The younger folks among you may not remember Arthur, the 1981 Dudley Moore/Liza Minnelli hit comedy, but it was about the last time you could have a movie about a happy-go-lucky fun-time drunk without having to delve into deep psychological trauma that causes alcoholism and eventual rehab. What makes this interesting is that ex-addict Russell Brand is currently remaking Arthur with Helen Mirren, and everyone is curious to see how it can work in this day and age. Now, the word is that Jennifer Garner and Nick Nolte are curious enough to join the cast as the heiress with secrets whom Brand’s Arthur is being forced to marry, and her religious father, respectively.
“Our attitude towards alcohol has changed now,” Brand admits. “Now being a drunk isn’t ‘Hey! He’s a lovable party guy!’ but ‘I think he’s dead! He’s really sad. I think I saw he was drinking.’ There has to be a more sophisticated approach to the problems of alcoholism, to which I’m obviously sensitive as a person in recovery, but I don’t want to lose the fun. I like it also in Arthur, ‘You’re the guy with all the money, right?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘What’s it like?’ ‘It’s brilliant.’ I don’t want to lose that. But, yes, you have to be a little more responsible, particularly because studios and things are big conglomerates now. You can’t have people rampaging around, spreading the wrong message. Everyone’s got to remain conditioned citizens at all costs. For God sake, don’t think!”
So what’s the new take on Arthur going to be? “Very much our own path,” Brand confirms, “as demonstrated by the decision to have the butler as a female nanny played by Helen Mirren. That’s already a distinction. We’ve taken some of the best lines from the script, but even then I go, ‘Hmm, it’d dodgy doing that.’ There are some just amazing lines in there like, ‘How did you end up being a prostitute?’ ‘My mom died when I was 6 and my father shot himself when I was 12.’ ‘So you had 6 relatively good years.’ We’re gonna have to keep that. What can I say? The spirit of it. Dudley Moore, he’s sort of innocent, isn’t he? So you’ve got to have that innocent vulnerability. That’s got to be maintained. And the sort of sadness for someone who’s a drunk or whatever. And the optimism, the affability and all that. Keep all those things, but it’s so different. It’s just a different time. Look at what’s happening economically and all those things. A billionaire’s wish fulfillment. He can do anything. He’s got so much money. I like that sort of stuff.”
That’s not to say they won’t go off in some crazy new directions. “It’s a very different dynamic,” Brand says about his Arthur’s relationship with Mirren’s character as compared to Moore’s Arthur and his relationship to his long-suffering father figure/butler (which was an Oscar-winning performance from Sir John Gielgud in the original). “That’s the thing about Helen Mirren – she’s a powerfully sexual animal, even into a part of a life where that would not be typical. What I’d like is for her to give me a bath, and I’m planning for that to be in the script. You know how you find some women – I don’t know how it works with homosexuality, but with me, I want women who are older to look after me a bit, but then it goes a bit sexual. First of all it’s just, ‘Come on, you look really hungry. Just have something. Just get in the bath. Oh, you silly boy. Just wash it properly!’ Then it gets all sexy. That’s what I want.”
Don’t you wish you were Arthur? Sometimes, he just thinks funny things.