LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Russell Brand is not exactly the actor one thinks of when seeing a Shakespearean drama, but he figures prominently in new film “The Tempest” — and it’s not the first time he’s taken on The Bard.
Years ago in London drama school during his heyday of drug use — an image he once cultivated — Brand took the title role in a production of “Macbeth.”
“I took a big load of amphetamines, drank half a bottle of whiskey and staggered out as Macbeth,” the actor and comedian told Reuters. “Before I went on, I tried to get myself in the right mood, so I was smashing stuff up in the back room, cut my hands and tried to make myself puke.”
“It was bloody stupid because I was sick everywhere,” said Brand. “Some people in the audience thought it was brilliant because they liked that I was intense and mad. The people that ran the drama school said ‘That’s not what we’re after.’”
Brand was kicked out of theater school shortly thereafter, but now a second chance to redeem himself has come along.
“The Tempest,” directed by Julie Taymor, opens on Friday in theaters in New York in Los Angeles and expands to other U.S. cities December 17. These days Brand is a new man — drug-free, sober and married to “Teenage Dream” singer Katy Perry. The pair were married in October and are currently one of the hottest couples making the covers of celebrity magazines.
In “The Tempest” he plays Trinculo, whom the actor describes as a “slivering castaway jester” in Taymor’s gender-bending version of Shakespeare’s original. Helen Mirren stars as Prospera, who is struggling for control of the island. In the original, the character is a male named Prospero.
Brand said he was thrilled to be in the movie because “I love language” and he wanted to work with Taymor. But he also had reservations.
“I was worried because I was force-fed Shakespeare at school like a lot of people, so you learn that it’s medicinal,” he said. “Julie (Taymor) has made it accessible and exciting and populated it with brilliant contemporary actors.”
Brand only had a couple of scenes with Mirren, but it was enough to make him smitten with the Oscar-winning star.
“Seeing how she handles things, the way she conducts herself as a human being, is very inspiring,” said Brand.
Earlier this year, when the actor signed on to star and produce the remake of the 1981 comedy “Arthur,” he immediately asked Mirren to be his co-star. “The best experience of my acting career is getting to know her,” said Brand.
The British export first drew U.S. attention when he was cast in 2008 romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” as a hard-partying rock star named Aldous Snow. When Snow proved popular, Brand reprised him for “Get Him to the Greek”
Brand credits Adam Sandler — whom he interviewed on a chat show he once hosted in England — for bringing him to the U.S. and introducing him to “Sarah Marshall” producer, Judd Apatow.
“Adam said, ‘I think you’re good, come to America and meet some people,” recalled Brand. “He introduced me to Judd. And because of that, I got to do these films.”
Since then, Brand has worked in the Sandler comedy “Bedtime Stories” and voiced a role in animated comedy “Despicable Me.” Next year, Brand plans to re-team with Sandler on a movie that would star him and be produced by Sandler.
On “Arthur,” which is set for release in 2011, Brand said he learned that producing a film meant “you get to make decisions and people can’t boss you around.”
Not that he gets bossed around these days anyways.
“When you’re not clean, you’re not in control of your life, and you need people to tell you what to do because you’re just a mess,” said Brand. “Since I’ve been clean, people don’t have any reason to boss me around.”
Brand is aware that much of his fan base is impressionable youngsters. He recently completed Easter movie “Hop,” and his wife is part of upcoming film, “The Smurfs.” Their involvement begs the question of whether the newlyweds are planning a body of work for future little Perry-Brands (or Brand-Perrys).
“I suppose,” said Brand. “I didn’t really think of it that way. But most people who have families, children become part of it. So it’s great to have a film like ‘The Tempest’ to educate and then ‘Hop,’ which is a lovely fairly tale.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte