Trying to get ahold of Russell Brand is a pain in the ass, as I find out when the 35-year-old returns to London for a junket to promote his new film, Get Him to the Greek. The assembled press is loitering in a tourist-trap pub on the Thames. We’re waiting for the rain to pass so we can get on with the interview scheduled to take place on the roof terrace. Brand comes over to introduce himself and then compliments my choice of nail-polish color. I don’t realize it at this point, but this is as close as we’ll get to having a chat in person. After the better part of three hours, the interminable drizzle washes away our chances of a chat. With no backup location in place, the journalists and cameras are sent home. No matter, we’ll meet up the following day…
Except we don’t, because later that night, Brand and co-star Jonah Hill are flown back to the U.S., having had advance warning that the volcanic ash cloud might leave them trapped in the U.K.—these days, Brand is far too precious a commodity to be marooned in London when he should be pushing his latest smuttily entertaining caper all around the world. After a series of delays, we get ahold of him the next day, on the phone from New York. Katy Perry’s husband-to-be is charming but knackered, and he’s feeling a tad introspective.
We hear documentarian Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens) is doing a feature on you.
Albert is a consultant on a documentary that we’re making about the way fame, celebrity and consumerism is corrupting the current generation and turning people into consumer-cyborgs. The loss of big ideas—socialism, spirituality—these things have been sidelined. It’s more I’m a person who’s sought out success and fame and now that these things are happening, I’m questioning the validity of them.
So do you feel an obligation to use your celebrity status for good?
It’s a tentative toe in the water of altruism and humanity. I feel hugely compromised and hypocritical because I’ve had a life where I’ve been exposed to things I can’t forget—poverty, suffering—and I know those things continue to exist, and the further you indulge yourself in success, the more you feel this is stupid. I get a twinkling awareness of spiritual utopia through meditation; there could be some better way—and I don’t think it’s through the acquisition of stuff.
You once said that you don’t have the "necessary attributes" to be with one woman, but now you’re monogamous. Have you matured, or is it [because of] your fiancée, Katy Perry?
It’s both. I suppose I was getting a bit older and was ready to change. So it’s significant that I met someone that I thought was worth changing for.
So you never get tempted any more?
No. I’m really…I’m in love.
Is this the first time?
Yeah, probably. I don’t know, maybe not, but it is certainly the first time I’ve been prepared to work on myself as a consequence of that.
You’ve been sober for seven years. Do you celebrate your sobriety anniversary?
Yeah, if I’m not working I acknowledge it. I’m really pleased and proud.
Is it difficult? You must go to lots of parties.
A bit. You sort of get used to it. What happens is, you start to arrive at a point where you ask yourself: Why am I at this party?
Are you a homebody these days?
I’m working all the time. If you say, “Why do you want to go out?” for me, it was always to get off my head and to fuck people. But if you take away those two things I’m just a man in a room where I can’t hear what the person I’m talking to is saying. I suppose if you’re a person that really likes dancing or hanging out with your friends—I don’t know. For me it’s really a bit pointless.
Are you going to have your autobiography made into a movie?
Michael Winterbottom wanted to do it, but that was when I was thinking about playing myself. Now I don’t want to play myself.
But as Aldous Snow, you’ve pretty much played yourself—in this film and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
I know. For God’s sake: Give me a break! But if we could make it without me being in it, that would be good.
Who would play you?
The wisdom of Brand
Russell’s tips on dealing with life as a world-conquering, Restoration-haired megastar
On surviving a scandal…
Make sure the thing you’ve done isn’t really that bad and that the subsequent scandal is mostly hullabaloo and hoopla. If at the scandal’s core there’s a misdemeanor of some kind—e.g. an offensive answer-phone message—do apologize for the actual thing. If, however, it subsequently inflates into a volcanic ash cloud of bullshit, don’t apologize for the subsequent bit—only apologise for the “Oh yeah, I did stir up that volcano a bit by shouting at it.” The response of the volcanic ash—The Daily Mail—is not my fault.
On making your name in the USA…
I sort of think: Well, bloody hell, I’ve done all this work, and then you go to another country and you realize it’s irrelevant. Now I am famous in the U.S. but the same problem would exist if I were to go to Afghanistan—and I might. I might become a private dancer for the Taliban. I just have to make people happy, all over the world: war zones, wherever they are. I’m thinking of building a deep-sea diving suit so plankton can get off on my moves.
On resisting Americanisms…
I don’t like saying Americanized words very much. Say, when you go in a restaurant and they go, “It’s ‘Marilyn Monroe’s poo-poo-pee-doo salad.’” I’ll just look at what that salad is. That’s a fucking salade Niçoise! I’ll have the Niçoise.
On empathising with your fans…
I have kind of broad parameters for insanity. Someone sends you knickers? You expect that. Someone gets their boobs out? That’s been done before. Until someone sends you a taxidermied fetus, you’re not even going to really look up.