ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke to Brian and Charles writers and actors David Earl, who plays Brian, and Chris Hayward, who plays Charles, about comedic timing and Charles’ journey through adolescence. The film debuts theatrically on June 17 in the United States, and in the United Kingdom on July 8.
“Brian is a lonely inventor in rural Wales who spends his days building quirky, unconventional contraptions that seldom work,” reads the film’s official synopsis. “Undeterred by his lack of success, he soon attempts his biggest project yet. Using a washing machine and various spare parts, he invents Charles, an artificial intelligence robot that learns English from a dictionary and has an obsession with cabbages.”
Spencer Legacy: As both writers and actors, how much of Brian and Charles was scripted and how much was improvised?
David Earl: It was definitely scripted, and I would say most scenes, there was a definite script and scene and dialogue to follow. And so we tried to do at least get that down, and then hopefully if there was time and space, we could play around. There are definitely scenes in there … like when I first show the inventions, I hadn’t seen them before, some of them. We’d put in the egg belt and the pine cone bag, but the other ones Jim had wanted me to react to them for the first time. So that was improvised, and also taking Charles out for the first time. But we definitely stuck to a script in the main, yeah.
This started as a short film and as interviews and YouTube videos. Was it difficult to adapt this idea to a full-length film?
Chris Hayward: A little bit at first. We were slightly overwhelmed at first. “What exactly is their story going to be?” And so we just spent a long time [to] come up with different versions. Initially we had an idea, like the short, where Charles would already be alive, starting the film. Then it felt like, “oh, we’re really missing a trick and it’d be fun to see him being built and see him come to life.” So between me and David and also Jim [Archer, writer and director of Brian and Charles], and our producer Rupert [Majendie], we just talk about different story ideas and follow your instincts, I suppose, and what felt right and what would be interesting for an audience.
You’ve both written a lot of comedy. What made the idea behind Brian and Charles stand out when you guys first conceptualized it?
David Earl: We just love playing the characters and Charles really makes me laugh. And when we used to do it as a live show, [we] just wanted to show the world [and] hopefully give the world a giggle as well. So when we were given the opportunity, it was quite exciting that we could present this ridiculous being. So it was just the fun of playing those two characters together, yeah, was the motivation.
Was the comedic timing difficult between you two? Chris, you have the whole Charles suit on. So how did the comedic timing work there?
David Earl: I love all those awkward pauses and just bashing into doorways and not hitting your marks, and yeah, it’s just really good fun. And we would have some of the dialogue prerecorded, but other times we would improvise and I’d be chatting to Charles and Rupert, the producer would be in the other room, replying. So it’d be quite exciting to not know what was going to come back out of Charles’ mouth at me. So it was difficult not to giggle. And sometimes you would improvise wouldn’t you, Chris, if we were outside?
Chris Hayward: Yeah, it was a bit of a combination, really. And then in terms of timing, even though I can’t see anything, I know that Charles looks so stupid that pretty much, whatever I do is just going to look mad. And I’d just be trying to make David laugh sometimes. And just see what we ended up with. Just crossing my fingers that we’d get something funny.
David Earl: You would literally do that!
Chris, what was it like to act in that suit? It doesn’t look like it would be easy given the box and the head on top. What was that like over the filming?
Chris Hayward: Just quite oppressive, really. The first week, I didn’t really mind it, and obviously I’ve done it loads in the past. If it was a short scene, it was fine, but there were some days where I knew I was going to be in there for hours. So I’d look at the schedule and just think, “how am I gonna get through a whole day of being in that box?” Because I’m basically sewn into it, like the costume is sewn into the box, so it’s not easy to quickly take off. So I just have to almost meditate and just think “it’s okay. It’s going to be over soon.”
David Earl: I don’t think I gave you any thought in there, in the box.
Chris Hayward: No, you didn’t really, no. You made fun of it!
David Earl: The more you talk about it, the more I go, “oh my God. It must have been …”
Chris Hayward: I remember there was a point where I said to David, “Hey, you should put this on do you know what it’s like.” You just went. “No, no, no, no, no.”
When I talked to Jim and Rupert, they said that a lot of the dynamic between the two characters came from David’s teenage son. Can you tell me a bit about that?
David Earl: Yeah, so we came up with an evolution of Charles late on, from toddler to teenager. At the time of writing, my boy was 14, 15. And so I was really going through those experiences with him, and he didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. He wanted to go up [to] the shops, hang out with his mates, and I didn’t want him to. And it’s just really difficult to let go in those, because they just don’t feel quite old enough to deal with the world, but you have to just trust them. It’s kind of painful going through all that. So we stuck that in there, and hopefully it gives a film a bit more depth and truth.
You guys said that was a later addition, because in the short film, it feels less like a father and son and more like friends. So that came along more with the feature length film?
David Earl: Yeah. We wanted to give Charles some kind of journey and, because the way we sort of played him was just this excitable toddler, we thought, “oh, what would it be like if he starts acting like a 15 year old and listening to Rage Against the Machine?”
Do you guys have a favorite scene to film that stood out during the filming?
Chris Hayward: There are quite a few, really. There’s one that we both like where we’re all together in the scene, pretty much all the characters are together where Charles is dancing in front of Eddie. And it was fun just because we’re all just laughing doing it, because it’s such a ridiculous scene, but it was just nice. The fact that the main cast were all involved in that one. When you write a script, especially our one, there were times when we just thought, “how is this going to be filmed? How is Jim going to be able to pull this off, and how we going to be able to do it?” So, without giving any spoilers, some of the bigger set pieces towards the end of the film … that was just quite good to be involved and seeing what we’d written be filmed.
David Earl: Same as Chris said. I really enjoyed playing opposite Eddie, or Jamie [Michie], the town bully. There’s a scene where I go around to his and ask why he’s taken Charles, and he’s just so intimidating — and so’s Jamie actually in real life. But he would play that part so well, and I would be sitting opposite him going, “oh God, what’s he going to do?” And occasionally he’d push me onto the ground. I enjoyed playing opposite him, as well as Charles.
What, as writers, have some of your biggest comedic influences been?
David Earl: The reason I started standup was a British comedian called Harry Hill. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Harry Hill?
I have not.
David Earl: Well he’s worth looking up. He’s the reason I wanted to get on stage and I thought, “oh, if I can I make someone laugh as much as he’s made me laugh, it’d be amazing to give that.” So I’d say Harry Hill. And obviously Ricky Gervais is up there.
Chris Hayward: For me, when I was growing up, there’s a performer writer called Chris Morris and, Armando Iannucci, Steve Coogan … they were big influences on me when I was a teenager growing up. A lot of different comedy, really. We both became quite obsessed with it growing up.
For the design of Charles, did that actually come from you seeing a pile of junk or were you drawing it? Where did his look come from?
Chris Hayward: For me, it was just the voice. I just pictured him being like a professor. So I’d sketched out just a rough robot costume, and it was quite big, bulky, stupid looking robots. I’m about six foot, so with Charles, when I put the box on, it’s it adds another foot. So he’s about seven foot tall. For our early gigs, we just wanted something that looked really ridiculous. And I think we achieve that.
Would you be open to pursuing more content with Brian and Charles, whether it’s more films or shows, or are you looking more towards new projects?
David Earl: Well, we’ve got new ideas that we’d like to do, but if the appetite was there, we’d love to go back to them. Because it’s so much fun playing them and hanging out as friends as well. So both, as a definite yes.
Chris Hayward: No!
David Earl: He’s well over it!
Chris Hayward: No, I’ll get back in the box. I don’t mind, as long as I can take breaks, and this time David has to go in it as well.