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If I Had a Billion Dollars

Russell Brand and Dame Helen Mirren on the remake of Arthur

You may or may not agree with the decision to remake Arthur, the 1981 comedy that starred Dudley Moore as an alcoholic millionaire given to bizarre pranks whose life is reformed when he falls in love with a working-class woman (Liza Minelli). But if ’twere to be done, you can’t fault the casting of Russell Brand, the bad boy of British comedy, in the title role. Even smarter was changing the John Gielgud role of Arthur’s butler Hobson to a nanny and casting Dame Helen Mirren, who has never starred in a comedy.

Brand may have kicked his various addictions a decade ago, but he still talks a mile a minute, as he demonstrated at a Los Angeles press conference last weekend in support of the movie (which opens on April 8). Some of his comments were surprisingly touching, but as space here is limited you can read those in a complete version of this interview posted on the Artvoice website. Occasionally Dame Helen and director Jason Winer (TV’s Modern Family) even snuck in a few comments edgewise.

(To Russell Brand) Did your history of addiction inform your performance?

Brand: I am such a thorough actor that I did two decades of research into alcoholism 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 for clowning and fun, and his adventures don’t lead to broken glass and howling women. 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’s important to see a resolution to Arthur’s alcoholism. As a recovering alcoholic myself, I was happy to see how that was rendered.

Dame Helen, what is your secret for looking so amazing?

Mirren: Well, many virgins have died in my pursuit of youth.

Brand: You realize that question will never be successfully answered. No one’s going to tell you, there’s a fountain somewhere…

(To Jason Winer) Why remake a film with such an iconic character?

Winer: Arthur is a throwback to a kind of movie that doesn’t get made anymore, a combination of irreverent comedy, romance and drama. Studios might be afraid to mix those things if it weren’t for the comfort of the familiar title. It sounds odd, but the fact that it’s a remake allowed us to do something that we might not otherwise get to do.

Russell, you were an executive producer of this film—what did you do in that capacity?

Brand: 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. No kind of contribution.

Russell, in the film’s opening scene you get to wear the Batsuit from Batman and Robin and drive the Batmobile. Was that fun?

Brand: The car inside is not as interesting as the exterior—it’s like a reverse metaphor for the nature of the human soul. It’s a bit scruffy in there, and I was in there with Luis Guzman, who’s a brilliant actor, but he says unusual stuff, like, “Imagine if the roof of the Batmobile opens and we’re not on the set anymore, we’ve gone back to caveman days!”

I enjoyed wearing the suit because it had Clooney musk in it, the aroma, the pheremones of George Clooney, and I like to think that I absorbed them. I’m certainly feeling a lot more altruistic. If anyone needs any help with anything I’m prepared to help.

Russell, how was Greta Gerwig picked to play the Liza Minelli role?

Brand: We saw loads and loads of different actresses, which was all right, but of course I was on the way to getting married then [to singer Katy Perry] so I couldn’t enjoy it like in the good old days! When auditions had a rather more primal quality! We did the audition with Greta, and afterwards I was sitting quietly, and Jason said what’s the matter, I said I feel sad that she’s gone. Because I’d enjoyed playing with her, she had such a brilliant imagination.

Were there any efforts to keep the production “green,” a la Modern Family?

Brand: I recycled George Clooney’s Batman suit.

Winer: That’s right—it’s distinctive because it has the nipples.

Brand (leering): George’s nipples!

Once you got a nice Hollywood paycheck, what’s the most extravagant Arthur-like purchase you’ve made?

Mirren: A castle in Puglia [a region in the boot heel of Italy].

What’s it like?

Mirren: It is like turning on the taps full and money just pours out into the desert. It’s not finished. It will be beautiful! It’s not really a castle—it’s a farmhouse, but it’s got a [spot on the roof] where you can pour boiling water out.

Did you worry about getting audience sympathy for a spoiled rich character at a time of economic hardship?

Mirren: I think it’s also a fantasy that people have, what would we do if we had a billion dollars? That’s why when the lottery gets really big, 40 or 50 million dollars, we all—I go out and buy a ticket because maybe I’ll win!

Brand (sneering): Going to buy another castle? “Oh, that old castle’s a shithole—I need another castle!”

Helen, how do you feel about getting a star on the Hollywood walk of fame?

Mirren: I feel so really, really honored. When I first came to Hollywood many years ago, the first place you want to go to is Hollywood Boulevard. You go and you look at Joan Crawford’s hands and feet, and the whole history of American filmmaking is encapsulated in that one little area, and that has always been to me the street of dreams. So to find myself 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, amazing. But hands and feet, incredible!

Russell and Helen, you had great chemistry on the film, how was it behind the scenes?

Brand: You go first, so then I can undercut you.

Mirren: He was in his trailer all the time, quite honestly. When he came out, he was always surrounded my minders. He wouldn’t speak to anyone. So I didn’t really get to know him.

Brand (shocked) People are going to write that now! You vicious queen! I’m going to go down to bloody Hollywood Boulevard and fill your handprints in!

Mirren (laughing): No, that’s completely untrue. Well, actually I don’t know because I was drunk all of the time.

Winer: Do you remember the second day of rehearsals with Helen, you were being rather timid, which is unusual for you…

Brand: Yes, well, it was the Queen, Jason, I’m an Englishman, there’s a different resonance. You lot [Americans] buggered off just because of a bit of tax!

Winer: Helen smacked you on the arm and said, Stop respecting me!

Brand: And I did. Left the trailer and put on my underpants. In that order.

Russell, as a newly married man, what advice would you give to Prince William, who will be married soon?

Brand: I don’t go around giving advice to the British royalty. They’ll chop your head off!

For a complete transcript of the ARTHUR press conference, click here.

Watch the trailer for Arthur

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