"So Nicolas liked that, and he said, 'You know, when I was a young man, I watched that movie Lost in America and I saw you yelling at your wife, and it scared the hell out of me.' And I said, 'Okay, that's good.'"

"Albert was like a volcano of emotions," Refn remembers, laughing. "There was something really unique — and threatening. I felt that this guy, eventually, he will kill somebody — so let's make it in a movie."

It's been six years since Brooks directed Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World — his longest hiatus from filmmaking since he first stepped behind the camera — and as of now, he's got nothing in the works. Financed by billionaire Steve Bing, Muslim lost its original distributor, Sony, when Brooks refused to honor an exec's order to change the title. The film was picked up by the now-defunct Warner Independent and released in the dead zone of January 2006. Audiences ignored it and critics mostly didn't get it; Brooks' portrayal of self-absorbed cluelessness was, again, apparently too convincing. He's used to that by now. "I like movies about failing. And sometimes you blur the line, and it looks like you failed."

Still, the wan reception was particularly frustrating after the struggle to get the movie out in the world, and the whole affair seems to have made Brooks wary of returning to the writer-director's chair. "The first act is writing, the second act is filming, the third act is releasing," he says. "If you have to partake in the third act, it hurts the first act of the next one. It's like a prizefight. You get punched."

The best Albert Brooks works are conceptual stunts that cut deep with their unvarnished comic critiques of romantic and familial relationships, the production and consumption of entertainment, and the general American experience. These interrelated subjects form the core of 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America, Brooks' first novel, which was released earlier this year and became a bestseller. As he awaits the January paperback release and promotes Drive, Brooks is filming a role as Paul Rudd's dad in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up spinoff, This Is Forty. And after that?

"I've been thinking I would like to put together some interesting parts as an actor right now," Brooks muses. "I never wanted to be a comedian. I wanted to act. In my younger years, when I was getting offered everything, I was making my own movies. If I start another movie, I'd be out of commission for two years, so while this window's open I'd like to see if something's there.

"I think if I'm going to make another movie, I would find a way to do it at a number where people are okay with whatever I'm going to do." Brooks pauses. "I don't know what that number is. It may be $18."

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