Actor David Earl: ‘Sex scenes? I’d rather go back to gardening’ | Drama movies

Jactor, comedian and former gardener David Earl, 48, made his breakthrough creating stand-up character Brian Gittins. He is best known for his collaborations with Ricky Gervais, appearing in the television series Derek and after life and the movie Cemetery Junction. He co-hosts podcasts chatabix and My new football club with Joe Wilkinson, with whom he also co-created a sitcom The fields of roosters. Earl co-wrote and stars in Brian and Charlesa film about a lonely inventor who builds a robot best friend, will be released next week.

Your cinema Brian and Charles won the oneaudience price at last month’s Sundance festival in London. Was it a proud moment?
We didn’t even know there was a price so it was lovely. I never won anything and left early because I had a headache, until someone told me I had to come back.

Did the triumph cure your headache?
Do you know what, it did! I pinch myself. It was a strange trip. When we made the short version in 2017, I remember saying, “Well, that’ll get 200 views on YouTube.” But it received a very good response and Film4 asked us to develop it into a feature film.

How did the idea for a homemade robot called Charles Petrescu to arrive?
I was doing an Internet radio show as Brian, the most incompetent telephone host. I didn’t have a lot of people, and one night Rupert [Majendie, producer of Brian and Charles], Skyped but was too shy to speak, so he used voice simulation software instead. That robotic teacher voice really made me laugh. I was chatting with him and it took Rupert 20 seconds to type responses, so I was playing the patient companion, kind of falling in love with a robot. Chris was listening [Chris Hayward, who co-wrote the film and plays Charles] and said, “I really want to do it live, let’s do Charles.” We built it for a weekend and then did a few gigs together, which was a lot of fun.

What was your first try?
Just a cardboard box for a body and a litter-catcher attached to a dummy’s head, so Chris can move his mouth. Ingenious. The voice software was called Charles, and Rupert’s favorite Chelsea footballer was Dan Petrescu, so that’s where the name comes from.

Charles transforms into a moody robotic teenager at one point. As a father of three, was this based on your own parenting experiences?
Absolutely. When we were writing, my boy was about 15, so I was going through all that. Struggling with the pain of letting go and this push-pull relationship. So I took quite a few scenes from our lives. In fact, my boy came to the premiere and said, “Oh my God, it’s you and me.” I was like, “Damn, yeah. I let off steam in this movie, don’t worry about that. No, it was a really sweet moment.

What were your influences on the film?
We wanted to make a family movie, like Pixar Live with a bit of magic. Wallace and Gromit was an influence. Also documentaries like American moviewhich is my favorite movie, and a 90s video diary series called Summer on the estate, located in Hackney. And Dead Man’s Shoes and Rocky.

It’s a pretty eclectic mix…
It is, isn’t it? We threw any old shit at the wall.

There is an imaginary friend element. Did you have imaginary friends growing up?
I had a couple, by the way. It’s not something I’ve talked about before. They were funny little characters. I remember going to my grandmother’s garden and chatting with them. When we started writing the film, we weren’t sure what Charles would be. Is it an alien that crashed from a planet full of Charleses? Do we reveal at the end that it’s just Brian dragging around a washing machine and it’s all in his head? But that would be boring and the audience would feel cheated.

There’s a sweet romance between Brian and an equally shy local woman, played by Louise Breley. Are you a romantic at heart?
I think so. The movie that made me cry the most is Madison County Bridges. I love this movie and always come back to it as a reference.

But you swore never to do sex scenes…
I would rather go back to gardening. I’ve heard guys recently say, “If you’re going to do a robot movie, why not have a scene where you sleep with him?” They were really pissed that we didn’t.

You wear a balaclava in the film and are often heavily disguised for on-screen roles. Does that mean you aren’t recognized much?
I don’t want to be noticed. I’m trying to change my look so I can shave it all off and go incognito. I just like to do the job, go home and hide. I think I’m in the wrong industry. When after life [Ricky Gervais’s Netflix series, in which Earl appears] came out, I felt a little change, but I can still lie pretty low. That’s why I slipped into writing more. I like the creative side, but the performance side and its repercussions are quite stressful. I’ve seen fame happen to friends and I don’t want that.

Is that partly why you live in Devon?
My wife is from Devon and we wanted to raise the kids here. But maybe there’s also something to detach slightly from London.

You worked a lot with Ricky Gervais. How did this relationship start?
I made a short film about a monster hunter and he ended up on his agent’s desk. Ricky looked at it, then phoned me right away. I was driving a van for a living and I was like “Holy hell!” because I was a big fan of Office. He liked all my characters, which gave me confidence at the start of my career. I was advised to do stand-up to get exposure, and every time I had a bad gig – and there were quite a few – I would get a voicemail saying, “What you’re doing is fine, keep on going.” He would never admit it, but Ricky’s support helped me tremendously during those early years.

Ricky often runs into controversy. What do you think ?
He does, along with many others, but it blows and becomes old news pretty quickly. I feel like a lot is happening on social media. In the real world, like in Devon with my neighbours, I don’t know if people feel the same way.

Besides driving a van, you were a gardener. Was it a big step to give that up?
Yeah. Ricky said, “You have to give up your gardening.” I said, “Oh no. I make £60 on a Friday and I know it’s going to be in my pocket. I won’t know what to expect if I plug it in. But when he threw me in Derek, I said, “OK, let’s give it a try and see if I’ll last.” And I have, sort of.

David Earl, left, as Kev with Ricky Gervais as Derek.
David Earl, left, as Kev with Ricky Gervais as Derek. Photography: Joel Anderson/Channel 4

Do you miss gardening?
My body lacks it. I miss the physical side and not being so much in my head.

Were you Britain’s only horticultural comedian?
Do you think? Titchmarsh is pretty cheeky.

You had a fake Twitter account as a sex therapist Dr. Peter Thrraft. How come he became silent?
A lot of people thought Steve Coogan or Chris Morris were behind this. I thought, “I’ll take this!” As soon as people found out it was me, I felt like the joke was over.

When did you first realize you wanted to make people laugh?
watch and review Fawlty Towers like a kid. The person who made me want to go on stage was Harry Hill. When I saw her man alive tour at 21, that’s what made me laugh the most. I thought if I could make someone laugh like I did that night, that would be perfect. I haven’t done it yet, of course.

Then you’re in a comedy movie Clown of the apocalypse. What are they talking about?
It’s about this bunch of clowns who find themselves in a strange situation. We shot it this spring in Ireland. It’s kind of a road movie, heading towards that ridiculous climax. I wear a red nose for the most part, so I’m in disguise again.

Could we see a sequel to Brian and Charles someday?
Someone mentioned doing a road movie across America. I would love to make the most boring road movie ever. Nothing happens. Just me and a robot eating roadside snacks.

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