“We really wanted to create a cabbage gun”: An interview with David Earl and Chris Hayward stars of Brian and Charles
Brian and Charles is an unconventional mockumentary directed by Jim Archer, with the screenplay written by David Earl and Chris Hayward. The story follows a lonely inventor called Brian, who lives in rural Wales. Occupying his days with inventing pointless contraptions from things in his shed, he concocts a life-size robot that he names Charles Petrescu. Predictably, there are challenges along the way as we follow their unlikely tale of friendship as well as a side story of blossoming romance and outsider persecution.
The Upcoming had the pleasure of talking to David Earl (who plays Brian) and Chris Hayward (who plays Charles) about their characters, their favourite moments on-set and why they chose to expand the short into a feature.
The character Brian started from stand-up, then developed into filming a short. How did you move into the idea of making a feature film?
David Earl: We were given the opportunity after the short. Rupert the producer sent it to Ollie Madden at Film4 and Ollie came back and said, “Do you want to turn it into a film?”. So we had the opportunity to write a script, and I never thought it would get made. So then it was just a massive writing job and it kept rolling on from there.
Were there any elements in the short that you were excited to expand on in the feature?
Chris Hayward: We didn’t want it to be so bleak, because the short is a bit bleak and melancholy, so we wanted to make it a bit lighter. But we did keep some of the scenes, in terms of the first conversation: “You built my body” – that kind of thing, we kept. It’s almost word-for word-in the feature, so some of that dynamic we wanted to keep. We did improvise a bit in the short film – we realised that worked sometimes so we tried to do that as much as we could in the feature.
DE: And we really wanted to create a cabbage gun.
CH: I know, yes. Don’t spoil it! We wanted to create bigger and more inventions and stupider stuff.
Chris, how was it getting back into that costume for Charles, after having done the short? Who made all the wonderful costumes for him?
CH: It’s like being in one of those emergency tents people camp inside in bleak weather: there was a scene we shot by a lake, which is one of the first scenes we did, and there was this gale force wind blowing and the whole costume was just rattling around with me inside it. I felt like I was on the side of Everest or something. We had an amazing costume department who just came up with some brilliant costume ideas and gave us lots of choices to choose from. We realised it was often the simplest styles that looked the funniest, in a way.
DE: You had to believe that he would have taken it from his own wardrobe.
Can you tell us about both of your characters and the way their relationship shifts emotionally through the film?
DE: We came up with the evolution of Charles, beginning as a child, a toddler, then moving through the teenage years; wanting to see the world and leave Brian. So, at the time of writing I had a 14 or 15-year-old-son and I was going through some tricky moments with him. Him wanting to let go, that was really painful, so there were quite a few experiences that we could take from that.
CH: We begin with Charles being really close to Brian, really liking each other and then starting to clash as he progresses. So it was having fun with that change of his personality.
What do you think are the key themes in this film?
CH: Loneliness and friendships. We talk a lot about how it’s strange how you can have a relationship or a friendship with someone… you can have these really close connections, then months or years down the line you can go your separate ways, which is quite a weird thing to experience. So we had elements of that in there and we also just wanted to make it a bit of a feel-good film.
DE: We just really wanted to make a funny film. We wanted to get these two on-screen because they made us laugh.
What sort of films do you both like and did you bring any of them into this feature?
CH: I love genre films and action films. There’s even a bit – I don’t want to give any spoilers, but there’s a bit where Charles is holding a certain thing and it’s almost a reference to Predator, one of my favourite action films. Jim talks about this one bit where Charles is mimicking something that happens, and it’s again like Predator. It’s a subtle nod to one of my favourite films. We also both really like Pixar films and Spielberg films are a big influence, too.
DE: Documentaries as well.
CH: Yes, we watched a lot of documentaries for this, especially ones that involved loners and their strange little hobbies. We probably watched more of those than we did features.
Can you tell us what it was like filming in such a remote location in Wales? Were there challenges that came with that?
DE: The biggest challenge for me was the cottage. It was really damp and there was nowhere to get changed, really. Then, one day, Rupert said, “There’s going to be a coffee truck coming” and we were all like, “Brilliant!”. And an hour later, the coffee truck’s not coming. It couldn’t get up the track.
CH: It was just really, really cold. We shot it in November and December in North Wales and my feet were just freezing. Charles’s shoes were really thin leather shoes and my feet were just constantly freezing cold. We had to put heat packs in there so I didn’t get frostbite.
DE: There was just never anywhere to get warm.
Were there any standout moments or a particular scene that you enjoyed most on-set?
DE: Mine would be when Eddie is with his two daughters to take Charles, and Charles has to do the dance. We’d written it to be a tense scene but we knew (and hoped) it would be funny with Charles having to do the dance. It was really difficult to perform because it was so ridiculous, him doing all that dance stuff for about half an hour. I also had to act fearful.
CH: You were loving it! I was exhausted as well. We did so many takes by the end I could barely breathe.
How did you manage the casting process for the other characters? Did you already have specific actors in mind?
CH: We had some amazing suggestions, but it starts initially with who’s actually available. We were given permission to film eight months after lockdown, and some people were unavailable as they were suddenly able to work or they didn’t want to film as they were still worried about the pandemic. I think we were really lucky with who we got, and we always wanted to choose people who were really believable because it’s such a weird film in a way that the more grounded and real the other characters can be, the better.
DE: When Jamie came in for his audition with his quiet aggression we were like, “Oh my god, he was scary and just so real and believable and not trying hard, he was just brilliant.” That was the same with Louise too.
CH: Nina was amazing too. The twins, Lowri and Mari, came to the casting process and initially we thought of them as being a lot younger, about ten years old, but when we saw their audition we thought you really believe them as being mean and horrible.
Louise Brealey, who plays Brian’s love interest, Hazel, told us that her pet parrot (that was kept in a cage at the house she shares with her mother) served as a metaphor for feeling trapped and unable to have her own freedom. Are there any other Easter eggs like this, where things are metaphors for emotions in the film?
DE: Great question. There’s loads: the scene where Brian sees the two sheep – we’d written another scene to explain why Brian had built the robot, but instead of filming that we saw these two sheep… got to capture that, it’s a beautiful day! It felt like a nice moment to tell the story.
CH: Great question, I’m trying to think what the answer is. There’s loads of Easter eggs but we don’t want to give them away. There was a video on YouTube of someone just filming their dog, so we thought that would be great if Charles just reacted like that dog did, so we used everything from documentaries to videos of labradors.
David, you brought elements of Brian to life in the Ricky Gervais series, AfterLife. Had you looked ahead to keeping the character alive by creating this new platform for him?
DE: When we got the script commission for Film 4, AfterLife started at the same time, so I didn’t really look ahead; I didn’t imagine that both things would be out at sort of the same time. I thought it might be two or three years down the line but suddenly there’s two Brians: Ricky’s version is a dirty old man, but a loner again, but with our version we wanted it to be a little more likeable from the off. We wanted it to be a family movie.
Brian and Charles is released nationwide on 8th July 2022.
Watch the trailer for Brian and Charles: An interview with David Earl and Chris Hayward here: