Russell Brand doesn’t describe himself as a traditional method actor, but for “Arthur,” in which he reprises Dudley Moore’s career-defining performance as New York’s most lovable millionaire drunk, he admits to some fairly unconventional prep work.
“I’m such a thorough actor that I did two decades of research just to make sure I got the character 100 percent right,” says the spritely 35-year-old Brit, who opened up about his own alcoholism and addictions to sex and heroin in the 2007 autobiography “My Booky Wook.”
“The difference is that Arthur is a fictional alcoholic and has much more latitude for clowning and fun,” Brand says. “Often his adventures don’t lead to broken glass and howling women. It was very important to establish his alcoholism as humorous, but this is 2011 and there also needed to be some resolution to his problem, so as not to portray it irresponsibly.”
The other difference between the Oscar-nominated 1981 original and Jason Winer’s remake, opening Friday, is the public perception of alcoholism and its consequences, now confronted openly on reality TV shows such as “Intervention” and “Celebrity Rehab.”
According to screenwriter Peter Baynham, framing a full-scale farce around a stumbling drunk might have worked 30 years ago, but not today.
Brand agrees. An outspoken actor, comedian and author, he is more than happy to volunteer his thoughts on any subject with a characteristic mix of candor and playful wit — sometimes at the expense of his co-stars, who seem cowed by his unflagging energy.
But “Arthur” was not merely a therapeutic venture for him.
The original, like the remake, is as much love story as comedy. Brand, who married pop star Katy Perry last October, credits romance with establishing a foundation that helped center him.
That’s why, he says, he can appreciate the journey Moore once took in the arms of co-star Liza Minnelli, who played his unofficial caretaker and eventual savior.
“My life has been changed by falling in love, so even though this romance is a fictional idea, it has actually happened to me,” Brand says. “Dudley Moore is a great hero of mine, and to recreate one of his classic films with a brilliant director and a phenomenal ensemble cast is a great honor.
“I think a more current approach was vital. I’m not sure, for instance, that Social Services would allow Liza Minnelli to be a nurse. If you went to visit a home for a sick relative and were greeted by Liza, you might demand a refund. I realize life’s a cabaret but [what the] hell!”
IF YOU GO
Starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Nick Nolte
Written by Peter Baynham
Directed by Jason Winer
Running time 1 hour 45 minutes