Most British people say "cunt" a lot, but I didn't hear Russell Brand say it once. This polite son-of-a-bitch has been at his acting hustle since he was a wee tyke in jolly olde England, which just goes to show that hard work pays off. The 35-year-old has wrestled with drug addictions, beautiful women, cops, brawny crewmen, and disgruntled audience members alike, but finally stands triumphant with fans on both sides of the pond. He's been fired by MTV, rehired by MTV, and straddled by Kristen Bell; he's won the hand of pop-crusher Katy Perry; and he wears heeled boots even though he's already hella tall. June's Get Him to the Greek places him back in the role of Aldous Snow, the scene-stealing tantric cock-rocker he played in Forgetting Sarah Marshall—this time as the leading man. (Jonah Hill's back as well, but somehow as Snow's manager instead of his sycophantic waiter. Guess times have changed.) So, as you'd imagine, there was plenty to discuss. After I interviewed Russell, he took me to a benefit for Transcendental Meditation that was hosted by David Lynch. While we watched folk-rock O.G. Donovan play, Brand stood by content as people clamored to get a word with him. He was the toast of the party, and why not? Everyone loves to laugh—Jessica Rabbit married a goddamned bunny because he was funny. This dude just went and landed himself the real-life version. Good on ya, mate.
Did your dad take you to a brothel when you were a kid?
Russell Brand: Yeah.
Was that good?
Russell Brand: I think my dad did it for all the right reasons. He did it for fun.
How old were you?
Russell Brand: I think I was 16. And at the time, I gotta say, I thought it was fantastic. What 16-year-old boy doesn't want women? So it was amazing. And it was a crash course, 'cause it happened a few times—and those women aren't having straightforward vanilla sex, either. They're wild.
Where was this?
Russell Brand: The first one was in Hong Kong. Her prostitute name was Alice. She probably wasn't that much older than I was. She was slight, so even though I was a kid, I picked her up in my arms and took her to the balcony in the hotel; it felt like being a man. Then there was a bit when she said, "I better go now, or I'm gonna fall in love with you." And I thought, "Oh!" But really, that's just kind of the thing they say. [Laughs.] I'm kinda glad those things happened, 'cause everything makes sense now. I feel like I know where I'm going.
Did those trips put you on a path to have an insatiable desire? Most men sort of have that anyway, I guess.
Russell Brand: Well, I think men have the capacity in them to just keep doing that. On one level, we're just biological machines. There's no biological reason why a man shouldn't just try to have sex with every woman he meets—all of them get pregnant and your genetics are winning. But for a woman, that's not a good strategy. I think it's partly nature and partly that I've got an addictive tendency. The way I've been with drink and drugs suggests I have a tendency to get addicted to things.
So are you a sex addict?
Russell Brand: I probably was. When you're on TV, you have a lot of opportunities to meet people—if you're given those opportunities and you're young and single, then BANG! That's a perfect storm. And plus, my nature anyways, I'm very, grrrrr, more more more! So for a little while, it was a bit much.
Do you think the desire to have sex with tons of women ever goes away, or is it just a bottomless pit?
Russell Brand: It's a bottomless pit; it's not like you could ever fill that. But [before Katy] I'd never met anyone before where I thought, "OK, this makes sense. This is now a time to make an effort." Our first date was in New York, we met when we were doing the VMAs. I'd met her a year before, then I bumped into her at a dress rehearsal and had a really lovely flirt. She's a strong character, and it really knocked me off my center. When we went for a date, I was nervous.
Uh, that's because you're a human male.
Russell Brand: Normally, I'm good at first dates, 'cause that's the only date I ever have, so I know how to control it and be confident. But everything I was saying was falling flat. I used to take drugs in the past, and there was a little bit where it felt like I took too much acid or too much coke or something. Like this moment of intense nervousness, and I had to sort of ground myself, 'cause I felt like I was falling in love with her really quickly. From that first date, I didn't return another call to another girl, didn't go anywhere, didn't mess around with anybody at all. It's almost been a relief.
Have you ever been scared by a woman you were with?
Russell Brand: By a woman? Well, not scared of them as individuals, but I started to get an idea that maybe this wasn't a good way to be living. Not necessarily from a moral perspective, but I just felt like I was going around in circles. It was a little unfulfilling spiritually, although I was really enjoying it. You can live like that for a while, but I think if you continue past a certain point, it becomes a bit tragic.
One time I was in London and this woman outside a strip club said to me, "How's your stomach, love?"
Russell Brand: How's your stomach?
The only thing I could think was that something inside might turn my stomach. But I also didn't know if it was slang or what.
Russell Brand: That is not slang.
So there was something intense in there.
Russell Brand: Clearly. I think it meant what you intuitively thought: That something going on in that strip club is so harmful and dark, that you need to be a man to handle it. [Laughs.] Not just a straightforward, "Have a look at my boobs." I think it's a good job you didn't go in.
I might not be here.
Russell Brand: You might not be! You might still be sprawled on some carpet in Soho, looking at something stomach-churning. [Laughs.]
A buddy of mine was addicted to heroin and he told me that people who say quitting cigarettes is harder than quitting heroin are wrong.
Russell Brand: Yeah, your buddy's right. I get irritable without cigarettes, but when you come off heroin, you vomit, you get hot, cold, sweating, sick, itching—and the worst of all of it is your legs kicking. That's why the phrase is "kick the habit." I've come off heroin twice, and the worst part is laying in bed kicking and not being able to keep still. The physical withdrawal doesn't last that long, but then it's just all psychological. I think it's worse than cigarettes.
Have you had many altercations with cops?
Russell Brand: If you're a drug addict, then you've always got drugs, so you're a criminal. So you're gonna get into problems. Also if you're a drug addict, often you're stealing—I've gotten done for shoplifting a few times, once for public nudity, criminal damage. That was at an anti-capitalism protest: I climbed on top of one of those media vans with a satellite on the roof and I took all my clothes off. The thing was, and although it was May in England, it was a cold day in May. I've seen photographs of it, and it was not flattering.
Russell Brand: I got arrested twice that day, actually—both times for stripping naked. The first of the two, the police were rough when they arrested me; in my mind, there were five or six of them being really aggressive with me. But I've been arrested by quite nice police as well. I've not been arrested since I've been in recovery, so that's seven years. But it was fairly common to be in the back of ambulances, back of police cars, arrested and put in cells when I was younger.
Did you ever OD?
Russell Brand: No, I've been really lucky with that. I was an addict for four years. The person that ran the treatment center where I got clean came and met my manager at the time, who's the father of the person who manages me to this day—my mate Nick. We stay very close, he's gonna be best man at my wedding. But they just thought I'd just been smoking too much weed; when they found out I had a serious drug problem, they put me in touch with this man who ran a rehabilitation facility. He came and saw me to give a verdict on my situation. He said, "If Russell doesn't come off drugs straight away in the next week, he'll be in prison or a mental institution or dead in the next six months." I remember thinking that was heavy. I went in the rehab facility a week later, and it was the best thing I've ever done. I've stayed clean since then.
Congratulations and good job.
Russell Brand: Cheers, thanks.
Did you ever take a swing at a police officer?
Russell Brand: One time I was doing a stand-up gig in Edinburgh that went a bit crazy, and I started fighting with some members of the audience. Then security came and beat me up a little bit. Then the police came. They dragged me off and were a bit militant, you know, pushing and shoving a little bit. But no John Wayne antics or anything, just a sort of general struggle.
Have you ever been punched square in the face? Like actually seen the fist coming at you...
Russell Brand: Yeah, but not for a while. How about you?
It's been a few years, which is fine with me.
Russell Brand: Me too. I'd really like to avoid that. There's no place in the face that's enjoyable to get hit. The nose is horrible; the jaw, when it goes out of alignment. I hate it all. I don't like that life. I don't like being around drugs, drink, or aggression. There's some elements of chaos I like now, but if there's gonna be any chaos, it might as well have some political motivation or some value. Like people protesting against something or people who cause chaos to create change or justice or equality, sometimes I find that a little exciting. But just senseless drunk and brawling? No.
Have you ever had to run for your life?
Russell Brand: One time when I was using, I'd gone away with some of my friends to a little quiet seaside town in England, a quiet place. We went to a bar and there was this girl sitting at a table with all these guys, one of whom was her boyfriend. Like an idiot, I went over to chat this girl up even though this group of guys was a rowing team. One of them told me to fuck off, so I picked up a drink and smashed the glass on the table like, "Come on, then!" The doorman stepped in and said, "What are you doing? You idiot." I had a moment where I realized, "Oh man, I'm gonna get killed." He slowed them down, but not by much. That was a scary night: This little quaint beautiful city and me running through gardens and hiding under hedges. It was frightening!
Are you fast?
Russell Brand: Not fast enough to be takin' them kinda risks. Not with rowers. They can't row on land, but they've got good stamina and they can pack a punch. I was thinking, 'cause they're rowers, they must come from cozy backgrounds and they won't have fire in their bellies. But they were big rowers!
What was your impression of America when you were a kid?
Russell Brand: Where I'm from, Essex, America was considered cool. That's before all the foreign policy stuff started changing: "America is cultural colonialism." As a comedian, there's Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks—and you've got the Doors, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, all this cool music. So my idea of it has always been positive, except the political awareness.
C'mon, we're getting better, aren't we?
Russell Brand: I made this documentary about Jack Kerouac for the BBC. Me and my mate drove right across America, from Boston all the way to San Francisco. We'd ask people about war and politics, and everyone was just nice and fun and aware. I don't know where they're finding those people for tea-time TV where everyone's shouting and screaming. I'm very optimistic about America and American people. I sort of live here, really. I'm marrying an American woman. I was excited by it as a kid and I'm excited by it now. When I do comedy, I take the piss a bit, but that's what I'm gonna do I'm a comedian. I talk about England having more culture or more class or whatever, but you've gotta find an angle, haven't you?
Do you live with regret?
Russell Brand: No—and that's one of the good things about having, in some senses, an extreme life. I know what it's like to be a junkie, I know what it's like to live for the hedonism with women. I know what it's like to not have money, I know what it's like to be desperate, I know what it's like to treat myself badly, to treat others badly. There's the quote, "You don't regret the things you do, you regret the things you don't do." I have a job that I love, I'm developing as a person in a way that I'm pleased with. I'm good to the people I love. If my feelings are hurt, I can still lash out and say something spiteful, but now I don't feel good about it.
Do you worry?
Russell Brand: I suppose there's some anxiety. If you're in show business, people let you do anything you want. It's easy to become an egotist and an asshole—but the people around me knew me before I had anything, and they don't tolerate that. I have a woman who doesn't tolerate it. I feel sick when I do it. A lot of those stories you hear about becoming consumed, I'm hoping it won't happen to me.
Just being conscious of that could be enough.
Russell Brand: If it's not on your radar, you become susceptible to its charm.