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Unpredictable, Unforgettable Russell Brand

Dec 30, 2009 (Fresh Air from WHYY)

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This week on Fresh Air, we're marking the year's end by revisiting some of the most memorable conversations we've had in 2009.

What's it like to go from being a very big deal in Britain to being mostly unheard-of in America? In so many words, British actor and comedian Russell Brand told audiences at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards that it wasn't so great.

But that was last year. One film, one memoir and several well-publicized antics later, Brand has established that he's one character who's pretty hard to ignore.

Jason Segel, the actor and writer behind the recent film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, told Fresh Air earlier this year that he actually rewrote the part of his character's romantic nemesis to better suit Brand. Initially intended to be a bookish Hugh Grant type, the character became an over-sexed, self-absorbed rock star — a role Brand had no trouble selling on screen.

For all his brashness, Brand says there's a tortured soul wrapped up in those leathers.

"In spite of being deeply flattered by the idea that I could be perceived as a living-in-the-moment, hedonistic, bacchanalian warrior for truth and beauty, I'm as neurotic as the next man," Brand tells host Terry Gross.

In his memoir, My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-up Brand reveals plenty of that introspective self, describing his struggles with drug addiction and his early comedic career.

Yet even as Brand tackles heavy subject matter, he never stops sporting his snarky sense of humor — or his signature leather, chains, and eyeliner. And post-rehab, he's still getting himself into trouble. Take, for example, his accidental gift to actress Helen Mirren: a pair of his dirty underwear.

This interview was first broadcast on April 6, 2009.

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