Interview: Joe Gilgun talks Brassic, bipolar and Chorley
Matthew Turner | On 05, Sep 2019Reading time: 12 mins
Last month saw the premiere of Brassic, Sky One’s new comedy. Starring This is England’s Joe Gilgun and Our Girl’s Michelle Keegan, and co-created by Gilgun and Danny Brocklehurst, the series takes its name from slang for being “broke, penniless, without means, boracic lint -skint, on the bones of yer arse”. It follows Vinnie (Gilgun), Dylan (Damien Molony) and Erin (Keegan), a group of working-class friends finding unconventional ways to win at life in northern suburbia. (Read our review of Season 1 here.)
We caught up with Joe Gilgun at a preview of Brassic in Manchester, where he spoke after the screening about the inspiration for the show and depicting bipolar disorder.
Where did the idea for the show come from?
Me and my mate Dave, we grew up in Chorley – I met a lot of characters and we might have had a bit of a colourful past. I’m no El Chapo, but I’ve been in robbed cars, smoked some… let’s not get into it, but I’d developed these stories. I’d talk a lot on set, on these different jobs I’d have, and I realised quite quickly that these producers, they liked these stories, so I’d embellish them each time round. But it stems from growing up in Chorley, the people I mixed with in Chorley, the characters that kind of an environment breeds.
So how much of what happens in Brassic actually happened? How much of it is real?
I’d rather leave it to the audience [to decide] – I mean, there’s a lot of trouble I could get in, for a start off. We had to talk to legal about it all. It wasn’t just like, yeah, you can do all this. It was like, is anyone going to get murdered?
The Shetland pony incident in Episode 1 – did that happen?
Let’s not go there. Let’s just let sleeping dogs lie, I think. Me and Dan [co-writer Danny Brocklehurst] and Dave all know what really happened, and I think that’s just enough people there.
Will the people that were there know fact from fiction?
Yeah, some will. I had to have a talk with some of the people involved to just reassure them that we’re not going to go too far down that road, no one’s going to be implicated. It’s all just hearsay, and allegedly, I might have been involved with some horse theft, cars, I might have smoked…
“Dominic West said ‘If you make it, I’ll be in it.’ So I made it, and now he has to do it.”
How did Dominic West get involved?
I did a film called Pride with Dom. It’s a good film, actually – if you’ve not already seen it, go and check it out, it’s a true story and I’m really proud of that film and being a part of that. I met Dominic on that and we sort of sidled up to each other. Even thinking about it now, it’s an odd pair-up, me and Dom. He’s incredibly posh and lives in a castle and I’m a vagrant who lives in the woods, but I just got on with him. So I’d tell him these stories about some of the stuff I’d get up to, and he said, “Listen, it’s no good telling a posh dickhead on a fucking balcony, you should do something with it, why don’t I put you in touch with David Livingston?” He at the time was the producer of Pride. So I sat down with Livers and Livers said we’re going to need something on the page. I thought, well, I can’t write, I’m useless, but I said to Dave we’ve got to start writing this thing, so me and Dave end up putting together this hybrid book, pages out of sync, this sort of pirate’s map, a book you just can’t close. So we bring that to David Livers, he tells us it’s nonsense, we realise we need someone to unlock the doors and that man is Danny Brocklehurst. So we meet our Dan and we just immediately hit it off.
But anyway, my relationship with Dominic West stems from Pride, and Brassic was kind of his idea. This is what he said – he said, “If you make it, I’ll be in it.” So I made it, and now he has to do it. But I’ve got to tell you, it’s hilarious we’ve got him. It’s so cool he’s done this cameo. He’s so handsome and charming. He’s so charming, he could see you behind your back. He’s the real deal. The dude abides. He told me on that balcony he’d do the show if I made it, that’s a man of his word. I’ve got so much respect for that dude. Not just because he’s a nice man and an enormous character. He once turned up to my gaff with a bloke form the Cirque du Soleil and a 2-litre Evian bottle of IPA and we just got hammered on my balcony. I love him.
Your character in the show has bipolar and so do you. How difficult was it to address something that is such a huge part of your life?
I do, yes. I’m stage 2 bipolar. All the bipolar stuff, down to the medicine, is accurate – these are my symptoms. I’m on a manic high right now. I understand that there’s certain things expected of me, so I give a construct of myself. This isn’t genuinely how I am – I was described as “careworn” in an interview recently. For those of you who don’t know what that means – because I had to look it up – it means “weary from a life of toil”. I’m 35! Anyway, the bipolar is a very real thing and I do go through periods of prolonged depression. I’ll be honest – it’s in the script, this – I get suicidal thoughts and when that happens, and I want to put this out there for anyone who might be reading this, you must, must talk about those. They’re just thoughts for now, I understand that. I think suicidally. It doesn’t mean to say I’m going to do those things, it’s just the process of thought. Who will find me? How will I do it? These sort of things. And there’s plenty of people I know, especially my age, especially men, who don’t talk about these things. If you’re getting lost, you’d better let someone know where you’re going, because otherwise we won’t be able to find you. And I suppose the other thing is, I want to bring the light end of it. The scenes with Doctor Chris – Dominic West’s character – they’re funny. I want you to be able to laugh at the condition and it not be this… there’s this toxic masculinity about talking about your problems, like it makes you weak. I don’t get it – it’s 2019. I can’t understand that mentality any more. We’re living in an age where you should be able to talk to each other. And I want to be honest. This affords me that opportunity.
Are you expecting that people who also suffer from bipolar might want to turn to you?
It does happen from time to time. I want to be very clear – I’m not a role model. I don’t have the answers. But when people get in touch about their mental health I always try and respond. The truth is I’m raising awareness, but I’m also telling my story. Everyone’s very different. That’s the problem with mental health. We might both be stage 2 bipolar but your triggers are very different to my triggers, yet we’ll all be put on the same medication. You’re all made to fill out a multiple choice questionnaire and your score at the end of it dictates how much medicine the GP gives you. Now, the nature of bipolar is one minute you’re up in the air and the next minute you’re down – now, my score one day will be completely different to the day after. I ask you, how accurate is that system? I’ve been on the wrong medicine for nearly 35 years – I can’t tell you some of the stupid stuff I’ve done as a result of the wrong meds. My behaviour can really suffer and it’s because there’s this huge chemical imbalance within my own head. I would just say to anyone realising they might have mental health issues, I’d try and encourage them to have some talking therapy before they jump on any drugs.
“The warmest, kindest, happiest, most intelligent people I know are working-class. I think they’re underserved on TV. ”
How are you hoping the show is received back home in Chorley?
It, of course, concerns me – this is about my life. I’m telling you my story, not anyone else’s tale. I owe an awful lot to that town and I really feel it’s the people that make the town what it is, the characters, the warmth and the kindness, especially with the working classes, man. Some of the warmest, kindest, happiest, most intelligent people I know are working-class. I think they’re underserved, especially on TV. There is a real character to that town, it’s got a proud past, it was a milling town, everyone had the same job, got paid the same wage, went to the same boozer, you’d go back to work, everyone was equal. There was this feeling of equality and this bond between men and women. They all worked the mills. The Manchester to Liverpool canal was built as result of the enormous amounts of cotton built in that town and now, we’re left with a proud past, a B&Q and some fancy roundabouts. I remember that group of lads, these grime MCs kicking around, and they were mint. I was getting into that movement of grime and these guys were fully committed. Let’s invest in a recording studio and a youth club, let’s not put some wicker statues in the centre of one of our one million roundabouts. In that sense, I have beef with Chorley, but the people wouldn’t be who they are, and I wouldn’t have got to where I have without it, so I owe an awful lot to it. There are good parts of Chorley too. It’s not like they’re sat there with their thumbs up their arses – I think they genuinely are trying. It’s a tough town to come from and I think it breeds… I mean, the music scene is massive. I don’t want to slag it off because I don’t have beef with where I’m from. I know a lot of writers and actors, it’s cool to have beef with where you’re from and I haven’t. It’s not Chorley’s fault it’s the way it is and without them conditions, you wouldn’t get this microcosm of amazing characters, like we have. And the show owes all that to Chorley. I certainly do.
Do you get back to Chorley much?
Well, I live in the woods now. I live in this derelict house in the woods. I mean it’s not as derelict as it was, I’ve got hot water now. I moved into this derelict house… I’ve always done it in times of stress, where I’ve had a bit of collapse mentally, I’ll go and separate myself from everyone and it’s usually quite dramatic. I remember Stephen Fry talking about this bipolar meltdown he had – he went missing and he spoke about wearing this thick jumper and finding a thatched cottage. He was on this ferry on the way to France somewhere. That’s what I think – I’m going into the wilderness to live on rabbits. I’m a chav, I don’t know what I’m doing. I find myself in this derelict house, I’m having to live in a tent within the house because there’s this massive hole in the ceiling. I make terrible bipolar decisions.
Are you surprised that Brassic has actually happened?
It’s amazing. It’s a very working-class thing, to go, “Oh, maybe we are worth listening to.” I feel like they’ve made a mistake, like do they really want to invest in these two criminal reprobates? Like, at Sky TV, they were saying, “How much do you need? Because we think it’s brilliant.” They’ve been unbelievable, we couldn’t be with a kinder network, the way they treat and promote mental health and talking about the issue. They never had a single note, they never told us to slow down or speed up, they just let us get on with it and that’s why it’s the way it is.
We left that room and my life just totally changed. I’ve got so many ideas, there’s tonnes of stuff I want to talk about – I’ve got this idea about this hermit, and serial killers… My head never stops thinking. My head never rests, I wish it would. Folk tell me to rest all the time but I have no idea how people do that. I’ve not eaten a single thing all day. I forget to eat. I’m so off my head, I forget you need to fuel yourself. I told my PA, Jack – and I have a PA because I can’t read, not because I want a smoothie at 3 O’Clock and a Mars bar at 4 – I said I think I’ve got vertigo. And he said “It’s because you’ve not eaten anything. I gave you a banana three hours ago!” I don’t remember. I don’t know what I need to do to take care of myself, so I rely on Dave and Jack and the support network I have around me. And I’m so lucky I have them. I think I’d be in a terrible state if I didn’t.
Have you got material planned out for Season 2?
I can’t go into too much detail, but we’re smashing it. It’s gone really well. The worry is second album syndrome, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. It’s hysterically funny, man.
Brassic Season 1 is airing on Sky One every Thursday at 9pm, with the whole box available on-demand. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, for £8.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.