Russell Brand on Four Kids and It: 'The wishes are a vessel to education rather than a vessel to power'

Russell Brand on Four Kids and It: 'The wishes are a vessel to education rather than a vessel to power'

Andy De Emmony and Brand, who plays the antagonist in the British director's family adventure, discuss the film's charm, young co-stars and wish-granting creature Psammead

On the grounds of a beautiful cottage in rural Ireland, kids are running amok and Russell Brand is meditating in the garden. 'I pray and meditate every day,' the bearded comedian explains when he enters a small annex overlooking a spectacular lake after his latest spiritual session. 'But when I'm at work, what I need is to be continually engaged.'

At least here he's got a new movie to consider: Four Kids and It, a fresh and funny family adventure that's making its bow on Sky Cinema. Based on Jacqueline Wilson's 2012 book Four Children and It, it's the story of a recently-together couple, David (Mathew Goode) and Alice (Paula Patton), who surprise their respective kids with a holiday in Cornwall.

Cue plenty of moaning and groaning from the adolescents, until they accidentally encounter a wish-granting, sand-dwelling creature named the Psammead (voiced by Sir Michael Caine). It's this magical beast that Brand's eccentric neighbour Tristan is trying to capture. 'As is always the case with wish-granting stories, the wishes are a vessel to education rather than a vessel to power,' notes Brand, sagely.

Calling the shots is British director Andy De Emmony, who has come full circle somewhat – he started his career working on satiric TV show Spitting Image, working with puppets, before going on to direct shows like Father Ted and Cutting It. 'My background is all in comedy, so I like emotional drama that has got a bit of release in comedy. That stops it getting too earnest.'

With De Emmony's own interest in animatronics, it means that the Psammead puppet is on set, although he'll be enhanced digitally down the line. 'I just swung a broom at it, just now,' laughs Brand. 'But in order to give it some sense of meaning, I imagine it to have Michael Caine's voice, which does give it meaning. Too much meaning.'

As for Brand's younger co-stars, the 'kids' are played by Billy Jenkins, Ashley Aufderheide, Ellie-Mae Siame and Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen, half-sister to musician Lily Allen. 'It's a pain in the arse!' laughs Brand, when I ask what they've been like. '[Legally] they work such limited hours. But they're beautiful children.'

While Wilson's novel was inspired by Edith Nesbit's 1902 perennial Five Children and It – a copy of the book even features in the film – De Emmony admits they've taken 'licence with the story', including inventing Brand's oddball, mansion-owning Tristan. 'We wanted a good antagonist for our children.'

Brand may not quite be on a par with the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but he's revelling in playing the baddie. 'I feel like Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man. Dustin Hoffman in Hook. And Jack [Nicholson] in The Shining.' So does this mean he's burning wicker effigies? 'Don't spoil it!' he jokes.

While the Psammead does grant some fantastic wishes – not least turning Aufderheide's rebellious teen Smash into a pop star playing London's O2 Arena – De Emmony promises Four Kids and It keeps one foot in reality. 'It's not a Paddington world where everyone accepts a talking bear,' he says. 'Only our kids ever see the creature.' Now, if you turn on Sky, you can see it too.

Available to watch on Sky Cinema from Fri 3 Apr.

Four Kids and It

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • 1h 50min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Andy De Emmony
  • Cast: Paula Patton, Matthew Goode, Michael Caine

Four kids (Malleson-Allen, Jenkins, Aufderheide and Siame) are brought together when one family’s father announces that they’re seeing the mother of another family; but then on holiday they meet the mysterious sand fairy, the Psammead (voiced by Caine). The plot is predictable, but the tone is charmingly…