When Russell Brand’s documentary, Brand: A Second Coming, was due to premiere at South By Southwest in March, the comic-turned activist cancelled his planned keynote speech and publicly distanced himself from the film, calling it “oddly intrusive and melancholy”. Here, the film’s director Ondi Timoner, who spent two and half years shooting Brand after several other film-makers had dropped the project, tells us what she learned about this “walking contradiction” while documenting him.
1. Just being around him can you make you smarter
“I’d never spent time before with someone who’s an autodidact. He’s just so loquacious – his command of the English language is incredible. He really challenged me and taught me a lot about how to work with words, rhythm and humour. I got smart documenting him, I think.”
2. He’s a hypocrite
“He talks about us all being one, but he really does hold himself as ‘the royal Russell’ in so many ways… He’ll make you wait for two hours if he deems it appropriate – Russell comes first. I think in a lot of ways he is a walking contradiction.”
3. He’s still self-destructive
“Even though he’s a genius, and he’s been sober for 15 years now, which is an incredible accomplishment, he’s still self-destructive. He’s invested six years in this film but he’s still trying to undercut it every step of the way. This makes no sense because the film is going to come out no matter what, and it will be good for him, especially in the US, where most people really have no idea about how much depth he has. With this film he’s missing an opportunity to speak about the matters that he cares so much about.”
4. He’s aware of his flaws, but can’t stop himself from succumbing to them
“He’s aware that he over-controlled this film before I came along, so he ended up giving me creative control. But then he threatened me by saying that if I didn’t change certain things, the film would never see the light of day. He wanted to control his image instead of allowing an authentic portrait to come out. In the words of someone very close to him, whom I shall not name, he tries to untie a knot with a hammer.”
5. He’s not sure what step he should take next
“He knows he wants to change the world but, to paraphrase Gandhi, he doesn’t quite know how to be the change. Should he go and put on a blanket and disappear to an ashram? That might make the news for three minutes and affect ten people or 100 people, but is that enough? Or should he stay here and try to change things from within the system? What’s he going to do next? I think he’s still trying to figure out how to push the boundaries, and for that I have the utmost respect. Even after everything that’s happened with this film, I’m still cheering him on.”
Brand: A Second Coming opens in UK cinemas this Friday (October 23).