Documentary filmmaker Ondi Timoner opens SXSW with "BRAND: a Second Coming," following outspoken comedian and activist Russell Brand through his childhood in England, his rise to fame, his battles with drug addiction and his recent transition into proletarian prophet and media critic. All of which meant spending quite a lot of time with the man himself, a man Timoner says should not be so easily dismissed.
As someone who's spent time interviewing Russell Brand in the past, I was impressed by what you managed to get out of him.
Yeah, it is hard. It is not easy. He likes to control the flow of things, and he's very good at it. I think he's referred to himself as an autodidact before and it's not off the mark. He can definitely spin things around. But he was really good with me, I think, in a lot of ways because we developed a trust. But because he had given me creative control he also tried to control every little aspect of everything along the way and assert his authority over his own life — limits on his own life. I was thrown out of many a car — nicely, of course. And then I'd get a call five minutes later to get back in the car. But I think we got there in the end. I wasn't afraid to express my opinion and challenge him along the way, and I think he probably appreciated that. Maybe not in the moment, but I think it helped to forge a mutual respect for one another.
It's fascinating how because of his persona and personal history, critics find it so easy to dismiss him despite the content of what he's saying.
He's never really answered me on this question, but I think a central question of the film is are ego and narcissism essential components for anyone who's going to change the world or step out of line? And has he left Hollywood because he realized, "You know what? This is fleeting fame. I want real fame. I want to be transcendent, I want to be immortal, I want to be Gandhi, I want to be Che, I want to put my life on the line for something. I want to give it everything and be remembered forever." Whether or not that is true and a motivating factor with him, which I think it might be to some extent — certainly not all of it, I think he deeply cares about the ordinary man — he had to build fame to be able to be in this position. He's in a very unique position where he speaks to millions and millions of people, and he adds hundreds of thousands or subscribers and Twitter followers weekly. He's a powerful voice right now to the masses, and no one can deny that. And I think that's very threatening to the entrenched power structure. And I don't think he should be dismissed at all. I think he's incredibly intelligent, incredibly articulate and often absolutely right about what he's saying we should look at and the fact that we're being dealt all these distractions and the way that Fox News manipulates the truth and turns it into, really, lies. More power to him. I don't think the film is a puff piece and I don't think it lets him off the hook for all of his contradictions, and it calls into question some of his motivations. But it certainly should not call for dismissal. If anything, I think it will have people taking him more seriously, and I think that's a good thing.