Jim Archer, David Earl and Chris Hayward on Brian and Charles: ‘Was there really a life for a film like this?’

Brian and Charles arrives on the big screen this week and we chat to the people behind this award-winning comedy.

brian and charles cast

Brian and Charles arrives on the big screen this week and we chat to the people behind this award-winning comedy.

It’s sometimes difficult to tell when Chris Hayward and David Earl are joking. The comedic duo are surprisingly straight-faced during our interview and Earl casually mentions that in one version of their film Brian and Charles, Charles – the lovable robot made out of a washing machine and a mannequin head – was supposed to die halfway through the film. 

No one wanted to see that though, the two actors agree. 

I’m not entirely sure if they actually planned on killing Charles, but I want to see that film, I tell them. They both crack up, laughing infectiously and honestly. 

Brian and Charles Sundance

Director Jim Archer and actors David Earl and Chris Hayward at Sundance Film Festival London

I’m talking to the pair as well as director Jim Archer the day after Sundance Film Festival London has ended. After premiering at the Utah edition of the prestigious festival in January, Brian and Charles snatched the highly coveted Audience Award at the London edition of the fest. 

Brian and Charles began life as a short film. If you were to go find that short on YouTube after watching the feature film, you might be surprised by how different in tone the two are. The short film is melancholic and sad, while the feature leans more into comedy. 

“There is a version of the feature film that exists that is darker. At the beginning, we wanted to keep it very atmospheric and dark, like you feel Brian’s loneliness. But also, trying to keep an audience’s interest for 90 minutes with that kind of style, I think, is very tricky” Archer tells me. 

Earl mentions they wanted to make more of a family film this time around.

“I’ve got three children, two younger boys. I don’t know if that feeds into it somehow” Hayward ponders while Earl nods. 

brian and charles

The character of Brian, the lonely inventor, has been performed by Earl for a while now, but the nudge to make the short actually came from the desire to put the character to rest. 

“We just wanted to get something on YouTube to say that these two [characters] existed and then just move on to the next project. That was the motivation, to see what they look like on screen and then move on” Earl says. 

But fate had other plans. Someone at Film4 thoroughly enjoyed that weird, little short from 2017 and here we are, in 2022, with a feature length film about Brian and Charles.

“I think when we shot [the short] we felt that there was more, but we didn’t really know exactly whether that was even a tangible thing we could do. Was there really a life for a film like this?” Archer says of the team’s hopes for making a feature film of their short. 

brian and charles (1)

Archer was keen on using the mockumentary style for both the short and the feature, but was also desperate to update it and make it feel modern again. The style also granted some freedoms for the team and although the schedule was tight – Brian and Charles was filmed in a space of 4 weeks in North Wales – there was room for improvisation, something Archer loves. 

“How I always shoot scenes anyway is you shoot the script, and then as each take progresses, the script starts to fall away. We start to play with it a bit more, and then it’s a bit more fun” Archer explains. 

“It was always our intention to be able to improvise around the scripts if we had the time” Hayward notes and it seems that time was the production’s biggest foe in general. Archer tells me that production was supposed to start on the day that ended up being the first official day of the very first lockdown in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. 

The film finally got to a flying start in November 2020 and filmed for four weeks, but regional restrictions and lockdowns still affected the production. 

brian and charles fight

“We were shooting in Wales, so they had their own thing. In England, pubs were open for a bit and they were shut. But we all completely bubbled in a hotel” Archer remembers and I note that his tiny production adapted the same procedure as Colin Trevorrow’s mega-dino-film Jurassic World Dominion which also saw the cast and crew bubbling it up in a hotel, arguably a much larger one though. 

Archer also notes that the temperamental Northern Welsh weather proved to be difficult, but at least he wasn’t trapped inside a cardboard box like Hayward who portrays the robot Charles. 

“It was between takes that were the hardest because I would just be sat on my own in a cardboard box for up to 20 minutes” Hayward says and describes the overall experience of getting it right on camera as “trial and error.”

“Charles does very little with his face, a lot of the emotion that’s put on him was kind of done from David. We look at Charles through Brian’s eyes. You only ever need one take of Charles’s face and then you just save up all your takes for David” Archer says of directing scenes with a robot. 

Brian and charles

Brian and Charles is also Archer’s first feature. The director humbly notes he had done some “a little bit of TV stuff” and a few shorts, when they caught producer Rupert Majendie’s eye. Both Earl and Hayward describe Archer as a very collaborative director, one that was good at de-stressing the rest of the crew when things went wrong. 

“As a writer as well, sometimes you don’t really have a say in things, but he was always up for us chipping in with ideas and collaborating” Hayward says. 

I end my chat with Hayward and Earl by asking them what they were like as teenagers, as Charles in the film is much like a teenager. Hayward claims he – much like his robot counterpart in the film – blasted rock music way too loud. Earl, on the other hand, used to wear lipstick, much to the chagrin of his mother, who wrote on a mirror, “I found your lipstick,” with said lipstick. 

I ask Archer what he’ll be doing next and whether it’ll be comedy again. He concludes that his films will always have strong comedic beats to it, so my next logical question is, is there room for more Brian and Charles?

“If people see it in the cinema, and it does well, then maybe. If no one sees it then I think doing a second film would feel a bit weird.”

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