Last weekend I got to participate in a roundtable interview with Russell Brand for the very funny comedy Get Him to the Greek. Since we’ve been covering the film extensively over the past few months (here’s my set report, a bunch of new images, on set interviews with Jonah Hill, Russell Brand and writer/director Nicholas Stoller) I’d like to think most of you are familiar with the film and are excited to see it next weekend. But for the three people that have no idea, watch this awesome red band trailer and read the synopsis. Trust me, the film is worth your hard earned money.
Anyway, while some actors/comedians might shy away from their past, or try and push an interview towards certain subjects or agendas, Brand answered every question with brutal honesty. Subjects ranged from his past drug use to his recent battles in England over some prank phone calls. No subject was off limits. Also, the guy is incredibly sharp and very funny. If you have the time, I really suggest listening to this interview rather than reading the transcript. It’s a good one. Hit the jump to check it out:
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. Get Him to the Greek opens this Friday.
Question: I love your scarf.
Russell Brand: Thanks very much. Alexander McQueen designed it.
So you’re enjoying this publicity campaign thing that you’re on.
Brand: I don’t mind these bits. It’s quite nice. It’s like a dinner party where I get too much attention. (laughter)
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.
I am curious though, 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.
Russell, there are so many elements in this movie that obviously mirror your own life, right?
Brand: There’s a lot of elements.
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 he said it was…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, like addiction being a drug addict and that you have to…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.
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 by being…sort of the exposure that I’ve had I think initially when I first became famous in the United Kingdom it was helpful because it meant there wasn’t a spite of “this bloke’s a drug addict” “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 like things that was…you know in the words of Morrissey I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.
In the trailer there’s a few sequences…in the commercials they’ve been showing on TV, 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. Was there certain scenes or…I heard the video…there’s a really funny video that didn’t make it.
Besides the video were there other sequences that you were sad to see cut out?
Brand: In a sense. Actually, it’s very true… when I was younger if I had to make some teli thing myself or something to send to TV stations I would always make them too long. Now…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.
Well, it’s interesting because you have this stand-up background, so you sort of have your own thing that you do, and then coming to a movie it’s very collaborative, but beyond that, you’re giving a performance and then Nick takes it and does what he wants with it.
Is that hard for you? Is that sort of hard to let that go?
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 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. That.
Brand: Yeah, I got really badly beaten up and thrown through a door.
Brand: 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.
Brand: Then I went to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. I wanted to get…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.
I was reading about some incident that happened regarding prank phone calls in England.
Brand: Oh yes.
And I was sort of wondering the different….seem to me that wouldn’t be a big deal over here. And I was just wondering like what’s the different 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 Murdock – so the private owned media 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 like the person who’s answering…now 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. He played the character called (inaudible), which I loved. 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…the main news again Russell Brand, I think, good, yeah, that is the main news. About time.
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.
But isn’t that the nature of comedy? If you’re successful you’re challenging the structure of the…I mean it’s…I would think it would be…you could be…actually succeed.
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.
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 like…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.
I’m curious, with the success you’re having right now is there a lot of debate, for you, what is my next project or what is my next choice because it might impact the success I’m having? Or are you sort of like I’m going to stick with my gut with…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 ‘s 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.
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.
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…what’s 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 like I…so 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.
Well, it’s funny because Arthur came out right at the end when you could be a cute, funny drunk.
Brand: Yeah, exactly. You can’t. It’s serious.
You can’t be a cute, funny drunk anymore. Now it’s like everybody has to change now. You have to learn at the end of the movie and really go….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.
I imagine there’ll be a really different sort of feel to the movie because in the original, now that you have a really attractive older woman as your nanny, that’s probably a different…
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.
That sounds artistically valid.
Brand: I think that should be in the movie!
I think so. The studio will really like that. (laughter)
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.
And it’ll put his eyes out.
Brand: Yeah, they’re going to struggle with that.
Back to the movie, what part was the hardest part for you to shoot?
Brand: I don’t like it…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 fucking drug. I went intense on people.
That was a good scene though. I think that was one of the best scenes in the film actually.
Brand: Did you?
Yeah, because it showed another…it showed actually how drug addicts are like when they’re not getting the drug, like how they’d react to somebody that is just…the drug comes first.
Brand: Drug comes first, fuck everything else. Yeah for me it’s tricky to revisit that…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 what…yeah, I mean to revisit, 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.
So you’re a really nice guy?
Brand: I’m pretty nice now. Pretty nice, out of selfishness.
Do you feel a sense of, I mean a greater sense of sympathy for the folks who are sort of corralling you and trying to get you into things like Jonah’s character? Or are you just kind of like I’ll get there when I get there?
Brand: I sort of became aware of the irony while making this film that there people that have to fulfill that function in my own life. That there are people who, please Russell can you please? No, I’m just not getting up. I can’t be bothered. No I won’t. There are people that have to do that job. Not seem to be awareness. I’m sort of amused on it. Whimsically.
You didn’t change your behavior though. (laughter)
Brand: Actually, not. Like I was in smoking jacket. Oh, the irony. Like something that Dorothy Parker might have thought about and just flicked some cigarette ashes on the floor. Pick that up.
Russell, one last question. Are you affiliated to any charities that are related to…
Brand: Yeah, Focus 12. They’re a drug rehabilitation center when I myself got clean. I’m a patron of that charity in the U.K. and the David Lynch Foundation for Transcendental Meditation. I’m affiliated to these causes. But also the on-going revolution, but that’s more subversive. We can’t admit to that because otherwise we’d all be killed.
We’ll put you down for Breast Cancer as well.
Brand: God knows I’ve contributed to that.