Even if you didn't know Russell Brand's personal history, you might assume that he probably took controlled substances of some kind from time to time; even during cushy gigs like his hosting stints on the MTV Video Music Awards, Brand is irreverent, dirty, and sometimes shockingly inappropriate – much to the entertainment of his grown-up fans. But it turns out that his acting roles, particularly in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and its forthcoming follow-up, Get Him to the Greek, where he plays a drug-addled rock star named Aldous Snow, are no longer the stuff of art imitating life. When Cinematical spoke to him on the set of Greek last summer, the comedian and actor talked at length about the challenges – and as he saw it, opportunities – to poke fun at his former persona and take the next step in his burgeoning film career.
Rather than simply recounting details about the production, which will no doubt be revealed in due time by the good folks at Universal, the film's distributor, Cinematical has assembled a collection of choice quotes from Brand about his own history as a heroin user, making that funny on film, tackling other on-screen addictions, and finally, finding the right person to play him when time comes to actually tell his own story.
Jonah Hill said there's elements in the film that reflect your own history, so is there stuff that maybe readers would recognize from your Booky Wook?
Russell Brand: Yeah, there is. Because the character is like, you know, a heroin addict, and I'm a recovering heroin addict, and there's sort of things like you know, a really good friend of mine who used to make go and score heroin for me, and he didn't ever want to, which is not nice, to buy heroin, and there's like scenes in this where in a reference from my own life, I once in a threesome accidentally ejaculated onto a friend's leg, and uh, that's being used in this. So yeah, there are direct references to my own life in this film. Flatteringly.
Are you at all, are there any of those things that you're reluctant to bring to this? Or because it's in a humorous context that that frees things up?
Brand: Yes, and also because of the nature of the career I've had in the United Kingdom and Europe as a stand-up comedian, my work is very confessional and autobiographical and of course I've written an autobiography which was kind of one of the defining pieces of work of my career over there. So whilst over here I don't really have a profile, in the UK, this is old hat to me and it's the kind of, that's the music of what I do. So it doesn't have the same resonance for me. It's, kind of anything that would truly be painful I've kind of, people don't know about.
Jonah said that he wanted to do a through-the-butt shot for the heroin scene. What do you think of that?
Brand: I think that yeah, that could be the greatest breakthrough in cinema since Citizen Kane. I think it's going to be a defining shot like Goodfellas through the kitchen, but yeah, through the butt hole. Yeah, I think it could define this movie if the technology can keep up with Jonah Hill's imagination.
Working with Nick Stoller again, how is it working with him now that you've had that Sarah Marshall experience?
Brand: Yeah, I really trust him so it's easy. You know, I trust him as a director. When I was younger, I didn't like people who when I went to drama school told me to moderate or adjust my performance. I just took it as an insult and carried on doing what I was doing, to spite them. And now I've sort of come to accept that oh like Nick's got a clear vision of the overall film and like you know, he knows how to direct my performance so I'm able to deliver and when he says do something, I do it, you know.
How funny is needing heroin?
Brand: It's not funny, I'd like to think. Not at all funny. Really, the least funny thing. If anyone was to sort of try and make it funny when you actually did need it, you'd probably kill them.
How do you make it funny here, though?
Brand: I don't know that we do. Some of the things are like you know, I guess like you build the tension and then you sort of let it off, that sort of thing can work comedically with the release of the tension that's organically through that, a legitimate desire, but yeah, some of this, I think, and obviously the way the film is being cut, it would seem like it would be a blend of sort of drama and also depth to complement the disposable comedy.
Well that authenticity not withstanding how much do you see this like as a pure character as opposed to an iteration of yourself?
Brand: Remarkably, it's incredibly different because what the people that in the UK where I am like saturation-famous, it's like people think of, like when they saw Sarah Marshall and goes oh, he's playing herself, but actually I but I'm the same because I've got the same face and voice. Like, you know what I mean, like Jason was as similar to his actual self as I was, and so was Kristen and so was Mila. So it's just in the UK at least, I'm famous for doing stand up, I'm famous for doing TV and having my own shows on telly and stuff, and radio. The book and that. So for me, if I were saying I'm a rock star called Aldous Snow, it's [like] saying I'm an astronaut called Douglas, you know. You are still a person talking, unless I start, you know, sort of being in a wheelchair or wearing a hat. You know. It's going to be an approximation. No, it's really, really different. It's much cooler, much more controlled, measured. Me, I'm a comedian, so I'm like available in, socially. He's cold, you know, a bit like mercurial and charismatic. There, the similarities end.
Does that perception of you by people make you want to try and find roles that are deliberately dissimilar?
Brand: No. I think that would be kind of obstreperous. I mean, I think like what, you know, I kind of have an idea of the next few things I'm doing and you know, hopefully if I sustain a career and things go well, then perhaps that will become a concern. For the moment I kind of just like getting the money for doing this, so I try not to worry too much. Besides, other people I really, really like, like Woody Allen or Jim Carrey or Richard Pryor. You know, it would be like if Richard Pryor announced that he wanted to play a unicorn. Or "I shall be a mermaid!" You know, so no, I'll just be happy if people will continue to pay me to, you know, not to have to do odd voices.
I saw Arthur up on IMDB. Is that something that you always wanted to play?
Brand: No, they just came to us and goes do you want to do it? And I'm from the same part of London as Dudley Moore, and I love him and Peter Cook and like he's a revered and adored character in my country, and it's a sort of brilliant film, and when they offered it to me I said yeah, all right, I'll do that. F*ckin' hell. Now they're letting us choose a director, we found a writer, Peter Baynham, who did Borat and Bruno's writing it, and it's a dream, really.
It's sort of interesting about Arthur because that movie, the original, came out at the very end of the Hollywood where you could have funny drunks, and now drunks are very much not quite as funny.
It's tragic and sad, it's horrible, they ruin families, but Arthur's a funny drunk. So I mean, how are you handling that?
Brand: We've made him a loveable pedophile. He's just a, you know, he's a lot of fun, just don't really trust him around kids. No, he's like, no you're right, it has to be addressed differently culturally. We've done some funny drunks and that is something that is something that Peter has brilliantly assimilated into his early work at least, and yeah, I think that will be addressed without losing, you know. It won't be lachrymose or preachy, but I think it will be, after it's addressed that alcoholism is a serious disease, not just a quirk.
There's been a lot of talk about your book, doing a movie of your book. And so is there stuff that you're holding back thinking that's so good I want to save it for the--?
Brand: No. Nick Stoller, Nick's sort of stolen all the best bits. If they were to make a movie of my life now, it would be a drab, Warholian, sort of single-shot of me, sobbing in the basin. Which I'm keen to make. So I don't know if we'll do that anymore. Michael Winterbottom was interested in making it and I was of course flattered and thrilled at the idea of working with him, because he's brilliant, but I think now I've got too old to play myself. Of course I've been playing myself for so long, someone else should have a go, and I think Natalie Portman is the man for the job.