Russell Brand plays a childlike billionaire who is taken care of by his "nanny," Helen Mirren, in the new hilarious remake of Arthur. Brand and Mirren sat down with Buzzine to discuss their experience working together, having money, and Helen's new set of footprints at Grauman's Chinese.
Izumi Hasegawa: Helen, what was it like to play nanny to Russell Brand?
Helen Mirren: It was an education for me, as much as for the education I was trying to give to the character. Mostly, I was the one who was learning stuff. I learned so many things. I've never done a film that is called a comedy before. It was one of the reasons I really wanted to do the film, and I was very lucky that I was working with such brilliantly experienced people in the world of comedy, like (director) Jason [Winer], Russell,and (screenwriter) Peter [Baynham]. And gratitude, I get. It was my education.
IH: Russell, how did your past history with addiction help inform your portrayal of Arthur?
Russell Brand: I am such a thorough actor that I did two decades of research into alcoholism, just to make sure it was 100% right. The difference, of course, is that Arthur is a fictional alcoholic and has much more latitude for 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 very important that we established a context where the alcoholism was humorous and good fun but was not irresponsibly portrayed. This is 2011, and it's important to see a resolution to the problem of Arthur's alcoholism. That's one of the aspects as a recovering alcoholic myself--I was particularly happy with how that was rendered.
IH: Russell, when you get caught between the moon and New York City, what is the best thing you can do?
RB: The best thing you can do is fall in love. That's why this film resonated so strongly with me and why I'm so happy with it. My life has been changed by falling in love. I know that, whilst that is a romantic idea and, in this case, fictional, it's something that's happened to me. That's why I'm so enamored with this story. I love the original movie. Dudley Moore is a great hero of mine. To be able to recreate that film with such a talented ensemble of people was an incredible gift, as it was to work with the Oscar-winning, wonderful actress Helen Mirren, a brilliant director like Jason Winer – for whom this is the first of what will become a great career of excellent movies – someone who accommodated my improvisation but told the story so wonderfully well visually. It's almost a trite cliché to hear that we used the city as another character in the movie, but if you watch this film, you see peeks of bridge from hospital window -- the city is truly present. It makes Manhattan seem like a magical fairy story. Greta [Gerwig] wonderfully brought to life a different aspect of the character's trajectory with her experience in independent films. She gave a more naturalistic and gentle performance that spoke to the child in Arthur. And then it was written by Peter Baynham -- that was a big mistake. Peter Baynham, for Englishmen, is as much a comedic hero to me as Dudley Moore. He's one of the great comedy writers of the last 30 years, with Alan Partridge, Bruno, and Borat. It was a great honor to work on this film.
IH: Helen, what did it feel like to punch Russell Brand?
HM: Punching Russell was great, but the best thing was being taught how to punch by Evander Holyfield, who was my personal trainer on the set. He's such a gentleman, but he is the champ and he is a big guy, and quite scary. He was very quiet, and he was on the set in the corner, but I went up to him and said, "Evander, I've got to punch Russell. Would you show me how to do it, please?" He said, "Sure," and he gave me a little training. That was one of the highlights of the shoot for me -- being taught how to punch by Evander Holyfield.
IH: Helen, what's your secret for looking so amazing?
HM: Many virgins have died in my pursuit of youth.
RB: And mine! You realize that question can never be successfully answered. No one will ever go, "There's a fountain somewhere."
IH: Russell, what did you do as Executive Producer on this film?
RB: Nothing! Executive Producers don't have to do anything, nor do any kind of producers. They just sit around on deck chairs watching stuff, and if it gets cold, they leave. There's no kind of contribution. No. As a producer, you've got to be involved in helping with solving problems. Warner Bros. brought me this idea very, very early on. They said, "Would you be interested in remaking Arthur?" And I said, "Yeah," because I really, really love Dudley Moore. But then I thought, "Is this ever really going to happen?" I didn't really imagine it would. They asked, "Who would you like to write it?" I said, "Peter Baynham because he's a great hero of mine." And then we talked about directors, and I was already a fan of Jason's show, Modern Family. I thought, "My god, because of his visual style and his understanding of comedy, he will be able to make this relevant and pertinent whilst maintaining the traditional aesthetic of the storyline." That was exciting. Then, when Peter had the idea of making Hobson female and we immediately thought of Helen Mirren, for me, that was the idea that made the film feasible. That was the idea that meant, "Oh, this will actually happen." And I'm so grateful that it did because I had a wonderful opportunity to work with such incredible people.
IH: Russell, what was the audition with Greta Gerwig like?
RB: We saw loads and loads of different actresses, which was all right, but I was already on the way to getting married then, so I couldn't enjoy it like in the good old days, where auditions had a more primal quality. We did the audition with Greta, and afterwards I was sitting quietly. It was the last casting of the day and I was quiet, and Jason [Winer] said, "What's the matter?" I said, "I feel sad, now that she's gone." It was because I had enjoyed playing with her so much. She has such a brilliant imagination, she's a great improviser, she has a wonderful understanding of comedy, she has a wide range of ideas and peculiar choices, and she's a very, very beautiful person. It's a good peculiar, in a magical way, that's a strange mutation like only nature can produce. Also, it was important that it was someone that existed outside of the paradigm of Arthur's normal world of privilege and luxury, and someone for whom it was conceivable that you would give up a billion dollars for. And Greta had this naiveté and innocence, and a sense of fun and wonder that made that notion feasible.
IH: Russell, like Arthur in the film, your own life changed when you fell in love. How did things change for you?
RB: Like in Arthur, love has an incredibly transformative quality. The first thing you do when you fall in love is you recognize that you're not the most important person in the world, and your focus becomes another person. The reason the film resonated with me in the way that it does is because Arthur is a person without direction.
IH: Russell, what was it like to shoot in the Grand Central Terminal, with just you and Greta and no one else in there?
RB: They took us on a special tour and showed us places where you're not meant to go. There are secret tunnels under Grand Central. We went on a secret staircase underneath the clock. The man did make Greta remove her top as part of the entry procedure, and she was very generous. Greta doesn't mind nudity if it will unveil new tourism for people.
IH: Were you cool with running around in your underwear?
RB: I felt very shy and embarrassed about it, as a matter of fact. But they were such lovely underpants. They were custom made.
IH: After you got a nice Hollywood paycheck, what was the most indulgent, extravagant, and Arthur-like purchase you've made?
HM: My husband and I bought a castle in Pulia.
RB: But people are starving!
HM: It's like turning on the taps to full and having money just pour out into the desert. It will be beautiful, but it's not finished.
IH: Where is Pulia?
HM: It's in the bottom of the heel of the boot of Italy. It's not really a castle. It's actually a farmhouse. It's got a little bit where you can pour boiling oil out of it. They used to do that because Pulia was being invaded all the time. It had endless invasions, so even the farmhouses are fortified. It's a fortified farmhouse.
RB: A fortified farmhouse? That's a castle!
IH: Was there any thought given to convincing people to part with $18 to go see a movie about people whose problems are worrying about which car to take out when they can't pay the mortgage?
RB: I'm very glad you asked that question. It's an important and brilliant question. Arthur has everything. He has all the money in the world, and yet he is lonely and unhappy. I grew up poor. I didn't have money, and now I have some money. The greatest poverty one can have is to be poor in one's heart. After falling in love, Arthur is truly happy. He discovers purpose. All of us know that money is transient and its pleasures are illusory. The happiest moments in our lives are not, "Oh, I got a new hat or a wonderful, silvery object or 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 can watch our movie and then sneak in and watch another one--just stay in the corridor, but pay for our movie.
HM: It's a fantasy that we all have about, "What would we do if we had a billion dollars?" That's why, when the Lottery gets really big and it's up to $40 million or $50 million, I go out and buy a ticket. It's, "Maybe I'll win."
RB: So you can buy another castle? That castle is little. I need another castle!
HM: No. You fantasize about what it would be like to have millions and millions and millions of dollars. We all do that. Here, we can see what happens when you have millions and millions and millions of dollars. I think it's a fantasy that we all carry within us, especially anyone who has ever bought a Lottery ticket.
IH: Helen, what do you think about getting the honor of having your handprints and footprints at the Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood?
HM: Gosh, I'm so really, really honored. When I first came to Hollywood, many years ago--not as a tourist--I was working here, but you don't know the place. The first place you want to go to is Hollywood Boulevard, where Grauman's Chinese is. That's the place you go to, as a tourist. It's the first thing you want to see. It's the only thing you know about, as far as Los Angeles is concerned. So you go and look at Joan Crawford's hands and feet, and the whole history of American filmmaking is capsulated in that one little area on that one street. That street, to me, has always been the street of dreams. Personally, I'm thrilled that the Oscars are back on Hollywood Boulevard. I think that's where they should be. And to find out that, so many years later, my hands and feet are going to be there, I'm absolutely blown away by it. Becoming a Dame was fantastic. Winning an Oscar was amazing. Getting my hands and feet there is incredible.
IH: Russell, what was it like to actually get to wear George Clooney's Batman suit and ride in the Batmobile?
RB: The actual car is not as interesting in the interior. It's like a reverse metaphor for the nature of the human soul. The inside is boring. And it was a bit scruffy in there. I was in there with Luis Guzman, who is a brilliant actor, but he says unusual stuff. I would be in that Batmobile with him and he'd say, "Imagine if, when the roof of the Batmobile opens, we're not on the set anymore and we've gone back to caveman days." And then I'd hear, "Action!," and I'd be like, "Huh?! What?!" It would be like ideological farts in the car, and bizarre notions for me to contend with. But I enjoyed wearing the suit because it had Clooney musk in it. It had the pheromones of George Clooney, and I like to think that I may have absorbed them. I'm certainly feeling a lot more altruistic. If anybody needs any help with anything, I'm prepared to help.
IH: How did you enjoy working together?
HM: He was in his trailer all the time. He never came out of his trailer. When he came out, he was always surrounded by minders and he wouldn't speak to anyone.
RB: People will write that now, you vicious queen! I'm going to go down to bloody Hollywood Boulevard and fill your handprints in.
HM: It is completely untrue. Actually, I don't know because I was drunk all the time.
RB: I've been brilliantly schooled by publicists and minders. I don't say anything that controversial. I say a couple of swear words. Helen says mad stuff that you're not supposed to say in front of the press. That's crazy! We had a wonderful relationship, is the truth of it. I'm a bit in love with Helen. I was very excited about the possibility of working for her...I mean with her.
HM: It was a very loving and funny environment. And thanks to an indefectible young director, it was an exhausting environment.
IH: Helen, what made you want to choose this role?
HM: I did it because I met Russell. I sat on a sofa opposite him for a couple of hours, and he just blew me away. I had kind of worked with him in The Tempest. We'd wearily said hi to each other, respectfully, but we hadn't really spent time together. We bumped into each other, and Russell told me about this film and just totally seduced me, the way he does. I defy male, female, or age-appropriate child to spend two hours with Russell and not be completely charmed and just say, "Yeah, fine. I'll do whatever you want."
Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Arthur' is released on April 8, 2011.