It was almost 2 a.m. when we talked to Russell Brand on the set of Get Him to the Greek. He had been shooting all night and still had a few hours to go until he wrapped for the day, but the British actor was still highly entertaining even though it was so early in the morning.
Q: Tell us about the scene out there with you on stage.
Russell Brand: It’s a climatic scene of the film “Get Him to the Greek.” Given the location, I hope I haven’t spoiled the ending.
Q: What happened to your arm?
Brand: I fall from a building.
Q: In what city?
Brand: I don’t want to ruin anything.
Q: Word might get out that you shot scenes at the Greek.
Brand: Right, that’s going to be difficult to avoid. I saw big signs on my way into today that said ‘To the Greek.’ They were Los Angeles city signs, but then the locations signs were stuck to the city sign so there was a sign saying ‘To the Greek’ stuck to a sign that said, ‘To the Greek.’ I thought in a way that is unnecessary. It’s like writing the word apple on this apple.
Q: What is it like for you to come back to this character after “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”?
Brand: It’s really good because it’s more fun to play him on drugs because now it enables me to relive the better aspects of my own drunken hell without some of the terrible consequences.
Q: You have a bit of a history with drugs and alcohol, so did you make suggestions to the script?
Brand: I think it was written with my personal problems in mind so yes, I was able to bring a lot of that to the script.
Q: Are you okay with revisiting it on film?
Brand: Yeah, because I went through all of those years with a crack and heroine addiction I might as well get some money out of it. It cost enough. It was expensive. You get beaten up and go to crack houses. There’s a down beat in a crack house.
Q: How many lines do you decide you need to go through in a scene like you were just doing?
Brand: It is an arbitrary process confined only when people feel the requirements are met – Nick [Stoller] or Judd [Apatow], usually Nick, are happy.
Q: So you could go all night doing one scene?
Brand: Yes, that is a possibility that I bear in mind at the beginning of each day. This could go on literally forever. Sometimes I curse my fertile imagination.
Q: How does a music performance differ or is similar from a stand up comedy?
Brand: It differs almost entirely because as a music performer you stand on the stage saying, “Look at me. Look at me. F*ck me I’m so sexy.” As a comedian you stand on stage saying, “Oh this awful thing happened. I banged my leg. Don’t look at me.” There is a bit of embarrassment and humiliation. Whereas a musical performance is about self grandization.
Q: You did a song in “Sarah Marshall” but did you know you were going to have to do a musical as Aldous Snow?
Brand: No, that would have been madly presumptuous. I’m more than grateful to have had the opportunity to do this.
Q: What’s your favorite song that you’ve recorded?
Brand: “Bangers, Beans and Mash” written by Jason Segel. The title of the song is neither a euphuism for sex nor an English dish both of which Jason is unaware of I imagine because otherwise why would he have written it. You don’t eat bangers, beans and mash. You don’t want ketchup getting in the mash. You want gravy with mash and bangers. Also a working class euphuism for t*ts is bangers as well so these things play in my mind.
Q: So it’s a metaphor but it’s the wrong metaphor?
Brand: No, it’s not a metaphor because it has no reality other than its own very specific notion so it has no comparative of value. It is not a metaphor because it’s just itself. It can’t mean anything else.
Q: You’ve shot a couple of music videos already right?
Brand: I have mate, yes.
Q: What do you do in the videos? Is it you on stage?
Brand: March about the desert pretending to be Christ and sort of bring peace to Africa.
Q: You’re shooting in L.A., Vegas, London and NY. Do you have a favorite city you’ve shot in?
Brand: I’ve learned over the course of doing this to do films set in my house between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon and where I play a little boy called Russell who wears pajamas and plays with a cat for brief periods worthlessly in broad daylight while being fellated. Not by the cat – hang on it is the cat.
Q: Is that a euphuism?
Brand: No, again it’s literal.
Q: Do you find it harder to be funny this late at night?
Brand: No, but eventually you lose context. Like now it’s so late, I can’t remember what not late is. I’m so tiredm I can’t remember what not tired is. When you’re a bit tired, you think “Hang on I’m a bit tired.” Now it’s just like insanity. When your internal context overrides external reason and regulation. I’m now so deep into tiredness I know no other state.
Q: What’s it like to walk out on stage in front of 1,300 extras? Are you self-conscious at all?
Brand: No, I’m very self-conscious but I’m in the character. As a stand up comedian I perform to crowds substantially larger so I have that reference to fall back on. I’m not allowed to talk as much as I would… If my inner monologue were broadcast, people would think Frankie Howerd would have risen from the deadan English comic.
Q: You have a lot of scenes with Sean Combs.
Brand: Yeah, I love him.
Q: Can you talk about working with him?
Brand: Yeah, it’s insane because he’s Puff Daddy. You know when people are so famous it makes you giggle a bit because you think of things you shouldn’t say and all that stuff. Obviously I’m not going to.
Q: So you have thought about that in the middle of…
Brand: Yeah, oh my God there’s Puff Daddy. You repress those things. He’s a great joy. He’s a gentle fellow. He’s funny and thoughtful and sweet. He’s been very compassionate. I went away for a romantic weekend to Vegas with him to see Ricky Hatton get punched in the face in a boxing match.
Q: What’s it like going away for a weekend with Sean?
Brand: I just felt like the luckiest girl in the world. It felt like a dream really. Then he popped the question. He’s very lovely. He’s a very hospitable gentleman.
Q: Which of the concert extras would you like to take home with you?
Brand: I think it’s unfair to pick with extras. I think you just have to do them all.
Q: Did you have any musical inspirations to help you with this role?
Brand: Lots. Jagger, Keith Richards, Bowie, Morrissey, Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher. I’m friendly with some musicians so I’m able to watch them. They’re very different from comedians. They’re rude – at the least the ones I know. They’re so self-assured.
Q: Like Keith Richards?
Brand: Keith Richards is actually a very gentle fellow. That self-assuredness that they have – me I’m not like that. I’m more, I don’t know. They seem very grounded.
Q: But did any other their stories help you with this role?
Brand: I didn’t ransack the biography of my musical chums. I felt that would sort of be like grave robbing. I did lots of characteristics and traits from some musicians I know like Morrissey or Noel Gallagher for example.
Q: You seem very comfortable on stage playing a rock star. Did you watch anyone performances to get an idea on how to act the part?
Brand: I didn’t. Just as I was about to do it, I thought, ‘You should have looked at other musicians’ performances. Why are you not the sort of actor that does that?’ But I’m not. You know how you show off at home pretending that you are a rock star in a room on your own? I thought let that out and just do what you would have done then. I’ve got enough of an idea to what Bowie was like or Jim Morrison or Iggy Pop was like to be able to call upon it without hopefully being inauthentic.
Q: And no shirt?
Brand: And no shirt. I mean who dresses like this?
Q: Was it your idea?
Brand: No, it wasn’t. It was the lady who does wardrobe is a visionary. She must be respected.
Q: This set is very relaxed. Is that the type of environment you’re used to working in or are you used to being around more chaotic sets?
Brand: I think I’ve been very fortunate in my brief career in films to work with people that are kind of cool. I think it comes from Judd down that people are very collaborative. I’ve not encountered people that are hard to work with among this group of people. I’ve done “Bedtime Stories” and the previous film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was with Judd as well. I’ve done “The Tempest” with Julie Taymor and Helen Mirren and that was a different vibe of madness. I’ve never thought, “This is an obnoxious and unbearable person.”
Q: Can you talk about working on “The Tempest”?
Brand: It was amazing. Djimon Hounsou played Caliban and I played Trinculo. Alfred Molina plays Stephano and Helen Mirren is Prospera as a woman. It was remarkable. Julie Taymor is a very gifted person and off in her own imagination… Obviously it wasn’t loads of money, but it’s good to do Shakespeare. Julie Taymor goes, “Oh you can improvise if you want,” but I think it might be a disrespective to Shakespeare.
Q: You said you pulled things from your own life experiences for this film, how is that going to change when you turn your book into a movie?
Brand: I don’t think I’ll be playing myself anymore in that movie. I’ve been playing me for ages. It’s relentless. I’ll let someone else do it. I’ll just get a little Dutch girl or something.
Q: On the way to the L.A. show at the Greek, your character takes a lot of detours along the way that prolongs him getting to the concert. Is that because he’s nervous about making a comeback or because he just has a reckless personality?
Brand: Hmm. Well cynically one could say it’s to give the movie an episodic feel and an arc, but I think what it might be is an unwillingness to confront it. I think your question had within it the answer which Buddhists would have you believe he’s up and away.
Q: Is that something you can relate to…
Brand: Buddhism? Bastards they are.
Q: No, but with your own personal struggles and how you maybe didn’t want to face certain things?
Brand: Yes, I think all of us are living in denial of our spiritual nature as we continue to participate in the material world even though we know we’re destroying the planet we live on. We continue to be spilled on by consumerism even though we know it doesn’t make us happy. It doesn’t matter how many pairs of shoes you have, how many cars you have, etc… It’s all utterly meaningless and yet we continue to pursue this. Why? Because they’ve learned they can stimulate our primal desires through selling us products. Until we recognize this and have a spiritual revolution, we will be forever enslaved.
Q: And we should go to movies because?
Brand: I don’t think we should.
Q: You’re attached to “Drop Dead Fred”? Was that something big in your childhood?
Brand: I think it will be f*cking brilliant. I really enjoyed that a lot. I want to do stuff with kids. I also really enjoy acting with kids. I love just hanging out with them. It will be different instead of being all punky, it will be Victorian like a horrible nasty imaginary friend who is all mean and wicked to children with long brown finger nails and fingerless gloves and a black lizard tongue. There’s more technology now and CGI so it will be wicked.
Q: Do kids still have imaginary friends?
Brand: I imagine they do.
Q: Can you tell us what happened to Aldous Snow after he dumped Sarah Marshall in Hawaii?
Brand: I think he went back to his ex-girlfriend Jackie Q played by Rose Byrne and then went all mad on drugs as anyone would if they’ve spent time with Rose Byrne. She’s very captivating.
Q: Can you talk a bit about working with Jonah?
Brand: Yeah, he’s lovely. He’s a really funny sparkly individual. He’s young and I forget how young he is. He’s only 24 or 25. He’s incredibly bright and has a clear understanding of what he wants to do. He comes up with good suggestions and I enjoy the chemistry I have with him. I was really surprised in “Sarah Marshall” with the short scenes between he and I worked. That’s the reason I wanted to do this film because I was interested to explore that.
Q: I heard you shot a concert from 1999 this morning. What does Aldous look like in that era?
Brand: He’s got longer hair – really, really long hair. I was mental. You should have seen me. I was throwing myself all over the place – stage dived. I banged on my legs. It was like the old days when I used to perform on drugs.
Q: The music was different that you were playing in ’99?
Brand: There’s a little more ska sounding found in numbers. Libertine sort of sounding tracks.
Q: The songs you’re playing now are more like a love ballad type?
Brand: Coldplay, U2 that kind of
Q: What do you prefer?
Brand: My personal tastes lay more with Libertine and all of the people I’ve mentioned. Hitler.
Q: Jonah plays a different character in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” are you going to make a joke about that in the film?
Brand: No, I think they’re just going to ignore it a bit because I think that I was only a supporting character in it and Jonah had a cameo in the movie. I think it might be indulgent to address it and presumptuous.
Q: Would you like to do another Aldous Snow film and make it a trilogy?
Brand: I don’t think so. I mean I don’t know. What else can I have him do?
Q: What else are you thinking about doing?
Brand: My draw board of development has got “Arthur,” the Dudley Moore movie and “Drop Dead Fred” and this thing with Paramount that Adam Sandler is producing. I’ll do some more hosting for big events and might do some more radio. See my mom and flirt girls.
Q: Are you still doing Current TV?
Brand: No, why would I do Current TV? That’s like named after old grapes. I’m not doing that sh*t. What is Current TV? That’s Al Gore. No way.
Q: I saw you on Current TV.
Brand: Yeah, I popped on to promote something that Dan (his publicist) makes me. “Hey goes on this thing,” and tells me to promote things and I go on there and it’s a pain in the ass.
Q: They made a half hour show out of it?
Brand: A half hour show? Dan, you made me do a TV show without telling me. That’s tricky.
Q: You mentioned two remakes on the horizon for you? You don’t have any apprehensions doing remakes?
Brand: Who knows what’s going to happen. There’s no point in worrying about it now is it? There’s only seven storylines anyway so it f*cking worked out. Sort of like this acting I’ve written with Paramount and Sandler. There’s no point worrying. There seems to be lots of things going on.
Q: What about the Weird Al biopic?
Brand: Is that going to happen?
Q: I don’t know. That’s what he said last week.
Brand: I’ll take it.