Arthur - Helen Mirren
Arthur (Russell Brand) © 2011 Warner Bros

Russell Brand is on a roll, his movie Hop, in which he voice’s E.B. the Easter Bunny opened last week as the most popular film of the weekend, and this week he stars as the title role in the updated version of the comedy Arthur.

Reinventing a part first played by Dudley Moore in 1981, Arthur Bach is an irresponsible billionaire who relies on two things: his endless money and his devoted nanny, Hobson (Helen Mirren). In order to keep his inheritance, Arthur accepts his mother’s offer to arrange a loveless marriage to Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), a power hungry exec at his organization. But when he unexpectedly meets the true love of his life, a New York tour guide named Naomi (Greta Gerwig) he begins to rethink his decision.

At the press day for the movie, Russell Brand was his usual witty self, and wasn’t fazed at all by a reference to the original movie’s theme, Best That You Can Do.

When you get ‘caught between the moon and New York City,’ what is the best that you can do?

Arthur - Russell Brand and Helen Mirren
Burt Johnson (Nick Nolte), Arthur (Russell Brand) and Susan (Jennifer Garner) © 2011 Warner Bros

The best thing you can do is fall in love.  This is why this film resonated so strongly with me and why I’m so happy with it. My life has been changed by falling in love, so I know that whilst that is a romantic idea and, in this case fictional, it’s something that has happened to me. That’s why I’m so enamored of the story.

I love the original movie, Dudley Moore is a great hero of mine and to be able to recreate that film with a talented ensemble of people was an incredible gift. To be able to work with the Oscar winning wonderful actress, Helen Mirren, a brilliant director like Jason Winer, who not only accommodated my improvisation but told the story so wonderfully well visually.

It’s almost a cliché to hear that we used the city as another character in the movie. But if you watch this film you see the city is truly present; it makes Manhattan seem like a magical fairy story.

How did the project come to you?

Arthur - Russell Brand and Helen Mirren
Arthur (Russell Brand) and Hobson (Helen Mirren) © 2011 Warner Bros

WB bought me this idea very early on. They asked would I be interested in remaking Arthur and I said: “Yeah, because I really loved Dudley Moore.” But you never know if these things are ever going to happen and I didn’t really imagine they would.

Then we talked about writers and directors and I though Jason [Winer] would be good because of his visual style and his comedy of directing Modern Family, he would be able to make this relevant and pertinent while maintaining its traditional aphetic.

Then when Peter (writer) had the idea of making Hobson female, then we immediately thought of Helen Mirren, for me that was the idea that made the film feasible. That was the idea that meant, that this will actually happen now and I’m so grateful that it did.

You’ve spoken about how your past history with addiction helped inform you in playing Arthur. Can you talk about that?

Arthur - Russell Brand and Helen Mirren
Vivienne (Geraldine James), Arthur (Russell Brand), Susan (Jennifer Garner), Burt Johnson (Nick Nolte) and Alice Johnson (Leslie Hendrix) © 2011 Warner Bros

Yes, I’m such a thorough actor that I did two decades of research just to make sure it was a hundred per cent right! The difference of course is that Arthur is a fictional alcoholic and has a much more latitude for clowning and fun and often his adventures don’t lead to broken glass and howling women. Although he is of course arrested at the beginning of the film.

It was very important that we established a context where the alcoholism was humorous and good fun, but was not irresponsibly portrayed. This is 2011 and it is important to see a resolution to the problem of alcoholism and that’s one of the aspect as a recovering alcoholic as myself, I was particularly happy how that was rendered.

What was it like wearing the Batman suit and being in the actual car?

The actual car is not as interesting on the interior, it’s the like the reversed metaphor for the nature of the human soul. The inside was boring. It was a bit scruffy in there. But I enjoyed wearing the suit because it had Clooney musk in it and it had the pheromones of George Clooney and I’d like to think that I may have absorbed them.

I’m certainly feeling a lot more altruistic. If anyone needs help with anything, I’m prepared to help.

You and Helen have great onscreen chemistry. What was it like behind the scenes?

Arthur - Russell Brand and Helen Mirren
Arthur (Russell Brand) and Hobson (Helen Mirren) © 2011 Warner Bros

Working with Helen was inspiring, interesting, a real honor. She’s proper but also funny, quirky and totally charming. We had a wonderful relationship. I’m a bit in love with Helen. I was very excited about the possibility of working for her, er, I mean with her, that’s a weird Freudian slip isn’t it?

In these dismal financial times, how do you think people are going to react to a rich man whose biggest worry is which car to use today?

I’m very glad you’ve asked this question because Arthur has everything. He has all the money in the world, yet he is lonely, yet he is unhappy. I grew up poor, I didn’t have any money, now I have some money, the greatest poverty one can have is to be poor in one’s heart and through falling in love he is truly happy. He discovers purpose.

All of us know that money is transient. Its pleasures are illusory. The happiest moments in our life are not: “Oh I got a new hat or a wonderful silvery object,” but it’s when you connect with another human being.

If you can find the $18 in your pocket, you are purchasing dreams with that money. Plus you can watch our movie, then sneak in and watch another one, just stay in the corridor. But pay for our one!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.