The star of “The Brothers Grimsby” dishes on England’s chances at the Euros, replica kits, and Raheem Sterling.
I’d arranged to meet Sacha Baron Cohen to discuss his new film “The Brothers Grimsby,” which opens in American theaters on March 11. When I arrived at the back room of the bar to which I’d been directed, though, I was greeted by a tall, slightly pot-bellied man, who looked the spitting image of Liam Gallagher. He was holding a beer in his bandaged right hand, wearing an off-brand number 19 England kit, and appeared not to have washed in a couple of days. He greeted me warmly, thrust a beer in my direction, splashing me slightly, and indicated that we should start the interview.
Dan Friedman: So you’re the star of the new film ‘The Brothers Grimsby,’ which tells a story of your life. For those who haven’t seen it yet, what is it about?
Nobby Butcher: If you want to know about the movie, I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you thing about it. I was off me head for the whole shebang.
[Winks] Thanks for the drugs, Penelope!
But according to me mate Milky, who was there most days, it’s one man’s journey to make peace with his past and reconnect with the family he lost, by drinking, shagging, and blowing stuff up.
It’s the story of two brothers who were orphaned at age six; one of them went to live with a posh family in London. He got posh, went to Eton and joined MI6… the other, that’s me, just stayed in the Grimsby foster system and went on the dole.
How did you get the name Nobby?
It’s a family name. Me dad was a nobby, me granddad was a nobby. Me uncle Ian was a registered sex offender so we don’t really talk about him. Lovely guy — horrendous list of offences — but we don’t talk about him
How were you discovered for this movie?
Well I was discovered for this movie when I was spotted playing the part of Mrs. Indira Battacharya in Grimsby welfare office. Trying to get forty quid to pay for me dialysis. The casting agent said I was perfect for the role he were looking for.
He told me, “We think you could be just right for the role of a mentally challenged Northern male.” Which I think is posh London talk for “You’re an amazing actor.”
I said “I’ll do it if you can match the money I’m getting here. Plus me bus fare.” He said, “Done.”
I know I drive a hard bargain but business is business.
What does it feel like to be a hero? Are you the James Bond of Grimsby?
I wouldn’t say that I’m the James Bond of Grimsby, but on different days when I go to sign on at the dole office, I am the Nobby Butcher, the Stephen Tinsley, the Mickey Pallet and the Mrs. Meera Battacharya of Grimsby.
Great film Nobby. It’s lovely to watch something that’s exciting and emotionally gripping at the same time…. and that’s just the football sequences. It’s just a shame the real life England football team aren’t that good.
Yeah well you don’t go and see England for the football — it’s more about the the atmosphere. You know, the sights, the sounds the mingling with the foreigners, the stealing their drugs, the getting in a punch up, the crapping in a bucket in some foreign jail cell before getting deported. Cracking stuff.
Do you think England will ever be World, or even European, champions in your lifetime?
Yes definitely. Assuming I get to see me 300’s. Which is unlikely cos the oldest man in Grimsby is 46. Apparently he lives this crazy new fangled healthy lifestyle — smoking menthols.
How do you think England will do in France this summer?
Well I’m hoping for a repeat of last time when we won by a mile. 42 arrests to 23.
You’re clearly a fan of both England and Grimsby United, but in the film you only wear an England shirt, how come no Grimsby?
Well that’s me lucky England shirt! Over the years it’s been incredibly lucky for me because how ever many times I’m sick on it — it always smells like I’ve only been sick on it once or twice. And also it’s me only shirt.
Obviously I wouldn’t wear it for weddings or court dates. But sometimes they make you wear a top so I take it with just in case.
You wear the number 19 shirt like Raheem Sterling, who was in the film, are you a big fan of his?
Well I was a big fan but to be honest he could be a bit of a diva. Like at first he was really friendly, couldn’t do enough but then all of a sudden he’d switch and say stuff like “I thought you said your son had leukemia – I can’t believe you’d put that signed shirt I gave you on eBay.” No class that’s what it is.
It looked like the shirts weren’t the official England shirts, the lions on the badge were standing up not lying down. How come? Do you have a bloke who can get you cheap stuff? Can he hook us up over here?
Well me mate Milky Pimms can get you basically anything you need. E’s a true gent. Just the other day he got me some almost new stolen meat in the car park of the King’s Head Pub in Grimsby. Once you’ve had salmonella once you can’t catch it again. In that way it’s a bit like measles or AIDS.
What about working with Penelope Cruz, is she a football fan? Who does she support?
Penelope Cruz…what can I say? Big pro-lifer. Hates same-sex marriage. Loves guns. Massive boner for the death penalty. Eh no, sorry, that’s Ted Cruz. Oh no, wait, it’s both of them.
In the film we see you watching games and celebrating results, but do you (or did you) play footie at all? What position? Were you any good?
I’m very experienced at “the beautiful game”; in fact I once had a trial for Grimsby United… but unfortunately it clashed with a trial I had for breaking and entering. For which I got a “three year contract” — dropped to two for good behaviour.
Do you have enough kids to make a team from just your family? Are all families that big in Grimsby?
Well we do have quite a big family, 11 kids and I love each and every one of them. They give me a reason to get up in the afternoon.
There’s Gangnam Style, Django Unchained, Tsunami, Stella Artois, Skeletor, the twins Prosecco and Calamari — and a bunch of other ones I’d almost definitely be able to recognize if you showed me a photo.
I’m a great dad, so I drive my kids to school every day, no matter how drunk I am.
And I care so much about family that I’m outside the school gates at 4 p.m. every day, selling weed.
You’re clearly a very fit man, did you have to do a lot of training for the shooting of the film? A special diet?
I believe life’s about balance. Fun and responsibility. Yes, have a drink, yes, have a smoke, yes, have a little gamble, maybe even a line of coke… but then it’s homework and straight off to bed. I’m a tough dad, but you have to be. Family is family.
Did you do all your own stunts? Which were the hardest?
The action was amazing. You know how Louis the director got those deaths to look real? They WERE real.
There’s even more since Mark Strong’s been there. Fantastic actor. And even better spreader of disease. If he can spread the word about this movie, as well as he spread his STDs then I will be smiling – which is more than I can say for the people he slept with.
Thanks for chatting to us, Nobby.