Chatty Bot: The Mad Scientists Behind Brian and Charles

David Earl, writer and star of Brian and Charles, in the Welsh countryside. — Photographer… Will Davie/​Focus Features
David Earl, writer and star of Brian and Charles, in the Welsh countryside. Photographer… Will Davie/​Focus Features

The team behind Brian and Charles talk about the funny films that make them cry, their short-to-feature heroes and how they’d redo the classics.

We seem to bond over silly monsters and funny, lonely men. Bit weird, really.” —⁠David Earl

Brian has been lurking for a while. David Earl’s alter ego’s big-screen debut was in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s 2010 film Cemetery Junction, and Brian was kept alive in stand-up, TV and radio skits. Once a profession for Brian was settled on—outcast inventor of odd-bod things, including an AI sidekick named Charles—Earl headlined a 2017 short film written by Chris Hayward and directed by Jim Archer.

Film4 commissioned Earl, Hayward and Archer to expand their short into a feature in 2019, and although the trio’s new film had a long (cough—pandemic—cough) journey to its 2022 Sundance premiere, the decade or so since the characters’ creation far from stunted Brian and Charles’ sense of playful spontaneity. As Jing remarks: “It honestly feels like something a bunch of drunk best friends came up with on a random Friday night.”

Told with a mockumentary approach—often breaking the fourth wall The Office-style—the film meets Brian (David Earl) at his home workshop in rural Wales, as he pursues his dream robot-companion project: Charles. Crudely constructed from a mannequin head, a washing machine and other bits and bobs, Charles is voiced and animated from the inside by co-writer Hayward.

Through all their bromance and bickering, the quippy, cabbage-loving Charles wants nothing more than to explore the world, while the endearing buffoon Brian wants nothing more than to keep his android chum safe and sound—which becomes difficult when other inhabitants of their rural village get wind of Charles.

Instantly quotable and thoroughly heartfelt, Rachel Bleemer writes: “Brian and Charles is the film we all absolutely need right now. Charming, goofy and uplifting … [it’s] sweet enough to recommend to a parent and cool enough to impress my cinephile friends.” Praising its wholesome vibe, Flamin Thothoe declares: “If anything, this film is further proof that we need more nice-core movies in our lives.”

In the spirit of nice-core, we sent Jim, David and Chris our Life in Film survey to learn more about the movies they bonded over, the clichés they actually love and their top bot (after Charles, of course).

Brian and Charles get seated for movie night.
Brian and Charles get seated for movie night.

What film made you want to become a filmmaker?
Jim Archer: I used to make stop-motion with my toy dinosaurs so let’s say Jurassic Park.

Who are your short-to-feature heroes? What did those filmmakers get right about the process that in turn inspired you?
JA: I guess a good recent example, and I’d say the poster boy for that method, is Jim Cummings. His short Thunder Road was excellent and his method for extending it was to build the world of the character more, rather than stretch the story of the short too thin.

What were the movies you’ve bonded over together?
JA: I reckon we’ll all have different answers to this as we all took different inspiration for the film, which I think is why it works. We all love Withnail & I though. And E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Paul McGann and Richard E. Grant in Bruce Robinson’s 1987 classic comedy Withnail & I.
Paul McGann and Richard E. Grant in Bruce Robinson’s 1987 classic comedy Withnail & I.

Chris Hayward: David and I talked a lot about Jaws. It clearly terrified us both when we were young and it still holds up to this day—apart from the occasional shot of a big rubber shark. We discussed all sorts of movies that we like, from Up to First Blood, from The Fox and the Hound to Dead Man’s Shoes. In terms of compatibility, I will bond with anyone who loves John Carpenter’s The Thing as much as I do.

David Earl: We seem to bond over silly monsters and funny, lonely men. Bit weird, really.

Which film do you reckon you’ve seen the most number of times?
DE: American Movie, the doc. It’s the best. It’s so funny. And I care so much about Mark [Borchardt]—he’s a mirror. I’m looking at me really. Trying my hardest, but probably failing in the end. But, at least I gave it a go.

CH: Raiders of the Lost Ark is definitely one I’ve watched a lot. The pacing is incredible, and there are just so many brilliant set pieces. As a kid I watched the truck chase over and over and over again. I love old-school stunt performers and practical stunts, and Raiders is full of ’em.

JA: Probably The Matrix. It’s a perfect action film.

Mike Schank (left) and Mark Borchardt (right), the other Dumb and Dumber, an unforgettable oddball pairing from Chris Smith’s 1999 documentary American Movie.
Mike Schank (left) and Mark Borchardt (right), the other Dumb and Dumber, an unforgettable oddball pairing from Chris Smith’s 1999 documentary American Movie.

Who are the ultimate film couple for you?
DE: Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank.

JA: Dumb and Dumber.

CH: Keith and Candice Marie from Nuts in May. It would be both brilliant and a nightmare if you knew them personally.

What’s a funny film that makes you cry?
JA: Little Miss Sunshine. Happy stuff makes me cry. The final dance scene, of course.

CH: I cry tears of laughter during the sex scene in Team America: World Police, and I cry tears of sadness at the end of Toy Story 3 when Andy abandons his toys.

DE: Not sure about a funny film, but the film that made me cry more than any other was The Bridges of Madison County. I was crying so much. So many tears.

R5-D4 has performance issues in Star Wars (1977), David Earl’s most memorable movie robot scene.
R5-D4 has performance issues in Star Wars (1977), David Earl’s most memorable movie robot scene.

We all have a personal favorite movie robot. Tell us about yours.
CH: Maximillian from The Black Hole. When he first appears he floats down from a balcony, which just looks unnerving, and as a boy I was frightened of his ‘fan hands’.

JA: I was obsessed with *batteries not included as a kid. The tiny child robot in that was my favorite.

DE: That little red and white one that was chosen at the start of Star Wars and then immediately blows up. Missed his opportunity. What’s it doing now?

What’s an invention from a film you’d love to take for a spin?
JA: Flubber.

DE: The Honey, I Shrunk The Kids invention in the loft. I really wanna turn into a tiny person for an afternoon.

Before Rogue One, before Godzilla… there was Gareth Edwards’ 2010 directorial debut Monsters.
Before Rogue One, before Godzilla there was Gareth Edwards’ 2010 directorial debut Monsters.

What’s a film that blows you away… specifically because of its unfathomably small budget?
JA: Monsters—such huge scale for what sounds like a pittance.

CH: The Blair Witch Project. Who would have thought that a person just standing in a corner facing a wall could be so memorable?

What movie clichés do you actually love?
JA: All of them, I’m fine with a cliché. I love a tooling-up montage.

CH: Every time the characters in The Fast and the Furious franchise have serious conversations about the importance of ‘family’. Which is approximately every fifteen minutes per movie.

DE: Really scary old women in bathrooms. Is that a cliché? I definitely dream about it a lot.

All aboard for a gross-out Fantastic Voyage miniseries by Jim, David and Chris.
All aboard for a gross-out Fantastic Voyage miniseries by Jim, David and Chris.

The three of you are commissioned to remake a classic of your choice. Which film and what are your updates?
JA: Withnail & I, but it’s completely CGI. We absolutely ruin it.

DE: Rocky. Bring Sly on board to train me. And he really congratulates me on my lovely new body.

CH: Fantastic Voyage, with a group of people getting shrunk and trapped in somebody’s body. The only way they can escape is to crawl out of the anus. The film is eight hours long!

What’s the last film you watched that made you fall back in love with cinema?
CH: Dune. Partly because I like to hear big, weird sound effects really loud.

DE: The latest film that knocked me for six was Coco. And the last twenty minutes of Onward. Pixar, basically.

JA: I never fell out! But Top Gun: Maverick took my breath away.


Brian and Charles’ is in US cinemas now via Focus Features.

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