The documentarian Ondi Timoner is familiar with the art of making movies about inscrutable men.
“We Live In Public,” her 2009 film, chronicled the controversial work of ’90s dot-com pioneer Josh Harris, who is best known for an art installation in which 100 individuals lived in a terrarium in New York City, with their every move captured on camera.
So the 42-year-old found herself fascinated by the story of Russell Brand, the one-time comedian and actor and Katy Perry’s former husband, who has transformed himself in recent years into a political and social activist railing against the consumerist system.
“Brand: A Second Coming,” which follows Brand’s awakening and drift away from the nexus of popular culture and is in theaters now, began out of what Timoner saw as an inherent contradiction in its subject.
“His dissatisfaction with consumer culture, while also feeling complicit in feeding that culture,” Timoner says. “He came to realize that he climbed to the top of a tower that was built on the backs of a bunch of people, and that he was part of the distraction, now standing at the top of the tower. And not only that, but he didn’t even like it.”
Brand’s story serves as a notable corrective to what Timoner calls “all of the myths that we’re sold in our culture,” the valorizing of fame and fortune at the expense of what really matters.
It’s a rich starting point for a film, but of course that’s just part of the battle. There’s also the practical question of making it, and the difficulties that come along with a commitment to such a passionate and volatile individual with a past that includes the highs of mainstream success and the lows of severe drug addiction.
And there have been reports that Brand is unhappy with the film. So what’s the truth?
“He told me that he knows the film is great. That it really is great and I did an absolutely incredible job with the film. The last I heard from him was literally, ‘You’re great,'” Timoner says.
“So, it’s not that he doesn’t know that or doesn’t believe that,” she continues. “But for him personally, he says his life was too painful to live the first time around. He found it really difficult. He said that when we decided, when he agreed to allow me to tell his life story … that we should’ve known then that there was no way he could stand on a red carpet, wave, and say, ‘Hey, come see me fight with my father, like it’s some kind of piece of entertainment.’ It’s all too raw and too real to him. It’s not a show. And I think he’s somebody who’s used to putting on a show.”