Entertainment & Arts

Russell Brand takes on Arthur remake

Image caption Russell Brand plays a rich heir with a penchant for drink in Arthur

Comedian turned actor Russell Brand can currently be seen as Arthur, the drunken New York playboy made famous by Dudley Moore in his 1981 romantic comedy.

In recent days Brand has been selling the contemporary remake to US journalists, putting the emphasis on its topicality.

"I think Arthur should be regarded as a fairy-tale prince - a person bestowed with wealth at birth," he says.

"In this year of the Royal Wedding, how wonderful to see a romantic comedy focused on a prince."

Dame Helen Mirren appears opposite Brand, stepping into the late Sir John Gielgud's shoes to play the heir's faithful servant.

Yet where Gielgud was Arthur's butler in the original film, Dame Helen plays his nanny.

Image caption Dame Helen Mirren (r) co-stars as Arthur's nanny in the film

The Oscar-winning actress shares several scenes with the larger-than-life Brand, whom she says was "utterly disciplined" on the set.

He may have been well-behaved, but according to Dame Helen there was also room for spontaneity.

"Russell often would improvise. I would more go the route of saying, 'I could say this' and pass it by the writer."

Dame Helen, 65, sees Arthur as breaking new ground for her in career terms.

"I did it because I'd never done a big, full-out comedy before. I've done films that are comedic, but I've never done a film that is a comedy."

The actress says she often finds herself "frightened and intimidated" on movie sets, as was the case with Arthur.

Surprisingly perhaps, she finds that she is often in awe of the big names with whom she works.

"I get totally starstruck. I can't talk to them and I don't feel good enough," she says.

Drunkenness

Brand, 35, says bringing Arthur up to date involved some adjustments, including addressing "the changing attitude to alcoholism".

In the original picture, Arthur's constant drunkenness was presented as a harmless indulgence. Now, though, it would be viewed as full-blown alcoholism.

Indeed, the new film depicts Arthur attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Brand, who has admitted his own problems with addiction in the past, thinks his own experiences may have helped him with his portrayal.

In a move that will alarm some recovering alcoholics, the star reveals that whiskey was on hand while the film was being shot.

"I would carry a bottle of booze about on the set and before takes have a big nostril-full of whiskey to get myself prepared, to evoke the memories of my drunken days," says the dandyish joker.

However, Brand insists he was aware of the risks involved. "Some people said it was dangerous and were concerned about it," he reveals.

"But if ever anyone saw me begin to raise it to my lips in an attempt to once more release the demons from within, then people would clutch it pretty quickly."

US actress Greta Gerwig, best known for her work in independent cinema, plays Arthur's love interest in the film.

In the 1981 version that role belonged to Liza Minnelli, who has been reticent when it comes to the new production.

"It has nothing to do with me," the Cabaret star told reporters recently. "I just think of Dudley so it's difficult for me, thinking of him."

Mixed reviews

The Arthur remake is raising Brand's profile in the US, but ultimately he wants to make an impact away from the world of entertainment.

"One would hope that from this point I will be able to build a legacy of which I could be proud - that reaches beyond entertainment and into philanthropy and altruism."

Image caption The film has received mixed reviews from US critics

When asked what altruistic deeds he has in mind he says: "I think I'll have to await opportunities because I'm not a grand social architect.

"I am but a comedian, but I would just like to think that I'm prepared spiritually to be open."

Arthur performed modesty at the US box office in its opening weekend and has received some damning reviews.

The New York Times referred to the film as a "grim load of mediocrity", while other reviewers have described it as bland and muddle-headed.

Many commentators take the view that the original was such a beloved classic that any remake was bound to fall short.

Yet it has some supporters. The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, found Brand "a worthy successor to Dudley Moore who has a darkness inside him that feels right for the time and for the character".

Arthur is out in the UK on 22 April.

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