Arthur: Russell Brand, Rich Man-Child

The comedy “Arthur,” directed by Jason Winer and starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner, will be released by Warner on April 8.

“My favorite kind of comedy is not only laugh-out-loud funny but has a lot of heart and even a note of poignancy,” says director Jason Winer, one of the creative forces behind the award-winning series “Modern Family,” marking his feature directorial debut. “I love stories about characters we can root for as they try to become better people.”

It was these elements that made the idea of a modern “Arthur” so appealing to Winer, as well as the belief that “there’s a whole generation of people who don’t know this story and will be experiencing it for the first time, in a way that feels contemporary and fresh. And for fans of the original—myself included—it’s also something new, not an imitation but a re-imagining, with its own humor and emotion.”

What everyone on the “Arthur” team was most excited about was the inspired pairing of charismatic British comedian Russell Brand with Oscar®-winning actress Helen Mirren, in roles based on the 1981 performances of Dudley Moore as Arthur, and Sir John Gielgud as his strait-laced butler. 

”Russell and Helen bring their own style and perspective to these two characters in a way that makes you feel you’re seeing old friends in a different light,” states Winer.. “If there’s one actor on the planet who can re-invent this role for a new generation, it’s Russell Brand. And with Hobson as a nanny, played by Helen Mirren, instead of a butler, the idea of the two of them together was irresistible.”

As sole heir to the family fortune, Arthur Bach is accustomed to getting everything he wants. But he’s about to realize he could lose it all….unless he can finally grow up and take responsibility for his own life. 

For Arthur, that will be no simple challenge.

“This is a guy who has successfully extended his adolescence indefinitely,” notes producer Kevin McCormick. “I think there’s a part of all of us that wishes we could wake up every day like that—full of enthusiasm and with limitless possibilities for fun, provided by endless amounts of cash.”

”He’s the man-child to end all man-children,” says Mirren, whose Hobson is a point of flawless composure amidst the endless whirling party that defines Arthur’s existence as the story opens. But that party could soon be over as he faces a momentous choice between the two young women in his life.

Susan, played by Jennifer Garner, is an ambitious Bach Worldwide manager, deemed the most suitable match for him, and offers a sure, if loveless, continuation of the only lifestyle he knows. Naomi, played by Greta Gerwig, is an unlicensed tour guide with a sparkling sense of humor, whom he meets by chance on a Manhattan street. She could be the love of his life, but choosing her carries the price of disinheritance and a world for which he is completely unprepared.

Russell Brand, who also serves as one of the film’s executive producers, calls the story and its core dilemma “funny, sweet and romantic, a beautiful depiction of a world in which love is important and people overcome obstacles to find truth.”

”Arthur and Naomi bring out the sweetness in one another and, though she wishes he would grow up in some ways, she doesn’t want him to lose that quality,” says Gerwig. 

Stating Susan’s case, Garner counters, “As far as she’s concerned, Arthur can either make this easy or make it difficult, but their marriage is going to happen.”

As Arthur deals with this pressing decision, it raises larger and more pertinent questions about what he plans to make of his life and what he really wants. Does he have the courage to follow his heart, choose love and be a man…or will he surrender to more of what Hobson tartly calls “your safari into the pointless”?

While no one believes Arthur is capable of change, Hobson still has hope. Clearly, her stern disapproval and acid-tongued remarks belie a deep affection for her errant charge, and she has been waiting a long time for this to happen. 

Screenwriter Peter Baynham, an Oscar® nominee for his work on “Borat,” says, “What I like about ‘Arthur’ is its many facets. It goes beyond the boy-meets-girl romantic comedy structure with an equally engaging connection between Arthur and Hobson; it’s a coming-of-age story as well as a romance.”

Throughout, the relationship between Arthur and Hobson is fundamental. Ostensibly an employee, yet more of a treasured friend, she is Arthur’s companion, assistant and critic and the only person who cares for him unconditionally. In a twist on the original, Hobson is a woman, and Arthur’s nanny, not butler. Hired when he was a baby, she guided him through childhood and then presumably stayed on because, by all accounts, he hasn’t quite reached the age of maturity.

“For a number of reasons, he’s been incapable of fully growing up. Though he’s enormously kind and generous of heart, he’s rudderless,” offers Mirren.

Without altering their essential dynamic, putting Hobson into skirts skews the relationship slightly. Says Winer, “Helen reminded me that a nanny wipes a baby’s bottom and so the nature of their bond is uniquely close. Though they tease each other mercilessly, they love each other like a mother and son. Plus, the very fact of a grown man having a nanny is funny by definition, and led to some particularly comedic sequences.” 
Similarly, Brand’s Arthur is entirely his own, though faithful to the character’s most endearing and exasperating foibles.

Producer Chris Bender, who feels this set the tone for the entire production, says, “For fans of the first film, I believe they’ll see there was a lot of consideration that went into this. We felt it was a story worth telling again, and made funny in a way that applied more to our times, without losing touch with the themes and relationships that made it so special in the first place.”

Regarding his predecessor’s performance, Brand says, “Dudley Moore was a joyful example of what can be accomplished through comedy and I have the greatest respect for him. His Arthur continues to exist and there’s no way we could take anything from it.”

Producer Larry Brezner, who was the presenting producer of the 1981 release, agrees. “The understanding, going into it, was that this would be different. Still, the film pays homage in certain details that will be fun for audiences to pick up on, and I’m glad we were able to do that. People still come up to me and say it’s one of their favorite movies, which I’m delighted to hear, because it’s a great story.” 

”Essentially it’s a feel-good romantic comedy about an eccentric, incredibly lovable and innocent character, a big kid at heart, who’s finding his way in the world. There’s a lot of broad, physical comedy but also some touching moments between Arthur and the special women in his life,” says Winer.

Ultimately, adds Brand, “It’s about how love inspires us to be our best selves.”