- 19 Aug 10
Debauched comedian Russell Brand has decided to conquer Hollywood, via his latest movie Get Him To The Greek. He explains why playing himself on screen is more challenging than you might imagine, talks about finding true lurve with Katy Perry and discovering the joys of living clean...
“Look at the actuality of being Russell Brand. You don’t really have to do much, do you? You sit around and work through an agenda that people put in front of you – so I do a couple of interviews, I meet up with you – the actuality of being Russell Brand is made up of many things.”
Sitting in his Dublin hotel suite, Russell Brand is busy being, well, Russell Brand-ish. He’s “knackered” or so he says, but even crashed into a couch, in the middle of the biggest promotional tour of his career, the lifelong West Ham supporter is anxious for World Cup updates. He has national interests to consider - “We just don’t do well in tournaments”, he sighs, “this World Cup they’re all edgy and jangly like disconnected cables” – but he’s keen, also, on our behalf, that South Africa, who are currently beating the French, retain their lead. As it happens, the host nation triumphs 2-1.
“You see?” he grins. “What goes around comes around.”
Between football news, there is the small matter of Get Him To The Greek, Mr. Brand’s new movie. Following on from well-received supporting roles in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Bedtime Stories and St. Trinian’s, this latest comedy to emerge from the imprint of mega-producer Judd Apatow marks Mr. Brand’s ascension to Hollywood headliner. The film, which casts Apatow regular Jonah Hill as a beleaguered record executive attempting to escort a bad-boy British rock star (Mr. Brand, naturally) to a lucrative gig, has already taken $51 million at the US box office.
“It’s all a bit of a change,” says Brand. “I mean in America I’m not famous on the telly. If they know me at all, I’m the bloke from Forgetting Sarah Marshall or off the MTV awards. They don’t have any expectations of me. But when I go on chat shows over there it usually goes surprisingly well. Judd Apatow is a mainstream success and your Leno or Letterman shows are even more mainstream. And they seem to get it. Or at least they’re interested enough to wonder ‘what’s this character up to?’”
If we weren’t sure that Russell Brand could travel before, the success of Get Him To The Greek - a vehicle tailored around Brand playing a version of Brand – proves the point.
“There are similarities between the character Aldous Snow and me,” notes the star. “We are very similar looking gentlemen. And there are certain corollaries – you know the decadence and all that stuff. To be honest, there are worse things to be accused of. I mean all the comedians I like best – Woody Allen, Richard Prior, Steve Martin, Jim Carrey – all started out in movies playing versions of themselves. So that’s my plan for the next few movies. I plan to be like Russell Brand.”
I wonder if Brand, who is, after all, a classically trained actor – or was until Drama Centre London expelled him for stabbing himself in the chest and arms in response to a poor review – won’t get bored with playing people like Russell Brand?
“I don’t mind,” he says. “I don’t really care that people say, ‘Oh, it’s just you being you’. Acting is being able to create a certain mood or moment again and again when you’re not in that mood or moment. It’s not that hard to go (adopts Geordie twang): ‘Hello mate, I’ve come a bit late today’; anyone can do voices. But making this film, for example, it was hard to pretend to be suicidal when I was feeling alright really. And it was hard to pretend to do heroin when I haven’t done any for seven years. Pretending you’re in love with someone you don’t love and pretending you hate someone you get on with – that’s what acting is all about.”
Next up is Arthur, a remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore film which will see Brand heading up a cast that includes Nick Nolte, Jennifer Garner and Helen Mirren (in the role made famous by John Gielgud).
“I was listening to a podcast with Michael Palin talking about Cook and Moore the other day,” says Brand, excitedly. “And he’s introducing a clip from Michael Parkinson and it’s Cook talking about Dudley in Hollywood making Arthur. And I suddenly think, shit, I’m making Arthur. I’ve been listening to Cook and Moore all my life and now, fucking hell, I’m Arthur. It’s humbling. But as it is, you don’t end up acting like it is. I’m like, ‘Oh can you tell him I’m not doing the costume fitting that day because I’ve got a lot on and I’m going to have to move the read through to this time’. People think you’re being really difficult but you’re just trying to be practical. I mean, you have kids right? But you don’t go around getting all emotional about it every minute of the day. It’s always the same thing being famous. It’s brilliant. But you don’t think so day to day.”
It may seem like Russell Brand snuck up on us but, at 35, you could hardly say he was an overnight success. A late bloomer, his troubled youth – sexual abuse at seven, his mother’s cancer diagnosis a year later, bulimia at 13, years on LSD, cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and crack – would delay a promising acting career and later shift many copies of My Booky Wook, his 2007 autobiography.
“It was so incremental,” he tells me. “I remember doing that Big Brother programme and feeling a burgeoning sense of something. And then I was in the tabloids and then the book came out. So you get used to it gradually before you realise anything is going on. And then there’s the various scandals and stuff.”
Ah yes, “the scandals and stuff”. In recent years, the star has become synonymous with furore; he’s the guy MTV fired for dressing up like Osama bin Laden on September 12, 2001; he’s the one that was running around with Manuel’s granddaughter. I wonder if he ever regrets his frankness, if he ever wishes the general public didn’t know quite as much about his intimate affairs as they do?
“Never,” he cries. “I mean, all of the stuff that’s in the book, all of the things I’ve talked about, I don’t see that stuff as personal. There are some things that are personal to me and I keep those locked away safely. The stuff you mean, I just look at as material for stand-up. It’s like once I make the decision to talk about something, then I’ll mine it for all it’s worth.”
He insists that “the stuff we’re talking about” is all done with. The scandals, he says, were over the day he met singer Katy Perry; the couple have been together since September 2009 and were engaged earlier this year.
“To be honest,” he says, “I was growing up anyway and it was all getting a bit boring. I mean, it’s a bit draining that whole lifestyle I had. Don’t get me wrong. It was exciting being a single man and to have lots and lots of access to single women. But after a while, it’s as boring as a pipe and slippers. I think the reason marriage has survived as an institution is that it’s really nice being part of a team or partnership. Friendship with other humans is quite good really. So after a while I was ready for change. I was worn out with my way of life. I wanted continuity. I wanted some kind of stability.”
He smiles a big goofy smile: “And then suddenly I met someone who really, really made sense to me. So in the end it wasn’t a logical decision at all. I didn’t sit down and think about it because it happened overnight. Before I met her I was leading the same lifestyle I had been for years and the next day I didn’t ever, ever do it again.”
Contrary to recent tabloid reports, the pair are not, as yet, planning to spawn fabulous looking children: “I’m still really excited about her. I’ve still got loads of getting to know her to do. To introduce another person into that excitement would just be weird and confusing at the moment. I’m only one man, you know?”
Beneath the tomfoolery and the ironic clothes, meeting Russell Brand allows you to square the jester in leather trousers with the Russell Brand who wrote to The Independent to condemn Israel’s 2009 assault on Gaza and to The Times to protest against the recent Iranian trial of Bahá’í leaders. A sensitive chap at heart, he is passionate about vegetarianism since converting aged 14.
“It’s all about animals for me,” he says. “It wasn’t about health. I mean, I lived on cheese and Penguin biscuits. I just watched the documentary Food Inc, and it’s barbaric, isn’t it? There are only 13 slaughterhouses in the whole United States. Churning out 36,000 a day in one facility. It’s not right, is it? I mean, it’s not for me, but when you see that organic guy who kills cattle humanely, it’s sickening, but I could live with it. Say 10% of the population has to have meat. If all the meat they ate was handled that way, it’s manageable. It’s not ideal. But you can live with it.”
Right now, in addition to his animal welfare concerns, he has a wedding to worry about.
“It’s scary because I don’t know what to wear,” he says. “I don’t know where it’s going to be yet. We’re only going to take about 50 people. I see it as a small wedding. I don’t see it as being a magazine cover event. I imagine I will dress rather well for the day but I can’t imagine what I would wear at my wedding. It’s tricky because that’s the sort of thing I’m going to have to think about on my own. I mean, how’s that going to get done?”
He panics: “I don’t want to look like a dickhead at my wedding!”
Get Him To The Greek is on general release.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 14 Sep 23