‘Brian and Charles’: David Earl and Chris Hayward on Turning Their Robot-Buddy Story Into Lovably Quirky Cinema
If you are an inventor plagued by loneliness, maybe the best solution is to simply create a best friend from found items. “Brian and Charles,” is a quirky exercise in oddball comedy that reaches some endearing heights. It’s the brainchild of British comic actors David Earl and Chris Hayward who, along with director Jim Archer, first brought the concept to life as a 2017 short film. Now as a feature, the movie expands the story into a work about bonds that borders on the surreal, yet never lacks a genuine human touch. Set in a rural Welsh countryside, it stars Earl as Brian, a handyman who spends his free time building contraptions in a small shed. Among his inventions is a flying cuckoo clock, which doesn’t necessarily work and tends to burst into flames. He toils away on his greatest creation, a talking robot christened Charles Petrescu (Hayward), who has a torso made from an old washing machine, small legs and an old man mannequin head, complete with glasses and a glowing blue eye.
Fully operational, Charles expresses himself in quick sentences that sound trapped between childlike and an aging grandfather. He’s like a quick microcosm of the growth process, starting off as a curious toddler, then gaining adult awareness with a desire to see the world. When very happy he can break out into a sort of mechanical tap dance. At first Charles is a bit clingy, but when he yearns for freedom, Brian tries to keep him a secret, even from innocent love interest Hazel (Louise Brealey). When the town bully, a brute named Eddie Tommington (Jamie Michie), comes after Charles, Brian has to put introverted fears aside and stand up for his buddy. This isn’t typical A.I. sci-fi but instead a story about how genuine friendships can be ludicrous, empathetic and special at the same time. For Earl and Hayward it’s a comedic triumph that can generate laughs as well as a few errant tears. The two comedic artists spoke with Entertainment Voice about the journey of making “Brian and Charles.”
This is a very unique, to say the least, film about friendship. Originally the concept came to life as a short film. But where does Charles himself come from and what inspired him?
Hayward: Well, David had been doing a standup act as Brian for quite a few years before I met him. He would often do an internet radio show where people would call him. Our producer Rupert Majendie decided to call in and he used this computer software to read out what he wanted to say and it would come out in these weird voices. One of the voices was basically Charles. I was listening and I thought it was so funny. There were these stilted, awkward pauses (laughs). So we turned it into a standup routine where I would dress up as Charles. I put the costume together. We did that for a while and then made the short film to put something on YouTube. We were surprised when Film4, an English studio, really liked it and contacted us about developing it into a feature.
Jim Archer also directed the short. When preparing the feature film, was he always the first choice or did you consider other candidates?
Earl: When we first did the short film, Rupert brought Jim in. Isn’t that right? You three knew each other, correct?
Hayward: Yes, we are all friends, really.
Earl: I didn’t know Jim.
Hayward: But you liked the sound of him, didn’t you?
Earl: Yes (laughs). I liked the sound of him. Then when I met him, he was fantastic (laughs). He’s just lovely to work with. I find performing so stressful and I panic easily. But he was so calming on set and collaborative. When it came time to do the feature there was no question we had to work with him again.
Hayward: It’s a unique experience for the actors and producer to all be mates. It makes it so much easier because we’re all on the same wavelength.
It’s one thing to write a short film but then turning it into a feature is its own challenge. How challenging was it to expand “Brian and Charles” into a longer movie?
Earl: At first it felt like a huge challenge going from writing nine pages to 90. I had never even thought it would be a feature. You have such a blank canvas and can go in any direction. You kind of just make decisions along the way and hope it will all work.
The characters in the film feel like they could be anyone’s neighbors. They are so vivid. Charles in particular is a robot but feels so real. He hates being told what to do, he wants a little bit of freedom. You feel for him. Were elements of him ever inspired by real individuals you might know?
Earl: We came up with the evolution of Charles early on. He’s meant to go through the stages of toddler, teenager and then adult wanting to see the world. At the time my eldest son was 14 or 15 and I was going through all these experiences with him. He didn’t want to hang out with me anymore which was incredibly embarrassing.
Hayward: He wanted to go hit the shops on his own?
Earl: He did! So there’s quite a few scenes in there taken from our lives. He went to the premiere with me in London and leaned over and said, “oh my god I recognize that scene.” I said, “yeah, see the stress you put me through?”
Chris, you are literally Charles in the movie. But how much of you is in the character of the machine and vice versa?
Hayward: I’m sure there’s a bit! On YouTube we saw a video of a guy who left his dog in his house on its own and he left a camera filming him. Just watching this dog wandering around in the house made us think, “wouldn’t it be funny if Charles was doing that?” So there is one scene where I’m lying down on the floor and when Brian comes back Charles is like an excitable dog just getting up. So he’s like a Labrador crossed with a teenager or some shit.
Charles also stands apart from the typical movie robot. He definitely looks like a giant, walking contraption. What is Charles the machine actually made of?
Hayward: Yeah he’s a combination of things. He’s made of boxes of reinforced cardboard. The mannequin head I had originally built for the short film. Our production team took that original and tried to make it more “Hollywood.” Honestly, they pretty much made the same thing (laughs). It wasn’t much of an improvement. So the head is on a stick Brian had been using to pick up litter. There’s a blue eye in there with blue light and then some really fun clothes. It was a lot of fun putting him together.
After “Brian and Charles,” what can we expect coming up next from you both?
Hayward: We’re working on a couple of different ideas. It’s something kind of like “Brian and Charles” but with a magical idea in there.
Earl: Yeah, we like to do things that the entire family can sit down and watch. It’s great that my 5-year-old boy loves Charles but so does my mom. They can enjoy it together.
And finally, apart from the ingenuity of Charles, this is overall a memorable movie about friendship. What would you both say makes the perfect friend or companion?
Earl: My wife.
Hayward: Aw, that’s nice.
Earl: And please, can she read this?
Hayward: For me it’s someone you just have a really good laugh with, someone you can bond with.
“Brian and Charles” releases June 17 in select theaters.