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Forgetting Sarah Marshall - Russell Brand Interview

by Rick Duran, Senior Editor

Russell Brand is a wild, fast-talking comedian from the UK, introducing himself to US audiences in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Brand plays Aldous Snow, a rock singer who has started dating Sarah Marshall, much to the horror of her ex-boyfriend Peter. Brand, a successful stand-up and tabloid sensation in the UK, is a unique sight to behold in person; A daunting mix of tall hair, chains, open shirts and his own self-declared “androgynous sexuality.”

The Frat Pack Tribute participated in a hilarious roundtable interview session with Brand during Los Angeles press day for Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  We did not know what to expect from Brand, and the following interview is one of the funniest we’ve been lucky to take part in.

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(Brand walks in carrying a red rose)
Russell Brand: Over the course of this interview, we will elect someone to receive the rose.

This is like The Bachelor. (laughter)
RB: (To a British reporter) You are the early leader (laughter)

Oh, it’s gonna be one of those interviews, I see.
RB: I hope so, I really hope it’s going to be one of those.

Tell us about the director when you came into audition for this. You were very low-key; initially low-key.
RB: Yes

You said, “I’ve perused through your script. What would you like me to do?” And then suddenly you broke out into one of the performances you gave. I mean, how did you react to the script when you read it?
RB: It was wonderful. I think in any audition situation, one must acknowledge there’s a necessity for a certain amount of foreplay before launching into fully-blown auditioning. (laughter)

Like in life
RB: Very much, very similar, I think of it as template for life.  We can’t immediately fly in, fully erect and buoyant, spraying a fluid of willy-nilly. First of all, one must be courteous and gracious and polite.

But some people do that though
RB: Well some people do, but those people usually end up in prison. (laughter) So I… it was a very exciting script to read.  The prospect of working with Judd Apatow was brilliant.  And after the audition, I met Nicholas Stoller, the director, and Jason Segel; I get more excited. 

Were you living here?
RB: London.  All my work’s in London. My TV show’s in London.  My radio show, my column, my life, my cat Morrissey, all in London.

RB: Yes, good touch there. (laughter)

We’re discovering you for the first time in this movie
RB: Oh!

But you were huge in England, right?
RB: Yes, I am. I’m a very successful person. I’ve got like… look at all these things I’m able to wear! (laughter) All these, myself, with money.  In England, yeah, I’m a successful star.  Comedian, I sell out tours all over the shop.  It’s really good, I even have this haircut. No one questions this anymore. (laughter)

Where are your fans, compared to Jude Law or Hugh Grant?
RB: Well, it’s a much more tabloid-based fame than that. Unless Hugh Grant has been sleeping with prostitutes, in which case, we’re about even.  (laughter) We’re aware of the Divine Brown fiasco.  All I’m saying is (laughter) currently, the fiasco in my view is that he didn’t marry her.  She looked delightful. It would be a real-life Pretty Woman, except it would say, “An Alright Woman.” Passable Woman

How interesting that Jason, when he originally wrote this, he was actually thinking of a Hugh Grant-type of person for your character.  So you must have come in and really blown them away, as far as a different sort of, maybe, more type of Rock ‘N Roll type of person.
RB: Yes, and the rose goes to you. You’re doing well!

You know, did you kind of have this guy in mind, walking in and kind of convinced them he should be more Rock ‘N Roll than kind of the prissy…
RB: But immediately, it offered the opportunity to… like I sure authors can be quite extravagant characters.  Hemingway was a writer, he was certainly no wallflower. Like I think that, or Jean Janet, within literature there are people who are quite decadent and hedonistic, like Henry Miller.  So like, Oh alright, lucky I’ll play a Henry Miller kind of sexy kind of author. And they thought its got to be easier to just cast him as a rock star, rather than having the justify a man who writes books for a living, having that amount of eyeliner on.   

Did you improv a lot during this?
RB: Almost entirely, I mean, we were out there for two weeks, they taught me how to horse ride, they taught me how to surf. We had two weeks of work shopping and writing up the script, they’re incredibly generous and gave me an awful lot of freedom.  And I must say, it’s really hard and sort of nuanced and brilliant.  Jason wrote a wonderful story and wonderful script that’s sort of in Judd’s ethos, they allow you to improvise a lot.  And to me, that was brilliant and liberating, because I’m a stand-up comedian.  I’m happier when I’m sort of writing my own material and stuff.  So like, it was incredibly liberating and fulfilling.  I improvised loads and loads. 

Was there anything you improvised that they thought was a little too much, that they wouldn’t be allowed to use? Or they…
RB: No, they were so encouraging.  It was like being a spoiled, precocious and indulgent child.  Everything I said was applauded and celebrated. 

Welcome to Hollywood
RB: (laughs) Thank you.  (laughter)

What the most daunting thing for you about working on an American comedy film? What happened that you didn’t expect?
RB: Uh, well I didn’t expect that people would be so genuine and so sweet and gracious.  I was very very surprised by that. I thought it would be challenging.  I didn’t think I would make friends with people as easily as I did.  And I didn’t think that I, personally being a deeply self-involved gentleman, would find it so easy to be part of an ensemble.

How is it working with Jason?
RB: Wonderful, he’s a brilliant and generous actor.  Very skillful and funny, always looking for the laugh, but also good with the salve stuff, works out the rhythm of a performer very quickly and gives you space to develop stuff.  He’s rally a very skillful actor, a lovely bloke.  I love him.

Had you seen any of Kristen’s work before you…
RB: No, I hadn’t seen any of that, cuz that’s not the kind of thing that I watch on the television.  Like that sort of thing, teenagers, kind of programs, but she’s really good as well. They’re all really talented, it’s good because normally I’m a stand-up comic and I do my own tv show and I’m not really used to interacting with other people, so I’m quite insular.  To work with other people and then find those other people good is exciting, really exciting and I loved it.

If your fame is tabloid-based, what’s your big scandal?
RB: Oh Christ… womanizing and floozying about. You know, some newspapers in the United Kingdom have the absolute gall to send women to sleep with me after stand-up comedy shows, then they write about it. (laughter) Fortunately, the grammar’s appalling because the women are ultimately hussies. They shouldn’t be allowed to pick up a pen.

Are those the 3 AM Girls?
RB: 3 AM… (laughs) I’ve never had the pleasure of a 3AM Girl. But uh, yes, of course like, you know the enduring fame can be based upon anything other than talent or murder.  And I don’t have the lust for blood, but certainly I have other lusts, but in the United Kingdom, there are a lot of red-thought tabloids that are fueled by certain hideousness and salaciousness. 

How do you avoid, do you try to avoid any of that stuff?
RB: No, you’re not.  If you’re nice to people, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  What can they write? Often times, they focus on my behavior towards my cat.  One kiss and tell story said, “He was very unusual, he wore slippers in the house and he talked to his cat.  When we got in, there was a bowl of cat food on the floor.” That’s where you put the cat food! (laughter) Where else do you put cat food? Cats, I know they’re very agile, but I’m not gonna make the cat jump up on the table. You can’t impose human manners on the feline world, it’s unnecessary.  So uh, I don’t think there’s any harm that can be done, as long as I treat people well then they’re kiss and tell stories.  You cannot hurt me; my wings are like a shield of steel.

Well, Russell, I’m single again, could help me? How can I be more like you and have that kind of success? (laughter)
The rose is still on table.
RB: We will be rewarding the rose at the end of the interview.  I think that how you have a lot of success is by… I think the most important thing is to acknowledge the beauty in others.  If you look if you look into those eyes and see the light of a divine force glowing within them, how can you not be compelled to unite with them physically?  See the beauty in other people.  Everyone inside themselves has a little self-doubt.  If you help to overcome that by recognizing how beautiful they are, it’s almost impossible for them not to have sex with you. (laughter)

Clearly, you exude that kind of light, shining aura. 
RB: Well that’s kind of you to say so. Yes, I just try to see the beauty in things and people as often as I can.  I know that’s a challenging way to live your life sometimes, but mostly the world is beautiful and people are beautiful.  And uh, you know, I do really like cuddling women. 

You do?
RB: I love women.

Um… I’m sorry. (laughter)
RB: Hello! You’ve made a point, you are a woman! (laughter) You’re perfect; she’s a volunteer! (inaudible laughter and noise) Bloody hell!

You threw me completely off here now. Um, I was going to ask you about… I know you tour the UK and stuff, do you have any plans to tour here?
RB: Yes! Yes! I’m doing stand-up comedy at the Paul Gleason Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, on the 5th and 6th of April. Please come! There’s only…

Where is that?
RB: I don’t have the number, it’s such a big bloody boulevard, isn’t it? Number five-thousand? If someone would Google it, “Paul Gleason Theater.”

5th and 6th of April?
RB: Yeah, it’s only a hundred-seater thing. I’ve got to practice to learn American rhythms, so I can make the American people laugh.

How differently do you think your approach, your humor, to American audiences is to the British ones?
RB: I think there’s a crossover. I think American culture is the dominant culture in the world, in particular across entertainment and the media.  And this is something I’m completely in tune with. The stand-up comedians I admire most are Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor, Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld.  So I understand how American comedy works, but I also understand how I’m a different phenomenon, and I plan to exploit that fact by being ludicrously English.  But I’ll speak slowly.

We’ve heard that Judd’s writing something with you in mind. Is there anything you can tell us about that project yet?
RB: No, because I was with Judd doing an interview for Esquire Magazine in the UK.  And when like Judd was asked that question, what’s it about, he just said, “It’s Russell Brand and Jonah Hill are doing a film together. It will be done soon.”   They said, “What’s it about?” He said, “Oh no, I can’t tell you at that stage.” My answer would’ve been, I would’ve told you everything. I’d tell you about costumes, what’s going on with the plot; Who I’m trying to cast as the leading lady, how I plan to manipulate that process.  But if Judd Apatow answers a question like that, I’ve got to honor that cuz he is Alpha Male in that situation.  If I make a mistake then I might not be allowed to be in anymore films, and that would dramatically affect the statistics of my love life going forward.

Do you know anything about the movie that he is…?
RB: Oh yeah, yeah, it’s just being written currently.  Universal’s bought it and financed.

Is it a British character?
RB: Yeah.  At first, isn’t it true that first of all, you want to play approximations of yourself, don’t you?

Oh no, you would probably
RB: I think you’d be lovely as yourself. But yeah, initially I don’t plan to be transforming left and right and center like Daniel Day-Lewis.  I would like to carry on like this for a little while, and then I might consider playing a part where I wear a hat.

What do you like in America, socially?
RB: What don’t I like?

What do you like in America?
RB: I think people are very garrulous and available, and I enjoy that.  I enjoy the immediacy and the warmth. I’ve met some very beautiful and exciting people, I enjoy it. It seems very geared to socializing, people being comfortable.  I live and of course I’m from a culture where people are deeply, deeply repressed and are constantly embarrassed by their own genitals.

Not you
RB: No, no, I celebrate mine. (laughter)  I try to let them lead.  I come as an anomaly in English culture.  Earlier on, I met a French gentleman who said my sexuality wanted to be sick into his own handbag.  I don’t think he meant that offensively, I just think he was acknowledging I’m unusual for an Englishman in that I’m very comfortable.

How are American women compared to British women?
RB: I think they’re very beautiful.  I mean, I love English women; my mother’s an Englishwoman for heaven’s sake, I like her.  But yeah, I like American women! I can see what Jimi Hendrix went on about when he said, “American Woman.”

Where have you gone so far since you’ve been here? Where have you been able to explore?
RB: I ain’t really been… it’s not a lot of time to be on a proper holiday.  I’ve been promoting Forgetting Sarah Marshall and doing this Disney film with Adam Sandler.  So I’ve got to be concentrating on that mostly. 

What is that?
RB: It’s called Bedtime Stories, it stars Adam Sandler. I’m his sidekick; I play a character called Mickey.  A character called Mickey in a Disney film, isn’t that wonderful? (laughter) I’m so excited about that. I’ve asked to wear those little shorts as much as possible.  I think I’ll be a right real dreamboat in them. “Steamboat Willy,” I should say so. (laughter)

What would be your escape of choice after a breakup? What and where would you go? This guy goes to Hawaii, where would you go and what would you do?
RB: I can’t ever imagine being so broken-hearted, that I would leave my bedroom. I would simply wait for someone else to arrive. (laughter) We do have a lovely number, it’s like a deli counter at my house.  Take a ticket and wait. You have to wait for the next number and pray it’s 69.

You had some really funny scenes like with Jonah Hill and Jack McBrayer. Was there anyone who made you laugh a lot on the set?
RB: They all did, they all write.  As a very solipsistic and vain man, it was challenging to my preconceptions about my talent to meet such talented American young people. Jonah Hill’s a fantastic improviser. Jason, himself, is wonderful. All of them; Jack McBrayer’s funny, properly funny. All of them, I enjoyed it, but that elevates you, doesn’t it? I learned something about that.  I learned I don’t always have to be doing stuff on my own.  I like stand-up because I have complete control of it, but when you’re working with people who are properly funny, it means you have to get better to cope with it.

What did you enjoy in Hawaii?
RB: Well to tell you the truth, aside from the coconut bras, I found it very difficult because in a country where you’re not famous, one encounters certain difficulties, not in the least dating. I must say that this is a social protocol in which I have little regard.  You know, so that was the most difficult thing. Any environment, no matter how beautiful it becomes after a while restricting.  Hawaii seems to be a tropical penitentiary.

I’m surprised. Women weren’t draped at your feet in Hawaii?
RB: They did not. They did nothing of the sort. My feet were unencumbered by draped women. 

That’s a tragedy, really.
RB: It was for a little while. But like I enjoyed it enormously, but I really missed a lot. I missed my cat. I missed stuff like my culture, to be honest.  I’ve settled here much better, I really… I really like Los Angeles, I’m really surprised. I heard it was a very superficial and vacuous place, and astonishingly I fit right in. (laughter)

How do you get ready for the beach though?
RB: (pauses) I don’t go to the beach. You know, my haircut does not mix well with maritime matters.  I prefer to stay on the ol’ terra firma, to be honest with you. I mean, you know, I do like the bikinis but the risks to my haircut are too great to take.  To do that surfing scene in the film, I had to apply every Stanislavski technique I’ve ever learned to stop myself weeping for a hairdresser.

Were you actually on the waves?
RB: Yes, we were taught to surf by who I can only describe as an all-American beefcake hero.  His name was Mike; he’d been in the Marines or at least the Special Forces. He’d been on the American water polo team; A man so confident with his masculinity that the sea itself was awash with his testosterone. I surfed on that for most of the time.  It was challenging because I was already doing something I was rubbish at, surfing; I was wearing as it turns out inappropriate bathing attire.  I wore too short a short.  They were little hot pants, little peering knickers things and I was very self-conscious about that.  And Mike, he was like King Neptune in that sea, so holding me.  And I fell in love with him a little bit because he seemed so powerful and stuff, pushing me out on that surfboard.  There was a point where I stood up and got all the way to the shore on one occasion. I was so overjoyed.

What about horse riding? I understand there’s more horse riding on the DVD.
RB: That’s hard! They say, cuz horse riding, the horse don’t want to be ridden, you know. It’s carried out under adversity, that relationship; it’s an antithetic relationship. “Oh drive it like a car. Use it like you’re driving a car!” I can’t drive a car. Also, if you’re driving a car, the car won’t of its own volition, wander into a garage to demand petrol and start eating it. The horse just wanted grass sometimes, and you have to let him have otherwise the horse becomes annoyed. “Kick it?” I don’t want to kick it. Also they were like, “You’re in charge! You’re in charge!” That’s the first time I’ve ever been horseback riding, he’s been doing it all his life. How can I be in the lead in that relationship? Horse riding’s very difficult.

Do you have to be PG in the Disney film?
RB: Yeah, because it’s for the family, not the Manson family. They were very clear about that. So after now, I don’t know.  Adam Sandler encourages me to do what I want, and all my stuff’s with him.  But I am, you know, I’m aware of what the word ‘family’ means. I just don’t know how one would ever have one.

What elements of the Gallagher Brothers did you apply to your character?
RB: Are there elements of the Gallagher Brothers? I used Liam’s natural sexual charisma, which is unencumbered by any other emotion other than sexual charisma, I used distilled sexuality.  And I used Noel’s almost Zen-like sense of detachment.  He just drifts through the world, holding his guitar, being very witty.  It’s surprising, people sort of lump the Gallaghers together.  Whilst Liam is quite aggressive and can be quite surly and churlish, Noel is a twinkling, charming, gentle fellow. 

Have you had them on your shows?
RB: Yeah, Noel’s been like… you should to the BBC Radio 2 show.  Go to BBC, you can listen any time. Go to Radio 2 and click Russell Brand.  Noel has done the whole show with me.  He just comes in at the beginning and stays the whole time for two weeks running.  I’m close to Noel.

What about your TV stuff? Can we see it online as well?
RB: Yeah, go to Youtube or as I call it, “MeTube.” (laughter) Look up, “Russell Brand.”

How would you describe your stand-up comedy? What do you poke fun of now? What’s different now than when you started out?
RB: It’s different now because I exist in a different context.  Being famous in my home country obviously changes perspective, my perspective; it changes how people treat you.  What doesn’t change is the consistent relentless embarrassment that pursues me everywhere; the capacity to be humiliated by the most trivial events.  My stand-up is defined by being honest and confessional of what it is to be alive.  How embarrassing that can be and how funny that can be and how bloody sexy the whole thing can be.

What is your biggest humiliation that you’ve experienced?
RB: It never ends, my humiliation.  I don’t know quite where to begin.  Let me think of the most recent occasion. Alright, I was in a taxi in London just before I came here and the taxi driver was very aggressive.  And I’d like… I’d misjudged the situation because he was clearly a person… You know how some people are very comfortable fighting? How they like it? How theye prefer to be fighting than in a conversation and you can’t reason with people who would rather fight than have a conversation.  Like a tiger, you couldn’t ever go up to a tiger and be like, “Ahhh, don’t bite me, I have a mortgage.” It wouldn’t care.  A tiger is a relentless killing machine.  I found myself in a conversation with a black geezer from Jamaica, where we call it The Yard in the UK. He had a big sort of wig that looked Jamaican and scar running the whole left side of his face like that.  I was in the back of his cab.  I had just come from the gym, I was wearing a tracksuit and like he went past the left turn that I wanted him to do.  It was in Primrose Hill, it’s not a place where there’s a lot of gangster violence; Primrose Hill, you can tell from the name. We went past, we missed the left and I was on the phone and I said, “Left! Left!” And I sort of got a bit angry and tried to claw back time by the way I said left. “Leeeeeffftt. Leffffttt!” Like that, but you cannot claw back time, this is impossible.  And he took offense at the way I spoke. (In mock Jamaican accent) “Don’t talk to me like that.” He was properly offended and immediately aggressive.  I at that early stage decided to pretend to have an entirely different personality, that of a character Ray Winstone would play in a film.  (laughter) (In mock Australian accent) “Don’t fucking talk to me like that, mate. You don’t know who you’re dealing with.” Right? Because he don’t know that I had come from the gym. He goes, he said to me, he’s actually the first person who said, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with, be careful. Don’t talk to me like that, you don’t know who you’re dealing with.” And I said, “You don’t know who you’re fucking dealing with.” Of course he did because he’d seen me on the television. (laughter) He was dealing with an effete performer with an androgynous sexuality, this is not threatening. And so we got into a very sort of heavy argument where I kept pretending to be harder and harder.  And like I’d go, but my threats were a bit rubbish. He’s going, “Get out my car, get out of my car.” I go, “I ain’t getting’ out of your car, mate. You’re going to have to take me back to your office.” But that’s not something a gangster would say.  A gangster would not make a clerically-based threat.  That was difficult.  And during the argument, I got a phone call from my accountant talking to me about a pension plan.  So I had to conduct it, “Andrew, I’m very sorry, I think we should do that.” Then my mum called during it.  Then I started feeling guilty that I’m being rude to this man.  He agreed to take me back to my house. And then I thought, “No, he’s going to know where I live. What if he kills me?” So I made him drop me off at the next street of a neighbor that I’ve never been particularly of.  (laughter) I thought if there is a revenge attack, that person will be the victim.  Though we did manage find peace by the end of it.  I sort of apologized how a gangster would. “Sorry bout that, mate. Sorry.” I did a gangster apology and frankly it ended well. Encouraging me that we can find unity and peace between different gangs, so Crips and Bloods, I would say.

You were really good in this movie.
RB: Thank you

And your last scene I thought was brilliant. You were great.

RB: Oh that’s so sweet. Thank you, I was trying my hardest, I really enjoyed it. (Passes the rose to a reporter) Here’s your rose! Muah! You’ve been gorgeous and all! (laughter) Thank you very much.

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