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Flashback: Russell Brand ‘Sexy Beast’

Can the comedian and actor keep all his demons at bay? Our original feature from 2010.

Can the comedian and actor keep all his demons at bay? Our original feature from 2010.

To coincide with his upcoming ‘Trew World Order’ Australian tour, here’s our original Russell Brand feature from 2010.

Inside of Russell Brand’s house in a leafy part of Los Angeles, an injectionist named Sat Hari has pulled back the plunger to load a syringe with a concoction heavy on vitamin B complex while Brand sits on the couch, legs splayed, watching. He’s been feeling a cold coming on. He’s thinking a vitamin shot will help. Finally, Sat Hari slides the needle into his arm (“Beautiful veins,” she says), and Brand leans to the side.

“The warmth is happening,” he says with a contented sigh. “It’s beginning nicely, right at the nut-bag epicenter, the warm ball-bag rush.” Brand, of course, is the 35-year-old comic genius from England who arrived in America a couple of years ago to sleep with as many women as possible, just as he did back home, where five girls a day was not un­heard of, and ended up getting engaged to pop star Katy Perry. These things happen. It’s just the way his life works. One moment he’s a gin-swilling heroin addict who loses an MTV UK hosting gig because he showed up for work dressed as Osama bin Laden the day after September 11th, 2001; the next, he’s beat­en most of his addictions, wriggled his skinny butt into tight women’s pants, dashed on some eyeliner, dated Kate Moss, bedded about 2,000 other women, said stuff like, “I’m constantly distracted by my ambi­tion, narcissism, vanity, desire, lust. I don’t pretend to enjoy anonymity,” become a Beckham-size British ce­lebrity (only infinitely more notorious), and astound­ed American audiences, first by playing addlepated scene-and-girlfriend-stealing rock star Aldous Snow in 2008s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then by host­ing that year’s VM As, during which he distinguished himself for insults tossed at the Jonas Brothers (for their purity rings) and George Bush (“a retarded cow­boy”). And now he’s back, to reprise Aldous Snow in the Judd Apatow-produced Get Him to the Greek. And to shoot up a little vitamin B. And to see if America will embrace him by turning him into a movie star or decide he’s too freaking weird and send him packing. But no longer to sleep with anyone other than his Katy Perry, so help him God.

One afternoon, he’s sitting inside a moody Los Angeles cafe called Figaro, enjoying a double cappuccino, and in your life you’ve never seen any­thing like him. Tall as a tree in stacked-heel boots, wearing boa-constricting black leather pants with the bright shiny zipper on the outside (“It’s good, it draws the eye”), he’s a popinjay supreme, all bearded, swarthy and swishy Jack Sparrow-pirate-looking. He’s also about the most fun, intelligent, filthy-minded, egocentric, self-effacing and happily contradictory guy ever.

“I came from a working-class background, with a single mother, had very little, became a junkie, was miserable and was finally like, ‘I have this thing, this power, this magnetism, I’m good at showing off, I’ve got to achieve something,’ and so at last I got off drug addiction,” he says at one point. A bottle of water ar­rives; he takes a quick swig, then sallies forth in his customary breathless way, full of Dickensian flour­ishes. “What I’ve realized, though, is that the stuff I’ve used that glowing orb of amusement to acquire – status, fame, power, money, fulfillment of dreams – is all meaningless and transient, and what I’m won­dering is, can I, whilst now in the belly of the beast, the eye of the storm, swim through it all, cut my way free like Jonah, and discover something valuable and escape with something worthwhile? I don’t know. I mean, going on a voyage of self-discovery isn’t as ex­citing as getting your cock sucked while chomping on chocolate and playing Nintendo, is it? Ultimate­ly, it’s more gratifying. And my life will be ascetic and about denial. But I’m not there yet, so the con­flict continues.”

And then a pretty girl walks by, and Brand’s head jerks in her direction.

It’s well-known about Brand that he’s got some kind of supernatural way with women. “Actually, it’s quite unbelievable,” says his friend Noel Gallagher of Oasis. “We’ll be sitting in a restaurant, a girl will walk past, and he’ll kind of say, ‘I’m just going to go to the toilet and see that girl.’ And then he’ll come back and say, ‘Right, I just got that girl’s number, and I’m going to fuck her later.’ And he will. And you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, how do you do that?'”

But that was back when a London tab­loid named him Shagger of the Year three years in a row, back when he would diddle everything in sight, prostitutes most espe­cially. Then came sex-addiction rehab, fol­lowed by some backsliding – i.e., tons of girls but no prostitutes – and then, at last, arrived his real cure, in the form of Katy Perry, who bounced a plastic bottle off his head at the 2009 VMAs, texted him a photo of her breasts and got their romance started. In short order, he flew off to Thai­land with her, proposed to her, had his pro­posal accepted and bought a house in L.A. for them to share. And so while his head jerks today, his body doesn’t. It stays put.

“I was just on a college stand-up tour, and in the old days it would have been car­nage,” he says. “I would have torn through like a forest fire, like a hurri­cane, with women trying to shelter themselves, looking to the skies, eyes rolling heaven­ward. So yes, sometimes I can temporarily be monogamous.”

He has achieved this turn­about – fragile as it may seem – through strength of will and an understanding of the deli­cate nature of his addictive per­sonality. To help him maintain, he attends AA or NA meetings two or three times a week. He meditates, practices yoga and Krav Maga, and lifts weights. He writes and has just finished his second autobiography. Recently, he has been filming a documentary about happi­ness, taking an anti-consumerist angle, with him starring as a guide to the happi­ness insights of, among others, Mike Tyson, 50 Cent, Cameron Diaz, the inmates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary and, in a few days, the residents of the Laguna Woods Village retirement community.

How else might he keep himself occu­pied? “Whilst on tour, I masturbate a little bit, but not too much,” Brand says. “It’s sim­ilar to the monkeys you see masturbating at the zoo, where it’s like, ‘Zookeeper! Zookeeper! There’s something wrong with that monkey!’ And then, of course, if you ejaculate onto yourself, there’s that beautiful, transcendent, orgasmic moment of relief, then you walk to the bathroom to clean up, and you catch sight of yourself in the mir­ror, and it’s like, ‘I don’t know what you’re looking at! Kings have done that!'”

In brief, he’s working feverishly to keep all his wolves at bay and his resolve intact.

Much of what happens next for Brand will depend on the success of Get Him to the Greek. Certain­ly, it’s a part he was born to play, if only because many of the more outrageous events in the movie were drawn from his own life. When Jonah Hill’s hapless character – he’s been charged with getting Aldous Snow, once sober but now a wreck, from England to L.A. to play a gig at the Greek Theatre – sticks a balloon full of the white stuff up his bum before boarding an airplane, that comes right from Brand’s past. Only, in Brand’s case, as is true of so many things about Brand, it all went fur­ther, deeper, more out of control, because once on the plane with his ass-plugged load, he was asked to remove his feet from a chair, refused, was asked to leave the plane, refused, tried to stage a passenger revolt, failed, and was dragged off by se­curity guards. “If they had done a cavity search on me, I would have been fucked,” he says. Very true. But there were no reper­cussions for his behavior on the airplane. He was sent on his merry way. And this has happened time after time. No matter what he does, he gets away with it, just because of how he is. He’s irresistible and, accord­ing to just about everybody, both out of this world and out of his mind.

“When I walked in the room to test with him,” says his Forgetting Sarah Marshall co-star Kristen Bell, “I saw a man wearing more makeup than I was, in tighter jeans than I was, and who was prettier than I was. I said, ‘Guys, no way.’ And then he went into the bathroom for 10 minutes to primp his hair a little higher à la Dolly Parton, came back and gave the most amaz­ing audition I’ve ever seen. His brain is so expeditious, oftentimes I’m quite certain he’s an alien. There’s no other way to de­scribe it.”

“I don’t know if it’s his education, his prior drug use or his sexuality,” says Greek producer Judd Apatow, “but he seems to exist on an entirely different plane of reali­ty than this Jew from Long Island. I some­times feel that I am sending my signals to another planet.”

“He’s different, unique, a sweetheart, a rogue, a bad boy, he’s completely hon­est, and I think he lives in another dimen­sion,” says director Oliver Stone, who is executive-producing Brand’s documentary. “But he’s burning at a very high level, and you have to wonder how long he can keep it up without burning out.”

At the very least, he’s not going to fade away. He’s got six feature films in the works, including The Tempest, co-starring Helen Mirren, and a remake of Arthur, also with Mirren. Plus, he sings all of Aldous Snow’s songs in Get Him to the Greek and is releas­ing them on CD, along with a video for the tune “Just Say Yes,” which he directed and stars in and about which he says, “The lead actress in it, Candice Nicole, is a proper porn actress. That’s a gift to childhood me. You can watch the music video, then go to a website and watch her covered in come. If you were 16, what better?”

In other words, Brand is about to super­saturate the country. But right now he’s on Santa Monica Boulevard, behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius emblazoned with a Driv­er’s Ed Direct logo, taking a driving les­son from a man named Tom. He’s never learned how to drive, didn’t drive even in England. “I’m serious when I drive,” he’s saying, hands steady at 10 and 2. “I don’t try to infuse the experience of driving with my personality.” And so along he goes, lis­tening to Tom’s instructions. “OK, now, bust a right, bing, bing,” says Tom. And Brand does. Then Tom sees some stopped cars ahead and says, “OK, put on your left-turn signal. OK, check out your mirrors. Boom, boom, you got it.” And Brand does have it; even so, a bus honks at him.

“Did he dare to beep at us?” Brand says.

“Well, he’s a moron, because we didn’t cut him off,” Tom says.

“And we indicated!” Brand says. “And he can see we’re in a learn­er car. Ungracious bus driver. What does he want, fellatio?” Brand slows to make a right turn, then has to stop for a pedestri­an. “Look at him sauntering,” Brand says. “He’s a real fly in the ointment. I’ve never seen such nonsense. It’s the behavior of a Frenchman!”

And so it goes, Brand cracking wise, endlessly, nonstop, unable to help himself even when he’s trying to be serious. Some­times it’s low-key, like now in the car; other times it’s broader and more profane.

One evening, he’s meeting at his home with the producers of the happiness docu­mentary about their upcoming visit to the Laguna Woods Village retirement com­munity, and one of the producers tells Brand, “Do you know how old you have to be to get in? Only 55.” And then he just sits back, because he knows Brand will see his statement for what it is, a comedic setup.

And indeed Brand does.

“They’re still in the brack­et of people I might fuck!” he shouts. “In fact, at that age, they wouldn’t even be the oldest that I have fucked!”

Needless to say, much laughter follows. Of course, given Brand’s current state of betrothal, his “people I might fuck” comment might have been more happily phrased in the past tense. But maybe that’s just what you say when you live out loud the way he does.

(And for the record, the oldest he has had sex with? Oh, around 61.)

Nothing about Brand’s childhood could exactly be considered fun. He was raised in the working-class town of Grays, just east of London, by a single mother who bat­tled cancer and remarried a man he detest­ed. His father, a slippery reprobate, would reappear on and off – to take him to the Far East at the age of 17, for instance, and set him up with all the prostitutes he wanted – good times. But for the most part, Brand was miserable. Unlike the slender, swash­buckling figure of today, the teenage Brand was overweight and uncoordinated – in his words, “tubby and unlovely and odd and obscure and bland.” At the age of seven, he was sexually abused by a tutor who took time out from the lesson to stick his finger up Brand’s rectum (and ever since, Brand has enjoyed having things stuck up there – “That thing is like a turnpike tunnel!” – including, onstage, for comedic effect, a condom-covered Barbie doll). By the age of 14, he was bulimic. He’d come home from school, go to the bathroom and force him­self to vomit. He also started cutting his arms in private and in public. Soon enough, he began smoking pot, which eventually led to LSD, cocaine, crack and, of course, his beloved heroin.

He did know how to make people laugh, though. An early amusement involved drawing a face on his penis and show­ing it to pals. Then, during high school, he acted in his first play and almost immedi­ately decided he was going to be an actor. “You might be as famous as me one day,” he wrote in a friend’s yearbook. “If so, see you at the top. Love, Russ.” From there, he spun through two London drama schools, getting kicked out of both, but not before establishing himself as an oddball freak show to be reckoned with. He took to wearing a long coat he called “the Cloak of Love,” which he used as part of his se­duction technique. He turned his act­ing classes into psychodrama. “He want­ed to be Jim Morrison or some bohemian character like that,” a classmate recalled. “He would turn up to rehearsals drunk and then just slash his wrists for the attention.” He excelled in iinprov, but most teachers thought that the most outstanding thing about him was his “sheer laziness and apathy.” One assessment sent to his mother: “What can I say about Russell that won’t upset you? Really, not a lot. I am afraid he has wasted his year at the Academy.”

Once out in the world and on his own, Brand continued in like man­ner, developed his fondness for heroin and whores, worked on his stand-up act, was a hit at the 2000 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, got hired by MTV as a VJ, got fired by MTV, had many mo­ments of ego- and drug-fueled nastiness, and for a while had his own TV series, RE:Brand, on an obscure Brit­ish cable channel. The show featured Brand in various escapades. He smoked crack with a prostitute, he jerked off a gay guy, he took a bath with a weeping-sore-ridden homeless man, and in one partic­ularly twisted episode, he staged a box­ing match with his father. “I hate myself, I hate being alive,” he told his dad. “And one day, mate? You’ll get a phone call. ‘Rus­sell’s killed himself….’ I don’t really think you’ve ever really given a fuck about me.”

It was a stunning piece of psychologi­cal wound-opening, and it briefly showed Brand stripped of his fancy words, as just a hurting little boy. Tellingly, while recount­ing the incident in his memoirs, he leaves out his words to his father, making it one of the few obvious times he has avoided opening himself up for inspection. And he really does not like talking about his fa­ther, other than to say, “He can be funny and warm and engaging and exciting, and I’ve passed the point of wanting to say any­thing negative about him.” Still, the two only speak occasionally.

Mainly, though, Brand treats every­thing like a joke. And that’s the thing about the guy. Throughout his life, terrible, crazy things have happened to him, at the hands of others, as well as his own; but the mo­ment they do, he converts them to part of his act and his daily public presentation. Give him the slightest excuse, and he’ll happily show you the cutting scars on his arms. “I’ve always had this incredible fa­cility to disconnect and watch certain mo­ments like, ‘That guy’s in a lot of trouble, I hope it works out for him,'” he says.

It’s fascinating that he’s been able to do this and that it has indeed worked out for him. Then again, it’s also a little unnerv­ing. “The last time I cried?” he says. “I don’t cry.” Which also means he’s probably got a lot bottled up inside, heavily pressurized, if not ready to blow.

Later on in the evening, he’s sitting outside at the Chateau Marmont, where he has just ordered an omelet. Only, at this time of day, it’s an off-the-menu item, and the waiter, in a surly fashion, is giving him a hard time.

“Well, would you mind asking in the kitchen?” Brand says to the guy. “And if it’s going to be a problem, could you send the maitre d’ girl over?”

“Which girl?”

Brand sighs. “Just keep sending people until someone goes, ‘Yes, here, you can have an omelet at a restaurant.'”

“OK, but I’m going to leave that menu, because I’m going to be right back out.”

“I’m going to put it in the bushes,” Brand says, tossing the menu into the bushes.

Then the waiter goes away, and for the next little while Brand airs himself out on various and sundry.

He is a vegetarian and has been since the age of 14, in homage to the vegetarian­ism of his great hero, Morrissey, the enig­matic king of mopey rock, who later be­came a friend. “The first time we met,” Brand says, “we’re sitting around with all our entourages around us, watching like dog breeders waiting for a couple of span­iels to copulate. I am about to tell him what an inspiration he’s been to me, how it’s him who awoke me to the possibility of deifying the part of you that is individual – and then walking past is a woman with big tits.” He sighs. “We are ethereal spiritual beings. We are angels. But we are flesh. And that acre of cleavage took me down.” This is pure Brand, of course. But it’s so neat and tidy it makes you wonder if it happened the way Brand says it did. In fact, sometimes you just want to say to him, as Sarah Marshall says to Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “Booshit, booshit, booshit.”

Step by step, he says, here’s his basic se­duction technique. Him: “Hello, you’re very beautiful.” Some girl: “Thank you.” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “No.” Says Brand, “Once you get that ‘No,’ there’s a 90 per­cent chance that bird will copulate with me. And then I just radiate at them, ‘Why would you not? We’re all going to die, so why not? What could be better? I’m going to infuse you with wonder, I’m going to make you come, I’m going to give you the most beautiful and exciting experience of your entire life…'”

He is and always has been a mama’s boy, and he misses her when she isn’t around. “I miss my mum!” he says.

Talking about his daily routine, he says, “Exercise isn’t my natural condition. My natural state is slumped on a couch on smack with a bridge of saliva between my knees and my chin.” Actually, this hasn’t been true for seven years now, but it’s good stuff, a big part of his identity, and he trots it out regularly.

Then the waiter comes back. “So,” he says to Brand, “what else would you like?”

“In addition to the omelet?”

He shakes his head. “They won’t do it.” Brand asks for the maitre d’ to be sent over, then goes off to find her himself. “If I may be frank,” he says to her, “the wait­er was a little rude, and I’m sufficiently of­fended to consider it worth taking up your time…” In short order, the waiter is re­placed, the omelet arrives, Brand digs in, and he says, “One of the things I’m con­stantly reminded of by people who love me is that I’m charming and that when I’m in a conflict I shouldn’t put aside that wonder­ful piece of artillery.”

And what if he had shelved that piece of artillery, how else might it have gone?

“‘You fucking cunt, I’m a fucking genius, make me a fucking omelet or I’ll rip out your fucking ovaries and make an omelet with that and use your come and rape it out of you.'”

The violence of his words hangs in the air, dreadfully, and makes you wonder about Brand’s darker side. As a child, when a gardener acquaintance told him to be careful around the flowers, Brand waited until the fellow was gone, then tromped them into the ground. He went out with a girl named Amanda for six years and cheat­ed on her often. Maybe that can be chalked up to sex addiction, but then there’s the time a girl slapped him for not holding up his end of the bargain in a girls-come-too sexual encounter, and he reacted by spit­ting in her face. Brand is lots of things, and he’s been that guy, too.

In Brand’s upstairs office at his L.A. home is an air-hockey table, a Fender Telecaster with the Union Jack on it, some figurines (a pig, a skunk) with Hitler’s head on them, a big photo of Morrissey and a poster of Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors. Stone has inscribed it “To Russell, the next coming.”

There’s a bathroom upstairs, too, and Brand is hanging out there now, talking about how much time he spends in bath­rooms. “Throughout my life, I’ve found my­self in lavatories,” he says. “As a kid, I would play in them and break stuff, and then there was that period of bulimia and puk­ing; and then there’s masturbation; and then there’s drug addiction and bathrooms in train stations, airplanes, cafes and bars; and then, once I came off drugs, there was loads of sex in bathrooms, because when you’re sleeping with five or six women a day, that’s where a lot of it happens. And then, before gigs, I’d go to the bathroom just to empty myself out, trying to find my way to a place where I could acknowledge the shamanistic element of performance and be one with the audience and hopefully do something profound. Of course, I was, gen­erally speaking, a little more of a lackadai­sical, frivolous person back then, whereas now I’m just pretty pompous.”

He undercuts himself like that all the time but, in fact, he does seem to have some spiritual leanings. “I love that thing from Schindler’s List, that he who saves one life saves the world entirely. I suppose in a romantic, pseudospiritual, sentimen­tal application of’Oh, we’re all one’ ideol­ogy, you could say that’s just saccharine, but why would you say, ‘Who cares? We’re just atoms. We’re going to die.’ Why be­lieve that? That’s really a rubbish belief sys­tem. That’s why I’m attracted to Hinduism and striving to be in harmony with nature and live beyond our basic primal natures and free ourselves from desire.”

Ah, desire, the feast and famine of his existence.

“Well, it is pretty potent in me,” he says, “which is why I have to work so hard on spiritual things. I’m chipping away at this stinking, wretched monument to self-absorption I’ve built.”

But what, among other things, does all this add up to? He says, “People think I’m vain because I look in mirrors so much, but I’m not looking in mirrors thinking, ‘Look at you, you hunk.’ I’m just checking to see if I’m still there.” So, if nothing else, what it may add up to is him living in a wilderness of mirrors, wandering around trying to see if he’s still there, accreting the details of his existence (the heroin, the Cloak of Love, etc.), checking again, modifying those de­tails (no more heroin, proposing to Perry, etc.), checking once more and feeling better as time goes on. Or, to be less grand, maybe he’s simply getting older and growing up. Then again, it could all be booshit.

Now he is finally on his way to the Laguna Woods Village re­tirement community, driver in front, him and his assistant, Tom, in back. It’s morning, he’s not a morning person, and he’s struggling to butter a few pieces of toast. In frustration, he shoves the toast at Tom and says, “Here, Tom, can you make these things buttered?”

Then he talks a little more about Perry. Their first meeting involved a kiss, as part of a cameo she did for Get Him to the Greek. Brand says he thought, “Oh, she’s interesting” (and Perry has said, “After the scene, I was hopping like a bunny”). They enjoyed some playful banter at the VM As and went on a date the next day. “It was fright­ening, and I wasn’t funny,” Brand says. Shortly thereafter, they went to Thailand, having never even spent a full night together, two strangers, and then he proposed to her.

“It was amazing,” Brand says. “I didn’t make the deci­sion. It just rolled out like a carpet to walk upon. But now I’ve met someone who I care enough about for change to become an imperative. She’s a perfectly decent, lovely person, good fun and engaging, easy to be around and interesting. But meeting her changed me. With her, I don’t feel like I’m fulfilling some bizarre psycho­logical fetish.”

But why marriage?

“It seems like the most nat­ural thing to do, to make that oath before God, that I want to be in union with her and in denial of my biological drives. We’ve seen the photograph of the monk setting himself on fire in protest of the war – you live in defiance of your most basic pain impulse so you can overcome the motivating forces of sexual desire. Any­way, those avenues were ex­plored. I did do a lot in the area of’Oh, what would her breath taste like, what will her laugh be like, what will she sound like when she comes?’ But now I have one person, and we will have this exploration together. I hope it works. It’s a new ex­perience for me. I’m protective of her – before, I didn’t mind paparazzi, now I am border­line violent toward them – and the part of me that is with her is a different thing.”

The only time he can recall her ever getting upset with him was last year, on the way to the Grammys, when he shouted at some anti-gay protesters, “Oi! You don’t know Jesus! I know Jesus, I’ve just been sucking his cock!” And believe it or not, he says, Perry’s parents do find him acceptable – and Perry’s father is a pastor. “I’m the cli­ché of the bad boyfriend, and they seemed like the cliché of the difficult in-laws. But just as I’m actually a rather sweet, sort of sensitive person who’s striving for self-improvement, they’re really sweet and I re­spect them.”

Inside the village, he gets out of the car to greet his docu­mentary crew, then announc­es, “I have to go poo,” and trots off inside. After that, he hangs out with some retirees, asking questions about happiness, hams it up, looks concerned and interested, and is in all ways utterly charming. The retirees are smitten. Toward the end, they gather around him for pictures, all these old folks, as well as a cute young helper girl in her 20s. Stand­ing next to Brand, she smacks her ass and giggles.

Later on, outside, after most people have left, Brand sidles up to her. “And as for you,” he says, “what’s your story?”

An older woman named Sheila butts in. “Oh, she has boyfriends galore.”

“Really? How many?”

“Just one,” the girl says. “My hubby.”

“I’m getting married in October,” Brand says.

“You’re not going to be like Tiger Woods, are you?” Shei­la asks him. “No. I’m going for the old monogamy. She’s a lovely girl from a good family. Grounded. Normal. But nuts as well.”

Then Sheila leaves, and it’s just Brand and the girl. “Well, I’m off to wherever is next,” he says. “But before I go, I might do a wee, actually. Come on, take us to the lavy.”

The girl doesn’t understand. “To the lavy?”

“To the bathroom.”

“Oh,” she says. “OK.”

Off they go, through the front door to the bathroom he just visited a half-hour ago. He knows where it is. There’s no need for this girl to show him. The seconds tick by – 12 of them. Then the girl emerges into the sunlight. So maybe Brand has changed, maybe it’s not all just fancy talk, maybe he really has found happiness with Perry. If he was testing himself with the girl, his re­solve and his commitment to Perry, he just passed with fly­ing colours. Birds flush from the surrounding trees, and if any bystanders had witnessed the moment, they would have been stunned and maybe even begun to cheer.