Aldous Snow is a flamboyant, drug-addled rock star who lives that life to its fullest extent, which masks an inner intelligence that’s constantly surprising when he lets it show. Swap in ‘comedian’ for ‘rock star’ and ‘recovering addict’ for ‘drug-addled’ and you’ll get Russell Brand, the man who played Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and who’s taking center stage in that role for Get Him To The Greek. In the film, Jonah Hill plays Aaron Green, a record company stooge whose job it is to gather up Snow and make sure he makes it to a promotional appearance on The Today Show in New York, and then to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles for a big comeback concert. However, Snow is a heroin addict and strangely pleasant in being difficult to deal with, and when he insists on behaving like a caricature of a musician, the craziness of that life sucks both Snow and Green into a whirlwind of insanity, proving just how hard it is to stop that lifestyle once it starts.
One might worry that throwing Brand back into that lifestyle, even if it’s just fake movie stuff, could threaten all the progress he’s made towards putting that life behind him since he quit in 2002, but he scoffs at that. “No, I didn’t think I would relapse,” Brand said in his heavy Essex accent. “It’s interesting, the props person who gave me pretend cocaine to take in one scene, which I don’t think was in the movie, was himself 21 years clean. I said, ‘What is this?’ It looked like cocaine and I had to snort it right up my hooter, and he goes, ‘This is organic matter.’ That’s the sort of thing you’d read on a Nestle label. But – being a drug addict and that – I’m in a daily program of recovery.. So one day at a time, I’m alright. It’s more the emotional stuff, when you get all angry or shout at people. Your body don’t know that you’re not serious. Apparently you can tell your brain any old information and it will just respond to it, if you just keep telling your brain. That’s that power of that positive thinking – which some people say is mumbo jumbo and perhaps they’re correct – but apparently if you just fill your head with ‘positiva,’ it’ll all be all right.”
Brand is unflinchingly honest about his past, his mistakes and just about everything else, which makes one wonder if he has any sort of filter at all. “I have to take responsibility for where I want to draw boundaries around what I actually consider to be private, but I’m kind of comfortable doing that,” he says of his renowned candor. “I think this exposure I had – when I first became famous in the United Kingdom, it was helpful because it meant there wasn’t a spate of ‘This bloke’s a drug addict! This bloke’s f**ked all these women!’ because I was making jokes about all of those things already. So that made me some kind of incorruptible, indefatigable, indestructible force. So it was a good idea. And also, I think it transposes those things from being stuff that makes you sad to stuff that makes you laugh. There are some stories that I tell on stage and they’re funny, but in the words of Morrissey, ‘I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible.’”
There’s a moment where Snow starts to get angry about the fact that Green won’t give him the drugs he wants, and Brand says that was the hardest part of making the film for him. “I have to shout at Jonah at one bit, and that made me feel a bit bad,” he said. “The part where I go, ‘Gimme the f**king drugs!’ I would have to get intense with people. It’s intense. The drug comes first. F**k everything else. For me, it’s tricky to revisit. Obviously, the reason I was able to hopefully bring authenticity to that is because I’ve been in that situation loads of times. People, when you’re a drug addict, they’re always tipping your drugs down a toilet, like that’s gonna help. You just have to go and get more. It’s inconvenient. It’s a nuisance. You’re not going to have an Archimedes moment of ‘Oh yeah! Eureka! Thank God you’ve tipped them drugs down the toilet. Also, I noticed that the water level rose, which is interesting as a side note.’ So I’ve had that stuff happen loads of times, so I remembered it. It made me angry, but I don’t like to get into that part of my character too much as a human being anymore because it makes me feel sick. I don’t know if anyone’s in recovery from drugs and alcohol, but if you shout at someone – say you’re trying to get your phone to work and the person says, ‘Oh sorry, I’ll put you through to my supervisor.’ ‘NO! I WANT IT DONE!’ If I do that now, I feel really bad in my stomach, awful. Now I’ve been crippled by some sort of cosmic empathy. So now I can’t be mean. Even when I pretend to, I feel a bit bad.”
Does that mean he’s a nice guy now? “I’m pretty nice now. Pretty nice. Out of selfishness,” he joked.
Case in point: when asked if doing this movie has given him any sympathy for the poor assistants who have to try and make sure flighty celebrities such as himself get to where theyr’e supposed to be to do what they’re supposed to do, Brand denied it with tongue-in-cheek. “I became aware of the irony while making this film that there are people who have to fulfill that function in my own life, that there are people who are like, ‘Please, Russell, can you please…’ ‘No, I’m just not getting up. I can’t be bothered. No, I won’t.’ There are people who have to do that job. Not sympathy, awareness. I just sort of mused on it. Just sort of, ‘Hmm…’ like that. Like I was in a smoking jacket. ‘Oh! The irony!’ Like something that Dorothy Parker might have thought about and flicked some cigarette ash on the floor. ‘Pick that up.’”
Obviously, he’s not afraid to come off as obnoxious, and that freedom and complete candor gotten him in a lot of trouble in his stand-up act, where he has no director or editor. In fact, it’s gotten him hospitalized.
“As a standup comedian, you have this sort of absolute authority,” Brand explained. “You can say anything you want to once you’re up on stage. You can just go nuts, and I have done – lots of times – and sometimes I get in trouble, sometimes with the police. When I was a drug addict, I got really badly beaten up on several occasions because I’d think, ‘I’ll just say this now. It’s what I believe.’ And sometimes I know I was right about stuff I was saying. I was definitely, definitely right about the nature of consciousness and the nature culpability, about the way that we’re all socially culpable for each other, and you can’t demonize certain individuals. Even the most extreme criminals – we have to take social responsibility. People don’t want those kind of ideas in a comedy club. They’d just beat you up. I was saying that we all have to take responsibility for the notion of pedophilia, but I was unable to articulate it in a way that people thought was acceptable. Their response was much more to do this to my leg. [Brand then pulls up his pant leg to show off a scar on his shin.] That. Yeah, I got really badly beaten up and thrown through a door. Luckily I was on quite a lot of heroin that day, so it didn’t hurt. But what was interesting was to watch the blood [squirt out and] go ‘pft!’ to the beat of your heart pulsing, literally. Then I went to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – Edinburgh’s a good place to get heroin – and I go to these kids, ‘Go and get me some heroin, lads.’ And I gave them 40 quid up front – never pay up front for heroin, probably anywhere! There are very few places you can make advance heroin payments. ‘Who will be delivering the heroin?’ Always no money down for heroin. Installments, possibly, yeah.”
If it seems like Brand is a jerk, however, it must be noted that he couldn’t have been more polite and engaging and warm when speaking to the press about all of this, but he can’t help but poke at people for fun, even when asked about the charities he’s involved with. “Focus 12, the drug rehabilitation center where I myself got clean. I’m a patron of that charity in the UK. And the David Lynch Foundation for Transcendental Meditation. I’m affiliated with these causes, but also the ongoing revolution, but that’s more subversive. We can’t admit to that because otherwise we’d all be killed.”
How much of that attitude is a joke and how much is real? We may not know, but Brand’s not afraid to mock himself either. “Yeah, I’m narcissistic,” he quipped. “I’m working on it because I recognize that the self is a sort of construct, and it’s all going to dissipate into nothing. If you take it too seriously, you’re f**ked.”
It seems quite clear that Brand isn’t about to stumble on that point, and given his career trajectory – he’s got a book coming out and he’s starring in an upcoming Arthur remake, as well as a version of The Tempest with Helen Mirren – he’s got a pretty good handle on success. “As I remember, I used to be a penniless junkie, and now I’m not,” he stated. “Something’s going right. I’m happy with it.”