Two of our major character parts in “Lunatics!” are played by the extremely
versatile veteran character actor and voice-over artist, Paul Birchard.
We are so lucky to have this guy on the project, and he really breathes
life into these two characters: Joshua Farmer and R. Allen Emerson.
When Paul Birchard first contacted me about working on “Lunatics!”, I must admit I did not
immediately recognize his name. I’m not a casting expert by a long
shot, and I only know a few film and television character actors by
name. I kind of assumed I was dealing with a free-software developer
with an acting hobby. And honestly, that’s exactly what I thought we’d
have on this project — “programmer art” as it is sometimes derisively
I was therefore a little surprised when I found out that,
no, this guy is a real working actor in films I actually knew — I had
seen him on the big screen in “The Dark Knight” and he’d been in a
lot of films and television.
Paul Birchard is the only actor ever to have left Hollywood,
based himself in Glasgow, and lived to tell about it! He has worked
with many of the finest actors, directors, and writers in the business –
in Film, TV, Radio, Stage, and in Voiceovers.
- The White House Murder Case (Stage – 2012), “Professor Sweeney”
- Air Force One Is Down (TV Mini Series – 2012), General Greaves
- The Angels’ Share (2012), “Jim Vincent – Winning Bidder”
- Love Bite (2012), “Reverend Lynch”
- Outpost: Black Sun (2012), “Gaines”Hanna (2011), “Bob”
- Inherit The Wind (Stage – 2009), “The Mayor”
- The Goat, or, Who Is Sylvia? (Stage – 2010), “Ross”
- Spooks/MI5 (TV Series – 2010), “Libby McColl”
- The Dark Knight (2008), “Cop With Fat Thug”
- Waterloo Road (TV Series – 2008), “Jerry Preston”
- 1408 (2007), “Mr Innkeeper”
- Inside Waco (Docu-Drama – 2006), “ATF Raid Commander”
- A Line In The Sand (TV Movie) 2004, “Littlebaum”
- Revelation (2001), “General Demolay”
The part that really sold me, though, was “Scott Nolan, inventor of ‘Gonnis’”
in “Look Around You“, which is an absolutely bizarre British satire of old 1970s
and 1980s era educational films. That’s the kind of straight-delivery humor we
want to do in “Lunatics!” Except most of ours is more of the “Ha ha, only serious”
type, or else it stems from comparing unrealistic science-fiction tropes to what would
really happen (see also “Space does not work that way“). And that does take a special
talent, which he clearly can handle.
But actually, when he first contacted me, we were nowhere near ready to
think about casting, and actually at the time, we had figured on casting
after quite a bit of the animation had been finished. However, Paul
changed my mind, and we did casting much earlier in the process than I
expected. And indeed, I found that it was not nearly as difficult as I
thought it would be to convince actors to take a chance on our project.
In fact, we kept raising our expectations during this process, and
re-wrote the script for the pilot to take better advantage of people
with real acting talent — we added much more dialog and
characterization over our original “nearly pure visual” concept. In a
very real way, Paul was responsible for that, because he encouraged us
to raise our game so much.
I’m also really grateful that, on top
of all of his talent, Paul has also been really patient with us! I know
we’ve taken basically forever on some of this stuff, and it would’ve
been really easy for him to just get disgusted with us and walk. But he
didn’t, and it has made a big difference.
He did a great reads for both “Allen Emerson” and “Josh Farmer”. These are two very different
characters, and sometimes at odds with each other — Paul plays them
very distinctly, and I don’t think you’ll ever get them confused!
Joshua Farmer received his Doctorate in Space Agriculture for his work
on increasing yield of crops by active regulation of the atmospheric
carbon dioxide level within a closed system. His experience with
rapid-growth high yield crops led to his being recruited to work at the
Lunar Independent Biosphere Research Experiment (LIBRE) to prepare crops
for the colonization effort. He remained on as one of the colonization
candidates and was chosen for the first team.
Of course, Josh enters the pilot episode mainly as Tim’s father and Anya’s husband. He
and Anya represent a kind of subtle reversal of traditional roles. We
know that Anya is a wealthy woman used to getting what she wants, and
very much a career type. Josh offsets her — he’s basically introverted,
fascinated with the technical problem of growing food crops on the Moon
to sustain a colony, and thus, despite his athletic looks, he’s
probably the geekiest one of the group when it comes to their main
settlement objectives. Despite the occasional gruffness, Josh is a very
nurturing man who gets real fulfillment out of looking after plants and
animals and is good with kids. Yet he’s very masculine. It’s not at all
hard to figure out why Anya married him, nor he her.
I know it was a little cheesy actually naming him “Farmer”, but it’s what
we always called him as we developed the character, and it just stuck. Paul
ad libbed a little bit of lampshading on this on this point in some of the voice
tests (we’ll probably include some of these as extras on the video releases,
and they just might appear in the show at some point).
With Josh, the acting challenge is to keep him sounding friendly and interesting,
since he’s almost a laughably straight, stereotypical character type. But he’s an
important character, not only because what he does is so important to
our colony, but also because his strong and quiet disposition is an
emotional anchor for the group, and especially for Anya’s mercurial
R. Allen Emerson
R. Allen Emerson is a Conceptual Artist most known for his
work in active an intelligent artwork. He made his name in the New York
circuit winning the Andy Warhol Prize in Experimental and Performance
Arts for his ground-breaking installation “Consciousness and Mechanism”
presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts. His visionary
exploration of non-static images of dramatic simplicity, and his
pioneering work in interactive art has made Emerson a leader in the
modern trans-humanist zeitgeist.
During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, Mr. Emerson will be in residence
at the International Space Foundation’s colony on the Moon.
If we do get funding to do the second episode, “Earth”, we’ll be meeting the
“meta-conceptual” artist, R. Allen Emerson, who really livens up our
little colony. His thing is making art that appreciates art.
Some shows would have a “mad scientist” character, but all of our
science is pretty real and on the level. So we have a “mad artist” to
deal with the more extreme stuff. One great thing about that is that his
inventions don’t have to make logical sense.
He’s also fairly talented in electronics (he has about 3/4 of a degree in
electrical engineering, having dropped out during his senior year to
explore his artistic interests). His created “intelligent artworks”
provide quite a bit of the fun in this episode, and we’ll be seeing more
of him later.
Playing Allen is a challenge, because it’s a tricky
game deciding whether he believes what he’s saying or if he’s just
playing you. And in fact, we’re pretty sure he doesn’t always know that
He also puts a kind of outsider perspective on our
colonists, often seeing things in a very different way. But deep down,
we’re pretty sure he’s also a Lunatic.