His footloose and fancy free days now officially behind him, Russell Brand talks frankly to Paul Byrne about going straight, joining the Taliban, and jumping out a window with Mike Tyson.
We’re in Dublin’s Merrion Hotel, and Russell Brand seems to have taken a shine to local cameraman Daniel. A major shine.
“You’re a handsome man” Russell asks. “I’m not coming on to you, in any way – I’ll just make that clear now. But I just wanted to check if you’re a single man…?”
A redfaced Dan answers in the affirmative.
“Hmm,” Brand continues. “I presume that you’re a heterosexual lad.”
“Well,” Brand ponders, rolling a thought around in his head for a few seconds. “I might be pushing you in the general direction of a woman by the end of the day. That’s where I get my kicks now.”
Promiscuity by prognosis. Brand invites Dan along to the Dublin premiere of his latest film that night.
“These days, I can engineer it,” he smiles, “and that’s about all.”
The reason being, of course, that, since January, the notorious ladies man is engaged, to American pop princess Katy Perry. He’s also quite busy getting on with an unlikely career that began as an MTV host and has gone on to include no.1 movies, a best-selling autobiography (fans will be happy to know that a follow-up to My Booky Wooky is coming out in September), tabloid canonisation (giving them everything from two-in-a-cubicle sex romps to inducing a near-heart attack in Manuel from Fawlty Towers), and a seemingly endless supply of witty one-liners that are part Oscar Wilde, part Keith Richards.
We should have seen it coming, of course, Brand having lived the sort of life that even David Lynch would find pretty wild. More of which later.
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Today, we’re here to talk about Get Him To The Greek, a spin-off from 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, both films co-written and directed by Nick Stoller, with Brand returning to the role of fading Brit rocker Aldous Snow. Jonah Hill plays hapless record company dogsbody Aaron, given the unenviable task of, well, getting Aldous to the Greek theatre in LA on time, all the way from London, via an appearance on the Today show in New York. Think My Favourite Year crossed with Midnight Run, crossed with Almost Famous. It’s a comedy that’s almost great, Brand once again a natural as the slovenly, sexually-charged, drug-humping rocker. Onscreen and off.
Sequels are rarely equals, of course, and spin-offs are notoriously difficult to get right – having given us the likes of Elektra and Supergirl. So, did Russell Brand hesitate before signing on the dotted line here?
“I thought it would be all right,” he replies. “Initially, they were going to make it be about a different rock star. What it was, Nick said that he really liked this character, and he wanted to make another film about him. ‘I really like your relationship with Jonah; let’s make a film about that’. They could have said that it was another rock star, and just done another movie, but it seemed silly not to keep the same name. I see them as highly distinct films. What about the first Pink Panther movie? Peter Sellers weren’t the main character.”
True. And TV spin-offs such as Frasier and Rhoda worked pretty darn well. It was making Forgetting Sarah Marshall that gave Brand his first taste of Hollywood, and, when I spoke to him back in April, 2008 for that movie, he admitted that, on the first day of shooting, he got a Reggie Perrin moment. He was ready to just walk off into the sea, and disappear.
“Yeah, I did get that Reggie Perrin feeling,” he nods. “I get that all the time. I’ve had it today already.”
Life would seem pretty sweet for Russsell Brand right now – he’s been very successful in just about everything he’s turned his charm to, and he’s about to get married to the girl of his dreams. Surely that’s brought him a level of Zen-like contentment? Apparently not.
“Nah, I’m still crazy. I had a chat with Mike Tyson – I was interviewing him for this documentary I was doing – and he said, ‘Man, I could jump out this window at any time’. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I could too’. I still have it in me to just go, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore’. Just walk off, go to Afghanistan, join the Taliban, see how it works out.”
It’s telling that Nick Stoller and co-creator Jason Segel decided to change Aldous Snow from an author to a rock legend the moment that they met Russell Brand. All that bohemian blood coursing through his veins – how could they not? Given that Brand is about to settle down now though, is he still that guy who bowled Nick and Jason over?
“Well, I guess there’s a distinct difference between being in a monogamous relationship and the hedonistic freedoms of a single man,” he answers, “so that is obviously a distinction. But I think I will always have access to the idea of revelry and bacchanalia, escape, loss of self, and not conforming. I hope so, mate, because if this is all there is, it ain’t enough.”
Our own Colm Meaney pops up in Get Him To The Greek, as Adlous’ father, their relationship, naturally, being a troubled one. It must have been easy for Brand to tap into. That wild history includes an estranged, and strange, father, who, having fled the family home when his son wasn’t yet one year’s old, took the young Russell on a trip to the Far East, where he introduced him to prostitutes. Raised by his mother, Brand had to move in with relatives when he was nine, as she underwent treatment for breast cancer. At 14, this self-confessed “very lonely boy” became bulimic. At 16, Brand left school, by which time his mother had lymphoma, and was living with a man that Russell didn’t like. Is it any wonder that the boy became a major drug addict and alcoholic? That he was expelled from the Italia Conti Academy, from RADA, and from MTV (after turning up for hosting duties on September 12th, 2001 dressed as Osama bin Laden)?
As Woody Allen once said, comedy is tragedy plus time, Brand’s retelling of his traumatic childhood having raised many a roof. Was it fun though, or just a long line of cries for help?
“No, it weren’t fun,” answers Brand. “At the time, it was bloody awful. In retrospect, it was fun. Like horror stories and battle scars, they provide anecdotes, but while you’re living them, they’re a pain in the arse.”
Talking about pains in the arse, how does Brand now feel about the media hysteria that surrounded his and Jonathan Ross’ prank phonecall to then 78-year old actor Andrew Sachs, considered a national treasure, fittingly enough, for his sterling work grinning and bearing abuse from Basil Fawlty for twelve weeks back in the early ’70s? Back in October 2008, Brand and Ross’ behaviour was deemed to be outrageous, and brought in a whole new spate of broadcast regulations at the BBC…
“I don’t think anyone thought it was outrageous,” says Brand now. “I think some people thought it was rude, to leave that phone message, and other people just thought, who cares? The only people who were acting as if there was some kind of hysterical phenomena was The Daily Mail and a few other media outlets. But they weren’t truly outraged. I bet you there was no one in The Daily Mail going, ‘What?! They left a message?! Oh, God, noooo! Why? There is no God!’.
“If you use that kind of hysteria, then what is left of paedophilia? What is left for the horrors of our world, for the corruption, for the ecological disasters, if you squander your emotions on minutiae?”
Back in our earlier interview, when I spoke to Brand about his possible futures – playing it right, and becoming Johnny Depp, or Keith Richards; playing it wrong, and becoming Peter Stringfellow – he spoke of a desire to settle down. “If the right man or woman – let’s limit it to that – came along”. Was he still surprised when Katy came along? Real love always sideswipes its victims…
“Yeah, it’s like a road accident,” he smiles. “‘Aaaah! God! What’s happening?’. Flashing lights, hysteria, upside down, and carved out through a mangled window, I emerged to a second birth from the wreckage. So, yeah, it was very surprising.”
All good then? Despite the Reggie Perrin moments…
“Yeah, I’m in love with someone, and that’s really, really good,” he finishes. “But, you know, I could still wonder off into the sea. Leave my shoes all neat on the beach.”
Words – Paul Byrne
Get Him To The Greek is now showing in Irish cinemas