fix a satellite? Were there any episodes where he sacrifices anything?

Maybe because Ryan? But I don’t think he sacrifices anything for Summer.

When did he stand up for anything?

He stood up on the kissing booth.

And I believe he said, “You got to … like, stand up for me.” I guess that’s a good self-empowerment moment? It’s been a long time, but I’m sure I would concur with you.

After The O.C., comic books and superhero movies started to take over pop culture. I think the show, and Seth Cohen specifically, certainly had an influence on that. What do you think Seth Cohen would think about comic books and superhero movies being so popular now?

Maybe happy, probably thrilled, and probably trying to champion some more graphic novel underground stuff. Maybe he’s annoyed that all of a sudden, the jocks are all taking over the nerd space. I’d honestly have to go back and reexamine his psychology. As for me, I think it’s mostly really cool. No, I don’t know. I take that back. I think I’m totally conflicted.

I’m interested in all of it. But then there’s a bigger conversation about depth in storytelling and layers, and intellectual curiosity, and also appealing to the masses. There’s fucking no difference between Batman and James Bond and Tom Clancy for that matter. On one hand, they’re all just like military. They’ll support the military-industrial complex and the patriarchy.

You haven’t allowed yourself to be typecast. A lot of people who were on shows like The OC are going to play that character forever, but you’re at this point where you’re playing fuck boys and assholes. Has it been difficult for you? Do you have to reject a lot of roles?

What is a fuck boy? I guess it’s fairly self-evident but ...

It’s like, I don’t know. I don’t even know. Maybe your character in Ready or Not is a fuck boy, I would say. I don’t know. I cannot define it now that you’re asking me.

Fair enough. But you’re saying that I’ve diversified my roles? Even that has not been on purpose. I wish I had the clout to go, “I want you to do this next, and here’s what I’m thinking next, and here’s my 10-year plan.” But the truth is we got two goals. The more base goal of like, “Oh, I just want to earn a living and be close to my family.” And then the next goal is, “Yeah, I want to be artistically fulfilled,” and to do that I’m much more concerned with who’s writing it. Who’s directing? Who’s the storyteller and what story IQ am I in the middle of? If that’s a Seth Cohen type, so be it. And if it’s not, great. I think fortunately in my case, I also don’t specifically only like that character, although I’m not opposed to playing that type. I’m very comfortable with it.

You didn’t really appear in any movies with huge visibility post-The O.C. until Shazam. Has appearing in such a big movie changed the roles you’re getting offered now?

Very much. There’s no question in the last decade since The O.C. I’ve been much less visible ... Shazam! was certainly the most visible thing I’ve done in a long time. It was nice to see what seemed to be a lot of goodwill towards seeing my face again. I don’t live or die by what people think—I have enough self-esteem and enough of an inner life. I’m comfortable in my own skin despite what the internet says. But still, it was very nice and heartening to see that in general, people seemed to have a very nice reaction seeing me for the first time in a long time.

People loved you in Ready or Not. They weren’t prepared for that.

Even friends of mine. I have a lot of actor friends, and I don’t tell them about most of my stuff, but even they have happened upon these things. It’s been nice. I do feel like maybe I have a little more heat because of it. We’ll see what that happens. I mean, I think if Shazam! and Ready or Not didn’t exist, Kid Detective might not have.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Carrie Wittmer is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with bylines in Vulture, Consequence of Sound, and Harper’s Bazaar. She tweets at @carriesnotscary.