Away from his revolution, Russell Brand wants to subvert young minds with a new children’s book. Jimi Famurewa goes Paxo
Mounting a revolution, it seems, can really take it out of you. Russell Brand strides into the adjoining room of his London hotel suite, greets me (strong handshake, prolonged eye contact, trademark repeated use of everyone in the vicinity’s first name) and immediately drapes himself in a blanket, looking like he wants to curl up on the sofa.
It’s fair to say it’s been a bruising year or so for the 39-year-old. After the initial mischievous spark of that Jeremy Paxman interview, his calls to dismantle our political systems have been derided, or at least questioned, by pretty much every commentator in the country.
Critical reviews of his book Revolution have been gleefully passed around the internet (“This one nails it!”, “Read Craig Brown tearing him a new one!”), and his TV appearances have prompted as many detractors as disciples.
But the non-believers aren’t about to stop him. We’re meeting today to talk about his new book – the first of a planned series of illustrated twists on fairy tales for kids – which retells the Pied Piper Of Hamelin, with added anarchist rats, flying effluent and pointed jibes at consumerism. The revolution, it seems, will not be compromised. Just don’t expect him to shave his beard off…
This new children’s book is coming out weeks after the one for adults. Is it a planned twin-pronged attack? ‘Now Russell Brand is coming for your young’?
There’s the headline [laughs]. Especially in this climate. Well, it wasn’t planned as that, but it is that. A while ago someone said, at least from a spiritual perspective, “Forget the adults. They’re already dead, focus on the children.” I don’t know how much I believe in it, but apparently children born now are awakening, they’re alert to these ideas. So I thought that I’d like to do a folk tale. Because all good folk tales – and the Pied Piper Of Hamelin is a great folk tale – are a code of information. That’s a weird story, isn’t it? He’s taken the children because they didn’t pay him? That’s a heavy price.
There are some big political ideas in there…
Well, if I were to describe an anarchic egalitarian syndicate, I don’t know what seven-year-old is going to take that on board. But kids do appreciate and understand pretty complex ideas. They have to, in order to imitate their parents and survive in the world. I hope it stays in their mind like a thing from Worzel Gummidge, or a commercial has stayed in mine. It’s like, remember the first time you saw porn and you thought, “I don’t know what this is, but I know there’s something in it.” Or the first time someone mentions drugs. My hope is that it will leave children with a photograph that they’ll come back to.
You also create, and ridicule, a character called Sexist Dave. Was it important to strike a blow for equality?
Yeah, I wanted to get on the right side of the argument. I’m from Essex, and culturally I carry a bit of baggage. For me, I grew up with a particular attitude. A lot of my mates have sisters, but I was always on my own as a kid, so I’m just sort of learning, even now. So I did that because I thought that would’ve been nice to read as a little kid. I’d have thought, “Oh OK, don’t be a sexist.”
Combined with your activism, it seems like a definite career shift from Hollywood films. Were you aware you needed a change?
I was aware, mate. I think we have to be aware of all the seasonal shifts of our life. It was becoming clear to me that I could no longer go in a certain direction. Basically, participating in entertainment that I wasn’t involved in the creation of.
Was there a particular moment when you realised?
I made a film in New Orleans [Diablo Cody’s Paradise] and it was all right – New Orleans is mental, have you been?
Even as a person who doesn’t drink or do drugs, it’s mental. I ended up in a swamp in one of those boats with a fan on the back, the hairdryer boats. Then I was being driven around by a girl on a bicycle thing, thinking, “What’s going on?” I think it’s the swamp. It’s not sure whether it’s land or water. It’s all these forces melting in and out of each other. So it’s hard to keep your trousers on... where was I?
The film you were making...
They wanted me to cut my beard. When I make a film they always want me to cut my hair, and I’m like, “I ain’t doing it.” Now that’s always a sign that, wow, I obviously don’t care about the film as much as I care about having my hair. And as it was a beard, even I knew, well, this is stupid. It’s just a beard. You’re not a Sikh. It will grow back [laughs]. So it got me thinking about how we always have things we want to do in the future. That’s all right when you’re younger, but there comes a point when you go, “I’ve f*cking got to be living now.” David Lynch said to me, “If you fail doing something you believe in, you die once. If you fail doing something you don’t believe in, you die twice.” So just do what you believe in. Well, he didn’t say that last bit, he just left me to reach that conclusion myself, with my mind. [Laughs] Yeah, he’s big on exposition is David. Just watch Mulholland Drive, it’s all there for you, spelled out in plain English.
Do you still think about that period – your marriage to Katy Perry, the big films?
No, I don’t think about it at all, really. I’ve got a weird personality in that, when something’s over, that’s it. I’ve not watched a lot of those films in a long time, and I don’t feel very well equipped to live in that world. I found it hard enough to be at the Pride Of Britain Awards the other night, if I’m honest [laughs].
Why was that? Was it linked to your infamous criticism of a big awards show last year?
I think it’s good to see people recognised as the Pride Of Britain for the positive things they’ve done, but it’d be nice if the ‘Pride Of Britain’ was something that existed on a structural and institutional level. Not as a sort of annual Hunger Games gala [laughs].
We interviewed Simon Cowell last year and he questioned how you could call for a revolution from a Hollywood mansion...
You know how people don’t want to believe in climate change, because if climate change is real, we’re all f*cked? If I was Simon Cowell, I would want to believe I’m in a mansion. Because if that’s not the case, and if I’m right, what’s going to happen?
Doesn’t not voting just pave the way for parties such as Ukip?
Democracy is a powerful idea and cannot be reduced to ‘Keep Ukip out’ – it can’t be, that’s not enough. Also, people have repositioned what I said. I didn’t say, “Don’t vote.’’ It’s not like an allergy. But do you know anyone that wants the NHS dismantled? Do you know anyone who wanted Royal Mail to be sold off? Do you know anyone who doesn’t want normal people to be able to afford houses in London? I f*cking don’t, and yet those things are happening. No one in parliament will go, “We’re the party that is going to keep the NHS together, ensure normal people can afford houses in London and make sure that there are services for ordinary people everywhere.” If parliament can’t do that, what are they? And also, where is that power? Because someone’s benefiting from it. Do you think power has disappeared? No, power hasn’t disappeared. Power is hiding. So don’t be involved in a discourse with people that aren’t offering you anything except, “We’ll kick Ukip out,’’ meanwhile drifting towards f*cking Ukip in most cases. It’s not indifference, it’s not apathy – it’s organise, mobilise and focus on affecting people that are going to make our lives better. When [a party] goes, “Right! Do you not want the NHS dismantled, what we’re gonna do is, we’re going to cancel Trident and tax people’s wealth at a rate of 5 per cent a year.” Then I’ll go, “Oh cool, there’s my vote.”
So do you think you’ll run for government?
I don’t think you can ever engineer that; I think it’s a mistake. There’s obviously a temptation with a character like me – ego-driven – to go, “Yeah, I’ll be King of England.” But, as I say in my adult book, if you put me in that position, I’d be no better than David Cameron. I’d just do what he did and help my mates out. I’ve got different tribal affiliations, obviously, so it’d be like, “Aw yeah, Eton are f*cked now!” But I’d be no different.
Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales: The Pied Piper Of Hamelin is out now