ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke to Brian and Charles director and writer Jim Archer, and producer Rupert Majendie about how the quirky and heartfelt comedy came to be. 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: Jim, was it difficult to adapt the idea of Brian and Charles to a full-length film, when it was a short previously?
Jim Archer: We went through a bunch of different ideas at first, so it wasn’t particularly difficult, but we were settling on how that would expand. I mean, we thought some really big things at first. We were like, “Charles was from outer space,” and stuff like that. And all these really silly, ludicrous things. And then we just circled back to the importance of the short and the theme of loneliness is that Brian builds him himself. So after we came back to that point, it was just like just a case of building the world a bit more. And that involved adding characters in, and not adding too many characters, still keeping it like small, but once we thought of this idea of a love triangle and an antagonist, then it all starts to fall into place.
What inspired the original idea behind Brian and Charles [for the short]?
Rupert Majendie: There was a bit of history before with the short film where we’d done a lot of stuff live with David [Earl, writer and actor for Brian] and Charles. So that was a good inspiration. We loved seeing it on stage in front of a smaller audience, but we wanted to get that on film and show the world, really. So I think that was the first inspiration. And then Jim came in and brought it all to life.
What’s that creative process with Charles been like? Outside the short film, I’ve seen different videos and interviews from over the years, so it’s been a pretty long journey for one character. What’s that been like?
Rupert Majendie: It’s been great. The way it first started was on an internet radio show that David hosted as Brian Gittens. I just phoned up and did a sort of touch-type thing. The first voice that I chose was Charles, and the voice was actually called Charles, and David was like, “what’s your surname?” And then Charles just said, “Petrescu.” So it was, weirdly, just born in that moment.
Jim Archer: We kept that moment in film, really. It’s just funny that he just comes up with it himself out of nowhere. There is an Easter egg in the film that, if you look at one of the books, it is by someone Petrescu. No one ever notices it, but if you look hard enough —
Rupert Majendie: Or watch it 10 times, you’ll pick it up.
Jim Archer: Yeah, there’s a reason there.
Rupert Majendie: Then we did lots of live stuff, like I mentioned, but we had a podcast called Gittins and Friends that was co-hosted with David and Charles. So there was a long history of those two having a relationship and a good sort of second hand that was really advantageous going into everything.
Was it difficult to balance the heart of the film with the frequent comedy, without selling either one short?
Jim Archer: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s always such a fine line to tread, because one can certainly overshadow the other one, but I think it’s about using both to compliment the other. So comedy kind of opens you up a bit to be hit by an emotion, and likewise, when you go heavier on something, a laugh can be a really big release, which I think you get later on with stuff. The concept is kind of silly and dumb. So you have more opportunity to go darker and weird and more atmospheric and truthful with the way you film it, and essentially a bit more wanky with how you make it.
Rupert Majendie: There’s a load of zany stuff happening.
Jim Archer: Zany stuff going on, yeah.
In the film, the two characters kind of struggle to figure out their dynamic with each other, especially in the short film. Was it difficult to find that dynamic creatively in the film when writing it, or did you go in knowing the relationship between Brian and Charles?
Rupert Majendie: I think that was David and Chris [Hayward, writer and actor that plays Charles] have always had that steer early on that it was based on David’s teenage son, or just bringing up his son in all the different stages of life. It definitely wasn’t difficult. It helped knowing that was the journey of their relationship. So it gave it an authorship or whatever from David’s perspective and we all fed into that.
Jim Archer: Once that clicked … there was a point beforehand where we sort of had it, but it just didn’t feel right. And when we had that truth from one of our own lives, being David’s, everything fit into place.
Rupert Majendie: There’s a scene where Charles is dancing upstairs to heavy rock music, and he’s just talking. I think that’s a true story. That wasn’t in the script originally, [but] Dave was like, “let’s get this in!”
Jim Archer: And the lake scene, too.
Rupert Majendie: And the lake scene. Yeah.
What was the biggest challenge that came with making the film? There’s not crazy special effects or anything, was it doing it in that environment or was it more the writing side?
Jim Archer: I think it’s just the physical side of it, just doing it. Because we decided to shoot it in the most remote place we could.
Rupert Majendie: Inaccessible, some of it.
Jim Archer: Like we didn’t really … I mean, we did, but at the same time, [we] didn’t really think too much about logistics. Because we were like, this is just the best locations and we’ll just make it work, you know, we’ll just downsize or whatever. Shooting in really muddy fields where you just can’t get equipment would be tricky, but worth it. Because I think we all just really liked being in a bubble together.
Rupert Majendie: It was quite a jolly atmosphere. And COVID was around as well.
Jim Archer: Yeah, which added to the joy atmosphere.
With COVID, was that especially difficult, working in those constraints? Because a lot of it is outside, there’s a fair amount of distance between two of the characters. What were some of the struggles with COVID?
Rupert Majendie: I think because it was new … If you’re on set now, everyone knows what their job is. That system works now. But back then … I know the film before that was one of their first films that came back up after, and we were still shooting during COVID. So even COVID Marshalls were people just learning on the job and the crew and stuff like that. So that definitely was a new experience. Obviously it’s fine now, but it was definitely a challenge.
Jim Archer: Yeah, definitely. Trying to social distance and that.
Rupert Majendie: And we’re all wearing gloves and we’d be spraying our gloves. Because it was so cold, like never had [that] happened to you.
Jim Archer: Absolutely mad things.
Rupert Majendie: I’ve never used glove spray before.
Jim Archer: You wouldn’t do that now. It’s insane.
Rupert Majendie: Yeah. So it was people just working it out, really.
Jim Archer: And then going to hotels and then just living in hotels together and making the whole thing completely redundant.
The setting of the film feels like such an accurate rural small town. Did either of you grow up in that setting?
Jim Archer: Yeah, I mean, did you grow up in the countryside?
Rupert Majendie: No. No.
Jim Archer: Well, me, David, and Chris did, we’re all sort of countryside.
Rupert Majendie: They’re all feral.
Jim Archer: We’re all feral people. From the writing that obviously went into it and then filmically as well. I think we all wanted to bring that sort of bucolic, English or British feel to it. So yeah, as many landscape shots as we could get in, we did.