Russell Brand: VMA Host Brings Anarchy From the U.K.

Kristen Bell, Russell Brand, ...
Image credit: Glen Wilson

Sure enough, an afternoon spent with Brand is nothing if not entertaining. One minute, he's proclaiming the joys of casual sex — ''Bloody hell, what else are you going to indulge in?'' — and the next, he's referencing a swami who taught him how to love himself. Sample exchange:
EW: Are you religious?
RB: I certainly am!
EW: How so?
RB: I think I'm Jesus.

But unlike most funnymen, Brand seems as much at ease discussing the sad clown inside. ''I think the things that made me feel vulnerable and weak as an adolescent needn't be impediments,'' he says. As a young man, the only child of a doting single mom who battled cancer, he struggled with bulimia before discovering other ways to escape himself, both self-destructive (heroin) and healthy (acting). ''I did a school play when I was 15,'' he recalls. ''My life before had been about the management of pain, had suddenly become about the possibility for change. That's the point where I went, 'Oh, thank f---ing God there's something to live for.'''

Brand scored a scholarship to the prestigious Drama Centre London, alma mater of Paul Bettany and Pierce Brosnan, but got kicked out a week shy of graduation for destroying school property. Ten years of drug abuse and many arrests later, he landed a gig as a VJ on British MTV, and then, on Sept. 12, 2001, showed up to work dressed as Osama bin Laden. He was fired. ''Put bluntly, it was a very stupid thing to do and I put it under what I call the 'drug-brella' — stuff I did while on drugs,'' says Brand, who didn't clean up until a year later, when his longtime manager forced him into rehab. ''I went in thinking it was just temporary and that I'd just get clean until I can get my career going again. But once there I realized that I'm powerless when I'm doing drugs and that they'll completely destroy my life if I do them again.''

Brand spent the next five years rebuilding. He turned bottom-feeder gigs, like hosting a Big Brother commentary show, into cult hits, and in 2006 got MTV to rehire him. And then, sparked by his treatment for sex addiction and a 2006 romance with Kate Moss, he became an object of obsession for the U.K. tabloids. ''After I went out with [Moss] I was this sensational creature to people,'' says Brand, who clearly didn't mind. ''From then on I was able to deliver. This journey has given me hours of material.'' The recovering addict has even charmed his way into a Disney family comedy opposite Adam Sandler in Bedtime Stories, slated for December. Brand is aware that he's not exactly made for mainstream America, but he offers up a typically high-minded explanation for why he'll succeed. ''If our DNA is 60 percent identical to an earthworm and 99 percent identical to a chimpanzee, what differences can there really be between human beings?'' he says with a shrug. ''And perceived from Mars, aliens won't be going, 'That one's done well for himself,' or 'Look at that one's hair.'''

If all goes according to plan, it won't just be aliens marveling at Brand's success — or his signature tumbleweed coif. ''I'm constantly distracted by my ambition, narcissism, vanity, desire, lust,'' deadpans Brand. ''I don't pretend to enjoy anonymity.'' Something tells us he won't have to endure it much longer.

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Originally posted Aug 29, 2008 Published in issue #1009 Sep 05, 2008 Order article reprints

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