Entertainment

Friday 22 September 2017

Russell Brand: Brand recognition

HAIRS AND GRACES: Russell Brand says he has changed his lothario ways thanks to girlfriend Katy Perry.
HAIRS AND GRACES: Russell Brand says he has changed his lothario ways thanks to girlfriend Katy Perry.

It's late on a weekend night -- bedtime, in fact -- and I'm waiting by the phone for Russell Brand to call. Not the first person to say those words, I'd imagine.

He's stood me up twice in the last three weeks. I'm almost certainly not the first person to say those words either. Eventually, the call comes through. It's 11pm Irish time, and 3pm in Los Angeles, where Brand is sequestered in the midst of an insanely jam-packed -- and ash-cloud-disrupted -- promotional schedule for his raucous rocker-behaving-badly comedy Get Him to the Greek.

"Alright Declan mate, how are you?" The poor sod sounds tired, but seems to be mustering as much cheer as possible. Day and Night has to give the man some credit for working so hard to get it up and fake it on our behalf. There will be no "not tonight dear" excuses from him.

"You're in Dublin, right?" he continues. "Every time I go there, it's mental, and I don't even drink anymore. The women are up for it, the men are really friendly ... "

He trails off, as he does quite often during our conversation. Indeed, it's a surprise to find that the gleefully camp, dandyish, show-offy Brand is much quieter, more thoughtful in a one-on-one format.

I was expecting him to essentially give me a condensed version of his stand-up show, replete with hyperactive whooping, swearing and singing, not to mention flowery soliloquies, monologues and rants filled with his trademark idiosyncratic mix of Estuary-tinged babytalk, made-up-gibberish and cerebral, college-lecturer-esque verbosity.

Not tonight, however. Tonight, the 35-year-old comedian, broadcaster, writer, and reformed junkie and sex addict is taking his career very seriously.

That shouldn't come as too much of a shock either; Brand has always been incredibly ambitious, to an extent that his life often, quite literally, depended on it. As he wrote in his 2007 memoir My Booky Wook: "My ambition is the most powerful force within me." His drive to succeed appears to be paying off. Get Him to the Greek is Brand's first lead role in a major Hollywood movie (with more to come in The Tempest and the remake of Arthur alongside Helen Mirren).

In Greek, Brand reprises his role as degenerate junkie rocker Aldous Snow from the 2008 hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This time round, a strait-laced record company intern (played by Jonah Hill) is flown to London to bring a now-washed-up, self-destructive, teetering-off-the-wagon Snow back to LA for a comeback concert at the Greek Theatre.

It's not just the Russell Brand show, as one might assume. There is also some great comic support from an unrecognisable Rose Byrne (from TV's Damages), a scenery-devouring Sean "P Diddy" Combs as a ball-busting boss, and Colm Meaney as Snow's Cockney, and equally louche, crooner father.

"What I've learned in my relatively short time as an actor is that, once in a while, you come across someone from whom you can really learn," Brand says. "Colm is one of those people: you just learn by watching him as a technical actor. What a gentleman and a real professional."

Still, Brand must have felt the weight of expectation on his skinny shoulders to deliver the goods? "I don't feel any pressure now that I've done the film, where it's me and Jonah isn't it, so I feel we share that responsibility," he replies. "I'm happy with it, but it was hard work. There wasn't pressure like taking a penalty in the World Cup; more like pressure in the sense of training rigorously for eight hours a day."

Inevitably, there is a sense that this is the role Brand was born to play -- that of a wild, womanising, uncontrollable, narcissistic, walking talking drug-lab. The man's own battles with many addictions and afflictions (manic depression, bulimia and self-harming amongst them) are well documented, as are his various professional kamikaze missions, such as dressing as Osama bin Laden to present his MTV show the day after 9/11 and, of course, that eensy-weensy incident involving Jonathan Ross and Manuel from Fawlty Towers.

"There's a huge biographical likeness between Aldous and me," he admits. "He's part of a comedic persona that I've used in stand-up and in TV presenting and radio. I guess you could say that I did the research in my decade as a junkie." That decade is a period about which Brand has been remarkably candid, a trait he has maintained throughout sobriety, often to a wince-inducing degree. But does success in Hollywood mean that he can't be as frank or take as many risks as before?

"Well, that's certainly true," he concedes after a long pause. "You do have to be a little more cautious, but hopefully those changes are in alignment with where your life is going anyway. I hope I can always be honest and authentic, but it's certainly made me a little more conscientious about what I say. But maybe that's just growing up as well."

Does he think he's growing up? Another lengthy pause. "I think I am, inevitably. It feels natural."

If Brand is maturing, a lot of that is down to his relationship with singer Katy Perry, whom he has openly credited with changing his lothario ways. The one-time 'Shagger of the Year' award winner (as decreed by a British tabloid) is now in the first monogamous relationship of his life.

They met backstage at an awards ceremony, and afterwards he sent Perry a love poem to woo her. She responded by sending him a photograph of her breasts.

The couple is due to marry later this year. "I can't wait; I'm really, really happy," he states. "She's a good mate and she's a laugh. As I said, I've had a feeling of growing up recently, and that combined with meeting someone that I really get on with it ... "

He trails off once more before picking up: "I'd always hoped that things would change. I didn't want to spend my whole life philandering."

Would he like to have kids? "Well we're getting married, so that would be a relatively natural progression," he responds dryly. "It's quite traditional, isn't it? We all think we're so crazy and wild, and where do we end up? Married with a couple of kids."

Before all of that, he will be back home this week in the UK for the movie's premiere, and rumours had been rife that Brand was set to appear on the last ever instalment of Jonathan Ross's Friday night talk-show tonight.

The idea seems to have been nixed, but it would have been the first time the pair has been publicly reunited since the notorious/preposterous (delete as you see fit) 2008 controversy concerning rude voicemails that they left for elderly British actor Andrew Sachs and then broadcast on air. He hasn't been shy on giving his assessment on the Sachsgate flap.

"As I said at the time, it was impolite and I apologise for that," Brand commented last week. "But as for all the subsequent reaction -- it's like you knock over a glass of water at your neighbour's house and the wife comes down and shoots the dog."

I ask him if he has a bit of perspective on it all now that time has passed. "I had perspective on it at the time," he states.

"It was a bit cheeky and I apologised, and my opinion on that hasn't changed. It doesn't follow me around. In America, it would take 10 minutes to explain it because nobody knows what it is.

"At the time, many of these films that I'm working on were booked and scheduled already. It made literally no difference to my life, except I was on the front of the papers and at the beginning of the news for a while, and wrote a good stand-up show."

As we finish up, I press him on whether he and Ross will work together again in the future? "I think there would be quantum repercussions that may very well tip the earth off its axis, if not cause the Milky Way to dip into itself, were we to get together in the same room," he replies.

On the evidence so far, the chances are that Brand would emerge smelling of roses from that calamity too.

Get Him to the Greek opens nationwide next Wednesday.

Irish Independent

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