Brian and Charles is a Story of Friendship From Its Very Beginning

(Photo: Focus Features / Brian and Charles)

Brian and Charles is playing in select theaters around the country, a Focus Features film which tells the story of a lonely inventor who creates a friend for himself in the form a sentient robot built out of scraps and a cardboard box. It's a heartwarming tale of triumph and connection but also one which starts with friendship from its inception. David Earl and Chris Hayward, the writers and stars of Brian and Charles, drummed up the idea of the film years ago. Before it was a movie, the two comedians who are also friends and collaborators performed the characters on a stage at live shows.

"We talked about doing it live, as a live show, so that's what we did," Hayward recalls, referencing a call with Brian and Charles prodocer Rupert Majendie. "I was dressed as Charles, David would be Brian, Rupert was doing the voice of Charles. And yes, we did that for a few years, and eventually we made a short film just to put something online really. And we didn't expect anything to happen with it."

Talking with over Zoom, Hayward and Earl can't help but display their enthusiasm for the project and how much fun they seem to have working together. There seems to be a never-too-serious vibe between them, taking pride in their work and joking about it simultaneously. "playing Brian, he's always just really been inept in whatever he tries to do," Earl explained. "When I did stand up, my angle was, he's the worst standup in the building or in the country. And then when I did that little internet radio show, he was the worst phone in host. So he's the last person who should be on stage or should have a microphone in front of his mouth. And then I guess when we went into the film and we landed on him being an inventor, he's the world's worst inventor. Just everything he makes has no use or purpose, and nothing works. But he just keeps plodding on. Yeah. It sounds like me. He's me. Basically, he's me."

Quite the opposite, though. Earl and Hayward's Brian and Charles is a great relief from the big, explosive summer blockbuster which goes to just how Earl, as an inventor, has helped create one of the summer's better theatrical endeavors. It seems to come as a surprise to the writers and actors, much as Charles coming to life and naming himself in the film does to Brian.

(Photo: Focus Features / Brian and Charles)

"Charles is a seven foot tall homemade robot that likes to eat cabbages," Hayward explained. "When we first meet him, he's quite childlike, and kind of everything's new so he is understanding the world. And then he starts to develop a personality and almost grows up really. And we kind of did that quite a bit during the comedy shows, because he would sometimes say quite stupid childish stuff, but then almost be quite adult. So in the movie we thought, well, we could use that. We could use that as a little progression."

On the set, Hayward was standing inside of the massive cardboard box to bring Charles to life with a mannequin-like head atop it. The mouth of the mannequin moved as Charles would speak but not in any sort of big-budget animatronic way. Hayward had a tool inside of that box with him which he used to move the mouth from below. It's, "very lo-fi," as Majendie describes it but also comes with an added layer of appreciation when you learn the method of moving Charles' robotic mouth is the same method that was used by Hayward when Brian and Charles was still only a performance on stage. 

"[Brian and Charles] was never a comment on AI or anything like that," Hayward said. "And so we just wanted to keep their dynamic. Their friendship between each other was what we liked. And on stage they'd have arguments and then they'd make up. And so that's what we stuck with really. I think if we'd approached it, if we just had the idea, 'Oh, let's have an idea where there's a guy who builds a robot.' We probably would've ended up addressing the AI element. As it is, it was just these two, basically, idiots having fun together."

Ultimately, Hayward and Earl set out on a mission and accomplished it. "We just wanted to make people laugh," Earl said. "It was really nothing more than that. It's just Charles really made us giggle."

Brian and Charles is now playing in theaters.