Everyone is thinking it: Arthur, Dudley Moore’s 1981 comedy about a lonely billionaire, didn’t need to be remade. But to have comic/actor/all-around crazy guy Russell Brand fill Moore’s shoes and swap the character’s butler for a nanny — played by Helen Mirren! — and suddenly update the classic doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
Here Brand talks about tempering Arthur’s alcoholism, love interest Greta Gerwig, and what it was like to recycle George Clooney’s Batsuit for the film’s bad-boy opening scene.
OLSZEWSKI: You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that your history with addiction helped inform the character. Can you talk about that?
BRAND: Yes. I’m such a thorough actor that I did two decades of research just to make sure it was 100 percent right! The difference, of course, is that Arthur is a fictional alcoholic and has much more latitude with clowning and fun, and often his adventures don’t lead to broken glass and howling women — although he is arrested at the beginning of the film.
It was important that we established a context where the alcoholism was humorous and good fun, but was not irresponsibly portrayed. This is 2011, and it was important to see a resolution to Arthur’s alcoholism. That’s one of the aspects, as a recovering alcoholic myself, I was particularly happy with.
OLSZEWSKI: You’re an executive producer. Can you tell me what you did?
BRAND: Nothing! Executive producers don’t have to do anything. Nor do any kind of producers. They sit in deck chairs watching stuff, and if it gets cold, they leave! So why are they there when it’s not cold? It’s no kind of contribution.
OLSZEWSKI: Was it difficult to fill Liza Minnelli’s role of the woman you fall in love with?
BRAND: We saw loads and loads of actresses, but of course I was already on the way to getting married then [to pop star Katy Perry] so I couldn’t enjoy it like in the good ol’ days, when auditions had a rather more primal quality.
We did the audition with Greta, and afterward I was just sitting quietly, and [director Jason Winer] asked what was the matter. And I said, “I feel sad now that she’s gone.” And it was because I had enjoyed playing with her so much. She had such a brilliant imagination, she’s a great improviser, has a wonderful understanding of comedy, makes peculiar choices — good peculiar! peculiar in a magical way — and is a beautiful person.
We needed someone who it was conceivable that Arthur would give up a billion dollars for, and Greta had this naivete, this innocence of fun and wonder that made that notion feasible.
OLSZEWSKI: Your scene with Greta in Grand Central Terminal is incredible. What was it like having the whole place to yourself and did you get to do anything wild while you were in there?
BRAND: Yes, we did. They took us on a special tour of places where you’re not meant to go. There are secret tunnels and stuff like that, a secret staircase that’s underneath the clock. The man did make Greta remove her top as part of the entry procedure, but [she] was very generous with that. Greta doesn’t mind nudity as long as it’ll renew tourism.
OLSZEWSKI: In this economy, why should people spend money to watch the misfortunes of a billionaire?
BRAND: I’ll tell you why. It’s because Arthur has everything, he has all the money in the world. And yet he’s lonely. He’s unhappy. For all of us — and I’ve experienced this, I grew up poor — the greatest poverty one could have is to be poor in one’s heart. And through falling in love, he’s truly happy, he’s discovered his purpose.
All of us know, don’t we, that money is transient, that pleasures are illusions, that the happiest moments in our lives aren’t that I’ve got a new hat or some wonderful silvery object, some glistening bauble. It’s when you connect with another human being.
If you can find the $18 in your pocket, you are purchasing dreams with that money. Plus, you could watch our [movie], then sneak in and watch another one down the corridor. But pay for our one.
OLSZEWSKI: What was it like donning the Batsuit and being in the actual Batmobile?
BRAND: The actual car inside is not that exciting. The interior is like a reverse metaphor for the nature of the human soul. The inside was boring. It’s a bit scruffy in there.
But I enjoyed the suit because it had Clooney musk in it, it had the pheromones of George. And I’d like to think that I may have absorbed them. I’m certainly feeling more altruistic.
OLSZEWSKI: As a former bachelor who’s now happily married, what advice would you give to Prince William?
BRAND: I don’t go around giving advice to British royalty. They’ll chop your head off.