As the character Aldous Snow, unruly rock star and the "him" of the movie Get Him to the Greek, is stand-up comedian Russell Brand acting or just playing a role he knows all too well?
On the phone from Las Vegas, Brand does the math.
"Ultimately," he says, "if we're 30 per cent identical in terms of chromosomes to bananas, 60 per cent identical to earthworms and 98 per cent identical to chimpanzees, I think the limited differences between human beings can be articulately rendered by any actor of merit."
But then, the great thespian Laurence Olivier once rhetorically asked: "What is acting but lying and what is good lying but convincing lying?"
So perhaps Brand is slightly fibbing when he brushes off the similarities between himself and the protagonist of Get Him to the Greek. After all, Brand, author of the best-selling autobiography My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up, is a former sex-addicted and drug-abusing performer who has now been sober for seven years, has a pop-singer girlfriend and is an enthusiast of transcendental mediation.
For a lot of my life, comedy was the only thing that kept me sane Russell Brand
The character Aldous Snow is a debauched rock legend who has fallen off the wagon after years of yoga and clean living, and has had his heart broken by a pop-singer girlfriend. And the Snow character, introduced in 2008's romantic-calamity comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, was rewritten with Brand in mind after the comic auditioned for that movie.
"With all acting, you use your own personal experiences as a reference," Brand, 35, allows. "Even if I was playing a milkman, I'll think about my time as a mailman."
Fair enough. Milkmen and mailmen do share the same chromosomes, it's true.
Get Him To the Greek reunites Brand with Forgetting Sarah Marshall's writer-director (Nicholas Stoller) and producer (wunderkind Judd Apatow). The round, young, talented actor Jonah Hill is also back, but in a different role . Get Him to the Greek, opening on Friday, picks up the Sarah Marshall story a few years later, when Brand's rock star is decline, both in terms of his career and his personal life.
Hill plays an earnest record-label man whose job it is to get the disobliging musician from London to Los Angeles, where a concert at the Greek Theatre is supposed to vault him back to stardom. Sean Combs, the actor and rapper, stretches out fantastically in his role as the crazed record-label chief.
It's a mix of Almost Famous (backstage rock 'n' roll), Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (frantic events leading to a concert) and The Hangover (madcap road adventures), and it isn't so much a sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall as it is a spinoff.
The film is modern, and yet it seems to be cast in another era: With apologies to Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty, they don't make rock stars like they used to. Pop singers today have personal trainers, for goodness' sake, and have no reason to use record-label assistants as anally loaded drug mules, as they do in Get Him To the Greek.
As well, labels today are probably less likely to put up with an obstinate artist than they once were - the payoff isn't worth it any longer. "I believe there's a lot less money in the music industry than there once was," says Brand, whose fiancée is the U.S. pop star Katy Perry. "So certainly there's not as much debauchery and hedonism as was represented in the movie. Perhaps there's a juxtaposition of the excesses of the past and the current paucity of funds that brings out some of the comedy you see in the movie."
Still, when asked if Snow is an exaggerated version of a drugged-up rocker, Brand sees the portrayal as believable. "People in the music industry have told me it's very astute," he says. "Of course, the character is represented in a comedic way."
Brand, who stars with Helen Mirren in the upcoming remake of Arthur (the 1981 Dudley Moore vehicle about a wise-cracking, drink-happy millionaire), does relate to his Get Him to the Greek character. There's the scene where he's told he doesn't need to give the concert - that he doesn't owe anyone a thing. The sad rock star's response is that he has to perform: "It's all I've got," he says.
"I do have a very powerful and sometimes sentimental attachment to performing," he explains. "For a lot of my life, comedy was the only thing that kept me sane. It was the only outlet I had, and I completely identify with that."