Russell Brand on ‘Get Him to the Greek,’ getting over addiction, and getting on with his career
By Todd Gilchrist
HollywoodNews.com: Although Russell Brand has appeared in several successful films and twice hosted the MTV Video Music Awards, he’s still largely an unknown quantity to many American audiences. But the British comedian and actor is trying to change all that, and his latest film, Get Him to the Greek, affords him his biggest starring role to date. Hollywood News joined a small group of journalists at the film’s recent Los Angeles press day where Brand candidly chatted about his work in the film, the parallels between himself and his character’s self-destructive drug use, and his ongoing search for new ways to find success while challenging the conventions of moviemaking, comedy, even culture itself.
[Note: Although “Hollywood News” is used to distinguish questions from answers in the text below, our journalist was just one of many reporters asking questions of Brand.]
Hollywood News: Are you enjoying this publicity campaign thing that you’re on?
Russell Brand: I don’t mind these bits. It’s quite nice. It’s like a dinner party where I get too much attention. (laughter)
Hollywood News: You don’t seem like the type that would shy away from attention.
Brand: Well you say that but actually if this was a dinner party I’d [say] I don’t want to go. Sign me off. Say I’m not well. Because my job is showing off, socializing I just consider to be more work, you know? It’s just some work. It’s that thing where I have to talk, isn’t it? Yes, it is. Well, we’ve got to go. And you kind of listen as well. I like that also. I do like listening.
Hollywood News: When you do something like a Letterman or Leno or Conan, whatever show, how much do you prep for your segment or do you sort of improv it the whole time you’re going?
Brand: Well the shows impose some preparation on you as part of their own preparation because they need to be secure that there will be content. But myself, I do not do any preparation. Like, what do you want to talk about. I go, I don’t know, anything. And then they go all right, what about this? I go, yeah, yeah, that’ll be alright. And then like but me I get very adrenalized and scared I suppose before a performance and I think that energy, that fight or flight energy is translated into neurological activity that I can then translate into anecdotes.
Hollywood News: Russell, there are so many elements in this movie that obviously mirror your own life. Was it challenging for you doing this in a sense that you know you’ve got the drugs and everything, and there’s the idea that you might relapse?
Brand: No. I didn’t think I would relapse. It was interesting, actually, the props person who gave me pretend cocaine to take in one scene which I don’t think was in the movie was himself 21 years clean. And I go, “what is this?” and it looked like cocaine and I had to snort it right up my hooter and he goes “this is organic matter.” That’s something that you read on a Nestle label. What is organic matter? Oh nothing. It just killed some kids. What? Yeah, so to answer your question, I’m in like a daily program of recovery and everything so one day at a time I’m alright. But doing them things it’s more the emotional stuff when you get all like angry or shout at people, but if your body don’t know that you’re not serious; apparently you can tell your brain any old information. It would just respond to it. If you just keep telling your brain that’s why that power of positive thinking which some people say is mumbo-jumbo and perhaps they’re correct, but apparently if you just fill your head with positive, it’ll all be alright.
Hollywood News: Well, doesn’t the amount of candor that you’re able to have about your past, does that sort of like give you some control over it or does the extent that people may feel comfortable asking you about even more intimate details?
Brand: It means I have to take responsibility to where I want to draw boundaries about what I actually consider to be private. But I’m kind of comfortable doing that. I think the exposure that I’ve had I think initially when I first became famous in the United Kingdom was helpful because it meant there wasn’t a spate of “this bloke’s a drug addict” or “this bloke fucks all these women” because I was just making jokes about all those things already, so it kind of made me some kind of incorruptible, indefatigable, indestructible force. So it was a good idea. And also I think it transposes those things from being things that make you sad to sort of stuff that makes you laugh and all of those things. There’s some stories I tell on stage and they’re funny, but you know in the words of Morrissey, I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.
Hollywood News: In the trailer there are a few sequences that aren’t actually in the movie, and Nick has said there’s a bunch of stuff that didn’t make the final cut. Were there certain scenes you were especially sad to see cut? For example, we heard there’s a really funny video that didn’t make it.
Brand: Oh yeah, “I Am Jesus.” Welcome to the church of me.
Hollywood News: Besides the video were there other sequences that you were sad to see cut out?
Brand: In a sense. Actually, it’s very true that when I was younger if I had to make some [television] thing myself or something to send to TV stations I would always make them too long, because I was vain and I’d go “all of it’s brilliant.” And now I think like it’s good to be succinct. So because I’m actually genuinely pleased with the film, I think it’s good. I think they’ve done a good job. I would have done it really different because I sort of would have made me much more funny. They made me dead sad in loads of it. But they seem to know what they’re doing better than I do. I hope. We’ll see if the film’s a hit. Otherwise I’m going back into the edit and do the Russell Brand version, which is just different shots of me just looking out like this. So there is stuff that I think is really, really funny but I can’t question the job they’ve done with the movie because I rate them people. I think Nick’s a talented man, so.
Hollywood News: Because you have this stand-up background, is it hard to let go of your performance in a film where so many other people have control over what you’re doing?
Brand: It is because, as you say, as a stand-up comedian you have this sort of absolute authority once you’re up on stage and you can just go nuts and I have done lots of time. Sometimes I get in trouble with the police. When I was a drug addict, I got really beaten up on several occasions because I was just thinking, let’s say this now. It’s what I believed and sometimes I knew I was right about what I was saying. I was definitely, definitely right about the nature of consciousness and the nature of culpability that the way we’re all socially culpable for each other and you can’t demonize certain individuals even the most extreme criminals you have to take social responsibility. People don’t want them kind of ideas in a comedy club. They just beat you up. I was saying we have to take responsibility for the notion of pedophilia. But I was unable to articulate in a way that people thought was acceptable. Their response was much more to do this to my leg. Luckily I was on quite a lot of heroin that day. Didn’t hurt. What was interesting was watching the blood go “whoosh” to the beat of your heart pulsing literally.
Hollywood News: Wow.
Brand: Then I went to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Edinburgh is a good place to get heroin in Scotland. And I go to these kids, go get me some heroin lads. I give the 40 quid upfront. Never pay upfront! There are very few places you can make advance heroin payments. We’ll be delivering the heroin. Always no money down for heroin. Installments possibly, yeah. HP—high purchase.
Hollywood News: I was reading about some incident that happened regarding prank phone calls in England. It seems like that wouldn’t be a big deal over here. What’s the difference between doing the kind of stuff you do in England and here in the States?
Brand: This is difficult for me to answer – it’s not difficult it’s just complicated. Here it is. That prank phone call, it was not the nature of the phone call itself. It was the nature of socialist construction of the country I’m from. We have a thing called the BBC. The BBC is publicly funded. The privately owned media wanted to destroy the BBC because it’s brilliant and the private owned media – mostly Rupert Murdoch – wanted to destroy the BBC. They don’t like me or Jonathan Ross at the Daily Mail, a powerful newspaper in the United Kingdom. They don’t like us. We’re both from working class backgrounds. I’m a former drug addict and instead of dying, I’ve gone on and fucked everyone and made loads of money. That’s not the story they want. Drug addicts are dead in gutter – that’s drug addicts for the Daily Mail. “What! He’s fucking who?!” it’s confusing for their message. Plus I’m innately anti-establishment in my behavior and stance, so they want to destroy me. Then the thing we did that was wrong that we did was we left a rude answering message on an elderly man’s phone but in my head he was still the character he played on the sitcoms 30 years ago. I don’t think of the reality. I just saw this man in a white waiter’s jacket holding one of them silver things like that. And that’s who I was leaving an answering phone message for, one of them silver platters. So like the thing is, I had sex with this dance troupe and one of that dance troupe was the grand-daughter of this man. I was explaining this on the radio actually in quite a funny way, and we phoned up Andrew Sachs and ended up leaving this message. It was very silly and juvenile but actually funny. So like the newspapers as know, you’re a journalist, are dying. People don’t need these papers no more, so people get news from other sources, so newspapers need to campaign to remain relevant and they have to have opinion. So they manage to push these opinions, they have to campaign and so there was this perfect storm. Jonathan Ross, they don’t like him earning so much money. Me, they don’t like what I represent. They don’t like that he was an old-style comedian attacked by sort of younger folk. So it became this conglomerate of lunacy. But to be honest, I found it amazing. It was like a sociological experiment. I like it if the news begins “Russell Brand;” I think, good, yeah, that is the main news. About time.
Hollywood News: Is that the vanity in you then?
Brand: Yeah, I’m narcissistic. I’m working on it because I recognize that the self is a sort of construct it’s all going to dissipate into nothing, isn’t it? If you take it too seriously, you’re fucked.
Hollywood News: But isn’t that the nature of comedy? If you’re successful you’re challenging the structure of conventional society.
Brand: I think I am because as I remember I used to be a penniless junkie. And now I’m not. Something’s going right. I’m happy with it.
Hollywood News: It seems like you’re getting some enjoyment out of it.
Brand: Getting some good enjoyment and I feel like I’m expressing myself. There are compromises, because when you’re stand up you just do what you want. You have to sort of trust other people. I don’t generally like doing that, but you know, there you go. Basically things are alright.
Hollywood News: With the success you’re having right now, is there a lot of debate what is your next choice because it might impact the success you’re having? Or are you sort of like, I’m going to stick with my gut because it’s been working?
Brand: Yes, I did the latter because I know what I’m doing next. I’m starting Arthur in July. The Dudley Moore movie, you know, like that billionaire guy got married for money or choose love, fairy tale. So I’m playing Arthur. I’m up for that. And that starts in July. I’m doing it with Helen Mirren. She’s got an Oscar already, so she must be brilliant. That’s the way I see it. So like that’ll be good I think. So I’m doing that. I’ve read another book. It’s 85,000 words. It’s boring writing on your own. Finished it and that’s coming out soon as well. So that’ll be happening and I’ve got loads of things I’ve already shot. This thing where I’m the Easter Bunny called Hop. That comes out next year. I’ve got another thing called Despicable Me or Evil Me or something. I’m in that and that’s coming out. The Tempest which I’ve done with Helen Mirren, that’s already been shot and coming out. The I’m making a film that Adam Sandler’s producing where I play a con-man posing as a priest called Bad Father, set in the south, which is here in the states, that I’ve got to make next year. So I’ve got all sorts of different things. I can’t really do stand up though because of the autonomy in the control and the authenticity it affords you. So things are all right as long as nothing goes wrong. I hope I haven’t jinxed it.
Hollywood News: Do you feel compelled to test your own boundaries in terms of doing things that are more dramatic or at least dramatically different from what you’ve already been doing?
Brand: Not yet, because to be honest with you, say you’re the best comic actors ever, right? Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams. All that is proper movie stars, it’s not that they go, oh and this week he’s a French hunchback. You want them to be doing stuff where you recognize them at first at least, you know? And this is my first significant part in a movie, first lead role, eh? So let’s see if this works, and then like Arthur I think I’ll stay within that pallet. I can act, you know? I went to drama school. I can pretend to have a different voice and different height, different head. All of these things are possible. They’re art. This is the best thing to do at the moment.
Hollywood News: Going back to the Arthur thing for a second, how much are you taking from the first movie or are you guys doing your own path?
Brand: Very much our own path. I mean as demonstrated by the decision to have the butler as a female nanny played by Helen Mirren. So that’s already a distinction. We’ve taken some of the best lines from the script, but even that I’ll go, hmm, it’s dodgy doing that. Like there’s some just such amazing lines in it that – “oh how did you end up being a prostitute? My mom died when I was 6 and my father shot himself when I was 12. So you had 6 relatively good years?” I wanted to keep that. What can I say? But the spirit of it like you know Dudley Moore, he’s sort of innocent isn’t he? So you’ve got to have that innocent vulnerability. That’s got to be maintained and the sort of sadness of somebody that’s a drunk or whatever. And the optimism, the affability and all that. Keep all those things. But it’s sort of different because it’s a different time and look what’s happening economically and all these things. A billionaire. Wish fulfillment and he can do anything. He’s got so much money. I like that sort of stuff.
Hollywood News: Well, it’s funny because Arthur came out right at the end when you could be a cute, funny drunk. Now it’s like everybody has to change now. You have to learn at the end of the movie. So are you going to have to do that or are you going to still be a cute, funny drunk?
Brand: Yes, no. You can’t be, as you have correctly observed, attitudes towards alcohol have changed now. Now being a drunk is, “hey, he’s a loveable party guy! I think he’s dead!” It’s really sad that someone is drinking. So there has to be sort of a more sophisticated approach to the problems of alcoholism, to which I’m actually sensitive as a person in recovery. But I don’t want to lose the fun. I like when also in Arthur was it like you’re the guy with all the money, right? Yeah. What’s it like? It’s brilliant. I don’t want to lose that. Like you don’t want to lose that. But like yes, you have to be a little more responsible. Particularly because like studios and things are big conglomerates and that if they’re responsible you can’t have people around pacing around spreading the wrong message. Everyone’s got to remain conditioned citizens at all cost, but for God’s sake don’t think.
Hollywood News: I imagine there’ll be a really different sort of feel to the movie because now that you have a really attractive older woman as your nanny, that’s probably a different sexual dynamic.
Brand: Yes, it’s a very different dynamic isn’t it? Because that’s the thing about Helen Mirren is she’s a powerfully sexual animal even into like a part of her life where that would not be typical. What I’d like is for her to give me a bath and I’m planning for that to be in the script. You know when you find some women, I don’t know how it works with homosexuality, but with me, what it is is I want women like older to sort of look after me a bit, but then it goes a bit sexual. First it was “come on, I’m really hungry”. Get in the bath. Oh you silly boy. Just wash it properly. And then it gets all sexy. That’s what I want.
Hollywood News: That sounds artistically valid.
Brand: I think that should be in the movie!
Hollywood News: I think so. The studio will really like that (laughs).
Brand: Oedipus. They will love this pitch. This we’ll go in there as a gang. Look, we worked on this and it made sense then and it will make sense in the movie.
Hollywood News: Back to Get Him to the Greek, what part was the hardest part for you to shoot?
Brand: I have to shout at Jonah at one bit and that made me feel a bit bad because like the bit where I go, give me the f*cking drug. I went intense on people.
Hollywood News: That was a good scene though. I think that was one of the best scenes in the film, because it showed how drug addicts are when they’re not getting the drug.
Brand: Drug comes first, fuck everything else. Yeah for me it’s tricky to revisit that, [but] obviously that’s the reason I was able to hopefully bring authenticity to that is because I’ve been in that situation loads of times. When you’re a drug addict, people, they’re always tipping your drugs down the toilet like that’s going to help. You just gotta go get more. Inconvenient. People tipping stuff. Emptying envelopes. Dropping little bags. It’s a nuisance. Pack it in because you’ve got to have something for therapy. You’re not going to have like a Archimedes moment of oh, yeah. Eureka. Thank God you tipped them drugs down the toilet. Also I noticed the water level rose, which is interesting as a side note. So I’ve had that stuff happen loads of times, so I remembered it and it made me angry, you know, but I don’t like to get into that part of my character too much as a human being anymore because it makes me feel sick. Say, do you know? I don’t know if anyone’s in recovery from drugs or alcohol but when you shout at someone like say like you’re trying to get your phone to work – and like and it’s even worse in your fucking country, like trying to get like the phone to work and like you go to the person, oh I’ll put you through to my supervisor. No, I want it done! Like if I do that now I feel really bad. I feel like in my stomach – awful. So it’s sort of now I think crippled by some sort of cosmic empathy. So now I can’t be mean even when I’m pretending, I feel a bit bad.