If we’re being completely honest, on-set interviews can often be quite generic affairs. While immensely enjoying the intimacy of speaking to filmmakers and actors in bespoke, unique environments, catching anyone on their lunch break can feel a little hurried and intrusive. But with Russell Brand it felt somewhat different, as when we travelled to Dublin to visit the set of family adventure flick Four Kids and It, we had a profound conversation about fatherhood, politics and chocolate.
Four Kids and It is directed by Andy De Emmony (Father Ted) and is based on Jacqueline Wilson’s novel which in turn is based on the famous E. Nesbit tale. Brand plays the primary antagonist, an eccentric pantomime-villain of sorts called Tristan, and it’s a role tailor-made for the comic performer, who explains that this is a role, and project, he is excited to be sharing with his own offspring.
“I like doing kids films because kids watch them and I’ve got kids,” he said. “Plus playing a villainous, moustache-twirling character, it seems like a lot of fun.”
Sat in what is best described as a horrible little room, dirty and unused, part of the mansion that purports to be his character’s abode – the downstairs may be grandiose, but this damp square room certainly wasn’t. But despite the strange smell, Brand was a keen listener, thoughtful and articulate, pausing between each question before replying with answers so eloquent they almost felt scripted. Though for a man who has a way with words, he admits that it’s not always easy conversing with children.
“I don’t know why that is,” he smiles. “But then what do you say to adults? Do we say how’s work? Perhaps we need kind of social cues that aren’t too heavy. You can’t go, are you alright? Not too anxious are you? 12 year olds probably have all sorts of transitional things happening. Maybe it’s an attempt to keep communication at a manageable level.”
Within the film, which boasts an impressive cast, also consisting of Michael Caine, Matthew Goode and Paula Patton, the leading four children are granted wishes when they find a magical creature on a sandy Cornish beach. We asked Brand what he would’ve wished for when he was that age.
“Bloody power and chocolate. The same things I’d wish for now,” he said. The film does tap into an inherent childlike quality that should appeal to all members of the family, and Brand explains that acting can be a cathartic process, allowing him to tap back into that same wonderment.
“I remember when I was younger, when I’d move or go to a different school and think, hang on a minute, I can be anybody. Acting is almost like that. When it’s good, you just think, I’ll just be this person now, I don’t care anymore,” he continued.
“Though storytelling is not about reality, storytelling is a deeper thing. Aaron Sorkin I’m referencing, said it’s not about trying to create reality, creating stories is a different thing. I’m interested in myth and storytelling and folklore, and in this there’s a creature that’s under the ground that grants wishes. Even in kids films, any good story abides by certain formulaic necessities, and they directly correlate to the human psyche, so if you jump into it, there’s interesting stuff that goes on.”
We then asked if he misses being a child. “The pain of mortality is balanced by the joy of being a father, and to be honest, I wasn’t that happy when I was a kid. I felt a little bit trapped, I like it better now, even though I know that I, and everyone I love is closer to death than ever before. I still think that’s a small price to pay.”
“I live a peaceful life. Two daughters, an amazing wife, two dogs. I don’t feel like I’m part of the problem, we’re living in complex times, but we’re also living in our heads and of the two situations, there’s only one I feel able to control.”
That being said, surely he must miss childhood holidays? “I had alright holidays, whether it was with my mum, on caravan holidays or going to Spain,” he reflected. “My dad took me to Disney World once when I was a kid, that was amazing. Holidays are interesting little portions of time aren’t they? Little stories in themselves. Like, when does the holiday start? On the morning of the holiday? On the plane? When you arrive at the hotel? When does it end? When you get home and everything seems a bit different, the carpets changed. I didn’t like that.”
Naturally, given Brand’s political engagement across the years, which has lessened somewhat more recently, in public at least, we wanted to know where he stands on the lack of nuance in political debate on social media, something he agrees is missing.
“I think it’s peculiar,” he said. “Something interesting is happening and nobody will know where it’s going to lead. Nuance is being lost and it doesn’t seem like its a spirit of conciliation or progress but rather one of division, on both sides of the traditional argument, in basic terms of left and right. Perhaps those categories are finished.”
Four Kids and It will be available to watch from April 3rd on Sky Cinema