NEW YORK -- Russell Brand and Greta Gerwig’s shoulders were almost touching as they nah-nah-nahed their way through what sounds like a Duran Duran song. They waited for something like take No. 20 to start at the top of the stairs on the corner of 60th Street and Central Park East, one of the most iconic and reiterated descents into New York’s Central Park in cinematic history.
The “Greenberg” actress was dressed in a pixie-ish late-summer dress with red sweetheart heels, and Brand offers her his coat, which belonged to his character Arthur’s father. Gerwig’s Linda makes a half-hearted jab at Arthur’s heavy drinking and playboy world-view. He grabbed her hand to take her to his inner-city oasis. It was almost midnight.
The crew cut, re-set and tightened up the scene to its most concise points: walk, flirt, hint of familial melancholy, flirt, conflict, flirt, escape, love. It’s a romance; director Jason Winer wants it to be a modern fairy tale.
He told HitFix during the New York set visit that fairy tales, if they’re told right, can and should be retold, which is why remaking 1981 comedy “Arthur,” originally starring Dudley Moore, is worthy of a re-telling. And with Russell Brand as its lead -- as well as its producer -- he felt positive that a new “Arthur” won’t be a retread, but a modern re-defining.
“I had this great affection for [‘Arthur’] and when I heard they were re-making it, I was like, Well that’s a terrible idea. I loved that movie. Why would you want to remake it? And then I heard it was Russell Brand. And I thought, well that’s a great idea because you’re taking one person on earth right now that’s kind of redefined the part for a new generation that has not seen the movie at all,” said Winer, adding that when the film drops in April, it will have been 30 years almost to the day that “Arthur” was first released.
“This rich playboy who’s sort of an overgrown man-child gets threatened with losing his money or pursuing true love. I mean, it’s a fairy tale story. And if you keep that action, you can really retell it in a way that honors that original story but becomes its own thing all together.”
A “benevolent, whimsical, child-like, innocent prince” – that’s what Brand calls his rich, drunk protagonist. Arthur Bach in both films are little romancers at heart, who believe in true love and fight their odd “arranged” – and deranged – marriages before it’s “too late,” Brand says as he clutches his fingers around an invisible object at his chest. The “Get Him to the Greek” actor explains that he, too, grew up with and loved the original, and that the story and the Arthur character reminded him of Tom Hanks in “Big.”
Brand doesn’t plan to do his best impressions of Moore’s bumbling physical comedy, but will let his natural comedic verbosity give contrast to his body’s “drunk” inarticulations. He says that the script was more tailored to improvisations and to his “linguistic, articulate stuff” – though homage will be paid to Moore’s classic inebriated mumbles and gurgling blabbering.
“’I HATE ‘IM!” Brand says, wobbling his head and punching at the air. “’HOBSON!’”
That namesake – Arthur’s beloved butler, remarkably performed by John Giulgud in the original – features the great Dame Helen Mirren as his longtime nanny, still reading bedtime stories to Arthur as an adult, fueling the man-child in his ambitions, even when he seems to have few.
In fact, all the female roles get a modern upgrade. Gerwig, as Arthur’s surprise love interest, has “a quick mind, beautiful sense of aesthetic, and a contemporary cinematic style,” Brand gushes, calling her performance in “Greenberg” “unusual.” Jennifer Garner as Susan, Arthur’s socialite “match” and potential Bach family beneficiary, plays a much bigger role in the new version than the original. Brand calls her a “fairy princess,” a classic romantic beauty… while Winer had other uses for her talent.
“Susan’s really embraced as the villain of our story. She works with Arthur’s mother and is sort of her right-hand woman and the notion of this arranged marriage or essentially PR event to repair the damage that Arthur has done to his mother’s company and to the Bach empire is really cooked up by Susan. She has a couple of very twisted motivations for doing this,” Winer says.
“If you go back and look at the original movie, the character of Susan to a modern audience is a crazy person. She is irrationally completely in love with a drunk and wants to marry him and be with him for the rest of her life. And in the original, they play that earnestly. Susan’s a woman who believes she can get Arthur to stop drinking and she’s hopeless in love with him… I think a modern audience of women will look at that character call bullshit on it. Nothing rings true anymore. It’s hardly going to get by in 1981 movie logic, you know?”
"Arthur" is due in theaters on April 8.