Brett Gilman: I saw myself as a villain – but after Stranger Things, I’d like to be an action star


BRhett Gilman has been on some of the greatest TV shows of recent years. Fleabag? He played Martin as Sian Clifford’s ex-husband. Reviving Twin Peaks? Casino supervisor. mad men? One of the group therapy patients in the still-ideal series finale. And with his role as Murray in Stranger Things, he has reached audiences beyond imagination. Now comes another step into the mainstream: a movie about a singing crocodile, in which he plays a curious neighbor named Mr. Grumps.

“There is something really beautiful in the middle about this movie,” Gilman explains over Zoom from his Manchester hotel. “Although it is a children’s movie, there are great artistic choices that are made. And the story itself is very strange, you know? It is about a crocodile singing.”

The movie in question is Lyle, Lyle and Crocodile, which may require some unpacking for British audiences. The picture book it’s based on — Bernard Waber’s 1965 story of a crocodile living with some people — has become a mainstay on Judith Kerr’s scale in the United States, though it lacks a lot of cultural character here. However, film editing is a much bigger matter. Lyle is now singing, for example, and his former owner (played by Javier Bardem, in what frankly may be his second best performance ever) has turned into the kind of tragic and unreliable absent father figure who may or may not be an alcoholic.

There are songs to the people who wrote The Greatest Showman, there’s a cute cat, and there’s an inexplicable amount of brown corduroy. Unfortunately, Mr. Grumps is just about the only character who can’t sing. It must have been damaged. “I would have loved to sing in it, but I’m not disappointed,” Gilman says. “But the comedy is musical in its own right,” he adds slowly at first. “So I played an instrument. Instrument comedy.

Then he proceeds to write the next part of my article for me. “Brett Gilman is a tool of comedy, a tool of many things. A tool of emotion, a tool of pathos, a tool of the collective unconscious.”

“There is something very elitist in it” … as Mr. Grumps in Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. Photography: Landmark Media / Al Alami

If you’re a fan of Gilman’s comedy — he’s spent his earlier years gaining notoriety with his stand-up, podcasts and adult pool projects — you’ll recognize his tune. During the interview, she tries to answer everything honestly, but with the slightest agitation, he hides everything he just said for a fake gag.

for example. We discuss Mr. Grumps’ ostensibly the villain of Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. “There is something very elitist about him and curious about him, you know?” Gilman starts in earnest. “I mean, it’s as classic as New York.”

Yes, but what is his crime in the movie? Wouldn’t you like to share an apartment building with a family who owns a real alligator as a pet? This seems like a perfectly reasonable response, sure. “You are absolutely right,” he says. “That family is disgusting. I’m the hero of the movie. It’s really a tragedy. I’m publicly humiliated, and they let this silly creature live in an apartment. I mean, at least get him a house. Get him a nice house in Woodstock or something. He deserves more space.” This crocodile is a victim. I think if Mr. Grumps and Lyle got together, they would have a lot in common. They would help each other out and maybe this could be the sequel. I think we’re on our way to something here.”

One of the main themes of the film is that although people are justifiably terrified when they first encounter Lyle, they soon want to have mercy on him once he starts singing to them. Will this tactic work in real life? “Oh, I’d love that,” Gilman confirms. “I’m going to be like, Holy shit, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen. This is unbelievable. Move. You know, don’t eat my dogs, please. But he doesn’t even need to pay for food. I have money now.”

Which seems like a good time to evoke Gilman’s streak of extraordinary success. Although his appearance—bearded, balding with mature sides, and a vague air of depravity—has earned him a number of smaller roles on shows like Bored to Death (where he played Faux Jonathan) and Californication (where he played an “annoying hipster”), he hasn’t. He begins to get noticed only in his 40s. He says Twin Peaks came about because he lived near the exit of David Lynch’s choice. Meanwhile, his Fleabag role feels like it happened because the show had a hole he needed to fill in a hurry. But strange things She is what Gilman is best known for, a role he actively sought in. “I watched season one in one day, I called my agent, and I said, ‘Can I take part in this?”‘ he recalls.

With Winona Ryder on Season 4 of Stranger Things.
With Winona Ryder on Season 4 of Stranger Things. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix/NETFLIX

He’s clearly very proud of Stranger Things, as he plays Murray, a surprisingly skilled conspiracy theorist who, among other things, manages to use a flamethrower during the final season. “Having this level of explosive pop culture and mass visibility is phenomenal,” he says. Another pause. “Becoming one of those legends that Joseph Campbell wrote about is incredible. And that’s exactly what I see. It may sound arrogant and conceited, but it’s pretty bad.”

Stranger things are enormous. It’s so massive that he was able to single-handedly install Kate Bush as the soundtrack for Generation Z. And with that kind of success comes a higher frequency for the fan base. From afar, everything looks incredibly intense. “I think that’s an objective note,” Gilman nodded. Do you ever become so severe?

He shrugged, “It’s great.” “Hey, I mean, I’ll be honest, it’s nice to be able to get to restaurants so easily. And I love the fans, and I love that they impress them, and they make them feel good. Obviously, you know, now I’m waiting for some of these shirtless Mancon gangs to go through before To cross the street because I don’t want to go through a beer sweat, but I’m very grateful for that.”

The show has also put him in good shape, requiring him to train with taekwondo masters for months at a time, for scenes where he has to battle a variety of multidimensional hell demons. “I feel stronger than I have ever felt in my life,” he says. “It feels good. It’s a lifelong attempt to combat this brain-implanted low self-esteem, which so many people in my field have. It really makes me mentally healthier than ever.”

So, I’m still anticipating the dishonest stalker, how far are we from seeing a Brett Gilman action movie? “I want to do it,” he said suddenly. “I want to do this. I really do. I meet people about that. One of the things I love about Stranger Things is that it’s going back to the movies that I really like. For a long time, I’ve always seen myself as the villain. But the show really gave me the possibility to be the hero. I would. Really being this fun action star. It’s definitely something I’m focused on right now.”

Before that, however, there is an address; Gilman’s reason for being in Manchester. A co-production between Channel 4 and Showtime, as well as a reunion with the Two Brothers (the makers of Fleabag), the show looks like a comedy. Early reports suggest it is an American widower inheriting a large house in the English countryside and all the interest that comes with it. However, Gilman is careful to keep his description as vague as possible. “We got really immersed in gothic comedy in a very strange way,” he says. “We’re messing with the tone. I’m immersed in a lot of deep psychological distress as well. It was an intense experience.”

There will also be a book of short stories, as well as – if there is any justice in the world – the final Brett Gelman action movie. And in the midst of it all, there’s just something weird about the singing crocodile, which Gilman knows he’s supposed to promote.

“I’m really proud of him,” he repeats as we start to conclude. “It’s a very unique family movie that we haven’t seen in a while, where you take these outside elements and put them in this, you know, in this loving… loving… oven?” He gives up, horrified by what he just said. “I’m the king of metaphor. I mean, get ready for my book. It’s a lot of things like that.”

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile released on October 14

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