At 35, Brand is in the odd position of either evolving his self-described monstrous persona into a healthier, more enlightened version or reconciling himself to faking it. Arthur co-star Helen Mirren recognizes the dilemma. “It’s hard to be an original in this world, which Russell is. And when you’re young, you do that kind of shit. If you’re lucky, you grow out of it.” (Of Mirren, Brand says, “To have known her at a time where [romance] would have been feasible outside of marriages—it would have been very exciting.”) There’s also the more poignant possibility that Brand’s outrageous self-caricature is too specific for a lengthy career, at least one as a movie star.
A waitress walks by and asks Brand if he needs anything. “Oh, God,” he gasps, leaning in and focusing all his attention on her. “It’d be a terrible list if we were to start with my actual requirements. Besides, I think, we would need the U.N. involved. Some sort of tent out there with respiratory equipment? A masseuse. People with oils. Some sort of, like, guy with a harp or a lyre.”
The waitress smiles, blushing deeply, and I’m reminded of something Gerwig said. “When Russell paid attention to you, the sun was shining on you and it was so warm and good. And then he’d take it away and you’d just want it back again. Which is why I’ve always said he could be a cult or religious leader. Everyone was in love with him—men and women.”
In Arthur, directed by Jason Winer (Modern Family), Gerwig steps into the Liza Minnelli role as the sincere young woman who saves the rich and feckless hero. Mirren plays his wry, indulgent nanny (John Gielgud in the original). “Because of what I bring,” says Brand of his character, “we deliberately toned down anything that was too much about hedonism and women and focused on man-child stuff.”
Perhaps the biggest change is that (minor spoiler alert) rather than ending the film with Arthur still a falling-down drunk, 2011 Arthur goes to AA, only getting the girl after learning to take care of himself. Brand attends meetings regularly and similarly got his girl after behavior modification—switching to a life “not built on things that are very transient and explosive. As soon as I met Katy, I realized instantly, in this preposterously romantic way, that this is only going to work if I completely alter my agenda,” says Brand, who fell for his wife after she threw a water bottle at his head at rehearsals for the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. That night, while presenting, he hit on Perry from the stage. They were engaged three months later and married in a Hindu ceremony this past October.
It’s hard to imagine Brand or Perry lounging around, stripped of elaborate makeup and costumes, evaluating window treatments on their laptop, but this, says Brand, is how they spend a Sunday afternoon. “‘Those curtains?’ Well, I don’t know, that seems like a lot of money. ‘Yeah, but if you think about it, they’ll be there for five years.’ To quote Lemmy from Motörhead, ‘I’ve never had one woman that made me want to give up all the others.’”