7 Questions with… Brassic’s co-creator Danny Brocklehurst: ‘I didn't mind the Shameless comparisons at first but people can't keep banging on about it forever' - Exclusive
Danny Brocklehurst, who co-created the hit comedy drama Brassic with Joe Gilgun, speaks exclusively to BT.com about series 2 - coming soon to Sky One with NOW TV.
Danny Brocklehurst, above left, created hit comedy drama Brassic with Preacher's Joseph 'Joe' Gilgun
Brassic series 1 was nothing short of a megahit for Sky - becoming its biggest comedy launch in seven years. In fact, the channel was so confident in its success that a second series was commissioned before the first had even aired.
And now that much-anticipated second series of the fan and critics’ darling - which received high praise for its portrayal of male mental health, working class life and single mothers alongside the X-rated comedy - is just around the corner.
Created by Bafta-nominated screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst (The Stranger, Safe, Ordinary Lies) and actor Joseph ‘Joe’ Gilgun (Preacher, This Is England, Misfits), Brassic follows northern lad Vinnie (Gilgun) and his gang of hapless mates as they thieve, bribe and joyride their way through life.
Speaking to BT.com ahead of the launch of Brassic season 2 on Sky One with NOW TV, Brocklehurst discusses the writing process for the new series, Vinnie’s mental health storyline, why Michelle Keegan’s character Erin has a bigger part coming up - and why he’s getting a bit fed up with those Shameless comparisons...
1. Firstly congratulations on the huge success of the show! How early did you and Joe start writing the series 2 scripts and was the writing process between you both similar to that of season 1?
It wasn’t quite, no. The top and bottom of it is that Joe was away filming Preacher, so as I was writing and developing series 2, he was in Australia, which as you can imagine doesn’t make things terribly easy. We had to do quite a bit of stuff remotely, on a time difference. It’s fair to say that I had to take over a bit more than I’d done on series 1. But having said that, ultimately it was the same sort of collaboration, just at a bit more of a distance, and with Joe busier than he was the first time.
Joe used to send me voice notes that were like a podcast, they’d go on for 20-25 minutes. In fact, we’re writing series 3 at the minute, and the other day I got stuck on something and I thought to myself "I’m going to go for a run, but before I go for a run, I’ll just leave Joe a quick voice note saying what I’m stuck on". I came back from my run and I swear to God I had nine messages from him. He’d send one message, then a few minutes later he’d say "but what about this?". I think he was stoned to be honest.
2. Joe used a lot of his own crazy life stories as ideas for the series 1 script. Can we expect more of that in series 2 or is it more fictional?
Joe says that about series 1 but a lot of it was heavily embellished. I think inevitably, as Joe hasn’t got a limitless supply of life stories, with each series you have to invent more [stories]. What happens is things act as springboards for other things. Like the lion story [in series 2, episode 1] that developed from something that happened in Chorley [where Joe grew up]. It had a similar starting point - stealing something that definitely wasn’t what you wanted to steal!
Similarly in episode 4, Vinnie’s looking after the pub one night and an intruder breaks in. First of all he has to locate where the intruder is, then he has to figure out the intruder not being there any more. Then it goes on a journey from there. That’s something that happened to Joe - and only Joe. He was looking after his mum’s cafe and somebody broke in, and he ended up having a brew with them. Just this bizarre story.
So they usually have a kernel of truth to them. Life isn’t an hour-long TV show, it doesn’t have a three-act structure. So you’ve got to kind of craft it, and work it into something else. But quite a lot of the ideas do start with the fact that something like this did really happen. People say that [‘how does Joe have so many stories?’] but the Head of Sky Comedy sent me a clipping from the paper the other day, where some gang of petty thieves had gone and nicked a horse!
3. The depiction of Vinnie's bipolar and male mental health was a huge talking point from series 1. Is that explored further in series 2?
I think it is at a similar level to series 1 - it keeps harder and harder to keep banging that drum. You don’t just want to endlessly go on about it, just like Joe doesn’t want to endlessly go on about it in life, but it’s a thing.
The first episode of series 2 is quite fun, but as the series goes on there are places where it gets more serious, particularly in episode 5, for Vinnie and Erin. Some sort of heavier things do come into play, it’s never super-depressing, it’s not that sort of show. We do deal with some things that are more substantial as the series develops.
When we did series 1, we were slightly nervous about that, especially for Joe in particular, having bipolar himself, he felt a great responsibility. Actually we were super careful to only put things out there that he could back up in his own life. I don’t know [if I was surprised by the reaction]. It’s a funny show because on the one hand we’re aiming to be a raucous comedy, but on the other hand we are dealing with [serious] things.
In the second series, we deal with the terrible effects of alcoholism. That’s not particularly funny, but it’s important, and it’s important to Joe. His dad sadly died of alcoholism during the filming of series 2, but before his dad died, he felt he wanted to deal with that, and show it, and show the effects of it, so that’s what we’ve done with series 2.
4. Joe's described the show as 'anarchist' - would you agree with that and the fact that the show is breaking rules about what TV should be?
I don’t know. I think the good thing about a show like Brassic is that it’s quite flexible, so you can kind of do what you want, and that’s not true of every show. For example as much as I love Line of Duty, and think it’s brilliant, it has to follow a set style and set pattern, because that’s what people expect of it. That’s the same with a lot of TV shows.
I didn’t mind the comparisons the first time round but if people keep banging on about it being Shameless... it’s not Shameless! You can’t just keep saying that forever.
- Danny Brocklehurst, Brassic co-creator
I think with a show like Brassic, we can kind of do what we want. If we want to do an episode that’s all set in the pub, we do an episode that’s all set in the pub. If we want to do flashbacks, we do flashbacks, the same with a voiceover. If we want to tell something completely out of [chronological] order, that’s how we do it. It has a loose feel to it, which is reasonably rare. TV shows have done this before.
I wouldn’t say we’re breaking widely new ground, it’s not like these things haven’t been done in telly before. I just think that we feel free to tell the story in the best way that we want to tell it.
When series 1 went out, there were a lot of comparisons, people were saying "it’s a cross between Shameless and Trainspotting" or "it’s Last of the Summer Wine on drugs", and that’s all right, that’s fair enough, I don’t mind that. But I do think that perhaps now it’s just becoming its own thing, it’s just becoming Brassic and that’s it.
I didn’t mind it the first time round but if people keep banging on about it being Shameless... it’s not Shameless! You can’t just keep saying that forever. I worked on Shameless, but it just feels like an easy shorthand. I don’t really care, but sometimes it’s just like "enough with the Shameless comparisons!"
5. Was it a conscious decision to make more of the female characters this series - I know Sugar has a bigger part, and there's some more light and dark in there for Erin?
Yes it was. Certainly with Michelle [Keegan, who plays Erin], I wanted to bring her a little bit more to the centre, because she’s very good and also it just felt right for that character to become more involved.
I can’t remember the starting point of Erin’s assault storyline. It felt like we wanted her to have a particular arc in series 2. So when you’re thinking about how the arc’s going to develop, certain ideas come to the fore, and this idea leapt forward.
I think some of the other people on the show were nervous about it, but I was reasonably confident we could pull it off, and for it to be dealt with sensitively.
Then for the other two main females, Sugar [played by Joanna Higson] and Carol [Bronagh Gallagher], I just really liked them. They were in series 1 a little bit, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought they could be good fun, and it would be great for Cardi [Tom Hanson] to have this girlfriend, and for Erin to have a pal who was her own age.
Those women are really good actors, so it was more organic really. I wasn’t doing it to be like ‘we’ve got to have more women in it’.
Similarly with series 3, as I’m thinking about it now, we’ve done the same again. Certain people have come into it a bit more who we thought were good, like Gary the undertaker [Tadhg Murphy], he’s come into it a bit more, because we just like having him on screen.
6. When you signed on for Brassic, how many series were you expecting and have you and Joe got any ideas about how long it will go on for?
I’m never arrogant enough to expect a bunch of series on a show, because I’ve had enough disappointment to know that anything can be axed at any moment. It could be not quite the ratings hit you had anticipated.
I think Sky were always incredibly bullish and confident about Brassic, and seemed to really like it, so I always thought there was going to be a couple of series with it because it just seemed like a show they really liked.
Obviously now series 1 was a huge hit for them, fingers crossed for series 2. You’d hope to do a few more, but you don’t know really. We are obviously doing series 3 but after that I don’t know. We’d all love to do a fourth, but who knows? It all depends whether we’ve got the enthusiasm from Sky and the ideas to keep it fresh.
We’d all love to do a fourth [series], but it all depends whether we’ve got the enthusiasm from Sky, and the ideas to keep it fresh.
- Danny Brocklehurst
I worked on Shameless, and from looking at what happened on that show, there is a time to stop, and when you start feeling like it’s just going downhill into something like a pantomime, that’s not great.
Shameless was really good for the first four or five years, then after that, it wasn’t so good anymore.
It doesn’t matter which show it is, in the UK or America, it does get harder and harder to keep them good. It’s only the really good shows that manage to sustain for years and years and still be good.
Whilst everybody wants to be in work, none of us want it go rubbish. We don’t just keep doing it just because. I do think that we’ve got a really good series 3 lined up. I already feel like from the description we’ve written, it’s going to be a good series.
You’ve just got to feel like ‘we’ve done three, have we got ideas for a fourth?’. Obviously I would be disappointed if it ended after three seasons, because I don’t feel like we’re there yet. I don’t feel like it’s run out of steam. But in the end, nothing goes on forever!
7. Has coronavirus impacted or delayed filming for Brassic series 3?
Yeah, absolutely. Everything’s gone upside-down. We’re not alone in this, pretty much every industry you can speak of is confused about when they can properly work again.
Unfortunately for us, social distancing is incredibly difficult on a TV set, because it takes about 40 or 50 people to make a TV show, some of whom need to be close together, some of whom might be hugging or kissing, and you can’t really film with masks on.
All I can say is film and television is a multi-million-pound industry all over the world, and they'll have to work out a plan of action. We will ultimately film TV shows again, I don’t know when. We’re quite fortunate because we didn’t even start. Shows like Line of Duty and Peaky Blinders were mid-filming and they just had to stop. It’s bonkers.
Filming [for Brassic 3] is supposed to be this August, so theoretically it could still happen, but realistically it will encounter some sort of delay. Sky keep saying ‘progress as if’ but I think that’s optimistic. There’s really no point making predictions.
Brassic seasons 1 & 2 Box Sets are streaming on Sky One with NOW TV.