Harriet Dyer and Patrick Brammall are contemplating the value of a nipple as a comedy prop.
“A lot hangs on that nipple,” says Brammall.
Adds Dyer: “They’re usually [shown] very early in lots of shows to get viewers in and then you never see them again [the nipple, not the viewers] and we have technically done that...”
The nipple in question is what sets the plot in motion in the couple’s new comedy series Colin From Accounts. Boy sees girl. Girl flashes nipple. Boy hits dog with his car. They end up with a $12,000 vet bill and one disabled dog. It’s not the usual meet-cute.
“At least it wasn’t salacious,” says Dyer. “Nipples are a bit silly. Like, they’re all silly. We’ve got a one-year-old and she just thinks it’s hilarious to pull Paddy’s or mine. It’s just a nipple.
“When the nipple flash was coming up on the schedule, I started to feel incredibly nervous and mad at myself for writing such a f---ing ridiculous thing.
“And it was on a busy street in Surry Hills, it’s kids coming home from school. We tried to schedule it at a time when there wouldn’t be too many oglers about...”
Brammall: “I think they’ve renamed the street in your honour. Areola Street.”
Brammall: “But I get my bum out in one of the episodes, so that’s a trade.”
The pair are sitting on their sofa at home in Los Angeles, where Dyer has just returned from work, filming her US sitcom American Auto. It looks LA sunny outside and a truck can be heard rumbling past. “The garbos are here,” says Brammall. Adds Dyer, with a sharp American accent: “That’s what they call sanitation.”
They are about to fly back to Sydney for the launch of Colin From Accounts, which they filmed largely in Sydney’s inner west at the beginning of the year while juggling two uncontrollable forces of nature: torrential rain and a four-month-old baby.
“This was us every single day,” says Brammall. “And we had a little baby and we were in Airbnbs around Sydney, which we kept moving for some reason. It was crazy. It was a lot, but we had no one to blame but ourselves. It was a dream come true and our dream was a very exhausting one.”
Brammall, 46, and Dyer, 34, aren’t exactly novices. Before they moved to the US they had full careers in Australia – he was Mr Everywhere for a while, starring in everything from A Moody Christmas (for which he won an AACTA) to Offspring, Glitch and Upper Middle Bogan; Dyer, meanwhile, had combined a solid career on TV in Love Child and The Other Guy, with award-winning roles on stage with the Sydney Theatre Company.
They even met on the set of the comedy No Activity, but Colin From Accounts was another thing entirely. It was written and created by them, they star in just about every scene and it’s even dedicated to Dyer’s grandmother Joan, “who loved dogs”. Dyer’s old family movies make up most of the opening titles. The little kid being knocked over by a dog? That’s her sister.
I have quite a male mind, or I’m very intrigued by the male mind and how it can become so distracted by flesh.Harriet Dyer
The show follows Ash (Dyer) and Gordon (Brammall), who meet after the nipple flash binds them to the small dog with a large vet bill. From there, Ash and Gordon navigate a growing friendship, their own personal histories and a dog (“Colin From Accounts”, by the way, is the name of the dog) that needs to be manually expressed (I’ll let you Google that).
It’s a love letter to real-life relationships – those mysterious things that can’t be found on a screen or on Tinder, just a spark between two people. She calls him her weird mate and he can’t believe she’s never heard of Harry or Sally (“Who are they?”).
Dyer dreamed up the idea after feeling dissatisfied with life in LA. She wasn’t getting the work she wanted, so she set herself a week to try to write something. After spending the first day downloading screenwriting software, something clicked, and by the end of the week she had the bones of Colin From Accounts.
“We just wanted something that would bring two people together that would have never met otherwise,” says Dyer. “I was also intrigued by the fact we’re all just kind of monkeys getting around in vehicles or on foot. And we do see other monkeys that we find attractive and things happen, like you can easily trip over the gutter or something because you’ve seen someone.
“I have quite a male mind, or I’m very intrigued by the male mind and how it can become so distracted by flesh. I don’t personally feel that way. Although I did once, when I was nannying. I pushed a pram into a pole because there was a man taking his shirt off. That was the germ of the idea. And then I was like, ‘Well, what if it was bigger?’”
Adds Brammall: “Yeah, that scene where my character is talking to his friends about the phenomena of seeing a boob in the wild?”
Dyer: “I wrote that.”
Brammall: “I was like, yeah, this is how men talk.”
Dyer: “I think I was a very straight, very basic, hetero man in a past life.”
Brammall: “And I was a sophisticated lady.”
It’s not hard to see where the banter in the show comes from. So, apart from a shared sense of humour, how much does Colin From Accounts reflect their real-life relationship?
“Not at all,” says Dyer. “We enjoy that there’s comedy in our age gap. For a minute there, he was 41 and I was 29, which is what Gordon and Ash are for most of this season. But when he was 41 and I was 29, I was like, ‘This is so f---ed up.’ There’s a whole decade between us. On paper this looks bad. We’re missing this decade where so much happens.
“I feel like I’m in my 40s by proxy and suddenly I’m drinking tea on the couch. I had a bit of a moment. I was like, ‘Do I get my 30s? What is my 30s? Do they exist?’ So that was the only thing we really wanted to steal.”
Adds Brammall: “We couldn’t just have us enjoying each other, you know – that doesn’t make for good comedy. We needed reasons they shouldn’t be together, obstacles.
“But it was so important for us to have just moments of what they do bond over because they meet, it’s literally a car crash. It’s not good. So there had to be this moment where they connect, and the connection is, in large part, a similar connection to us, at least initially, which is the enjoyment of the same sense of humour.
“You see that when they named the dog and there’s just enough in there to keep you going as an audience to go, ‘Oh, they could be nice together, those two.’”
That feeling of “they could be nice together” is what makes good relationship comedies tick. You might not always like the people on screen but you can relate to them, good or bad. Brammall and Dyer have hit that sweet spot before: him as the messy, obnoxious older brother Sean in The Moodys; she as the sweary housemate in The Other Guy.
“Relatability is important, but not likeability,” says Brammall. “But in America, it’s [likeability]. ‘These people, they need to be good at their job.’ But where’s the comedy if you’re good at your job? Hypocrisy is funny; being disingenuous is funny; greed and selfishness are all funny.
“It needs to be something human, behaviour that you recognise. You find these weaknesses in yourself and augment them with a bit of funny bones. People love to see that. It’s about credibility in that sense.”
We wanted the way we speak, the way we relate, the way we’re idiots, to be seen. And we know that better than we know the American experience.Patrick Brammall
And while the show was written in the US, Brammall and Dyer always saw it as an Australian story.
“Because we’re based in LA, people were like, ‘Oh, that’s really funny, you want to shoot it in the States?’” says Brammall. “And we were like, ‘These characters aren’t American.’ There’s something about the Australian vernacular and the people we know, from growing up and from our life in Australia, that is so funny.
“We also wanted the way we speak, the way we relate, the way we’re idiots, to be seen. And we know that better than we know the American experience.”
Dyer remembers receiving a script note from a US executive querying some Australian slang in the script and worrying that American audiences might not understand it.
“It could have been ‘I’ll see you this arvo’,” says Dyer. “I’m working on a TV show right now here in LA and it’s like, if I say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s this arvo,’ people are like, ‘What? What now?’ But if we then change that to ‘I’ll see you this afternoon’, Australians don’t get that.”
Now Brammall and Dyer have been in the US for a while – they married in Florida last year and adopted their daughter Joni there – would they recommend it to other actors hoping to follow the path to Hollywood?
“You can make US dollars here and then embezzle them back into Australia,” deadpans Dyer. “You can make some money.”
Adds Brammall: “It’s still very hard to break in over here. It’s just about being here and meeting people and forging relationships and stuff. It’s a tough gig, but if you get in, you just have more of a chance of making a better living.”
Dyer agrees, despite being nervous initially about how her “awkwardness” would come across. “It wasn’t a natural fit straight away. People were a bit like, ‘Oh, you?’”
Brammall: “Having said all this, going to LA is not the be all and end all. We miss our family and our friends. It’s very difficult being out here in a satellite, especially after COVID. So many Australians, they went back home.”
Dyer: “It’s a big sacrifice. And the dream is to keep working in both countries, as we’ve done. So Australia has not seen the end of us.”
Colin from Accounts premieres on Binge on December 1.
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