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Chris Hayward discusses ‘Brian and Charles’ (The FH Interview)

11 min read

Still Courtesy - Focus Features

Festival favourite is a wonderfully quirky British mockumentary comedy which follows the exploits of an eccentric inventor and his companion robot, starring comedians David Earl and

To celebrate the home-media release of the film, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Hayward (co-writer of the film and also starring as Charles) to discuss bringing the beloved characters to the big screen and what's potentially next for the comedy duo.


Will there be any bloopers/gag reels featured on the DVD/Blu-Ray?


Yeah, there's a gag reel, we had to bleep out some of the swearing in it. But yeah, there's some funny stuff in there such as me as Charles just bumping into stuff! And yeah, there's like a little feature. 

 

So I know you and David obviously had the internet radio show first, and the live stand up prior to the short film. But where did the inspiration come from for these quirky characters originally, because they're just so unique!

David was performing Brian on his own for a few years during the stand up scene and I think that was based on a few different people that he'd met and just sort of, I don't know, really like developed within him like a sort of demon percolating. And then Charles was initially our producer Rupert doing it on the internet radio show, he would type in the the stuff for Charles to say.

And then as we started performing it as a comedy show, their relationship just sort of developed and just went different ways. Sometimes they were friends, sometimes they'd fall out and it was those elements that we liked, and wanted to keep for the future, especially when they were bickering together. And Charles was saying things wrong, or the long pauses. There's just lots of funny stuff that we wanted to keep. But then their personality – especially Charles – it wasn't until we got to the film where we really had to work out what what exactly is this thing? And what is his kind of core nature? And what's his journey? And we ended up going for a child going into adulthood, basically.

 

And how did you approach expanding the short film to a feature length?

We started off by just coming up with just lots of different ideas. I think we spent quite a few weeks just me, David, Jim, the director Rupert and the producer, just saying, oh, it'd be funny if this happened, or would this happen? Initially, we were trying to avoid any sort of cliches – we didn't want there to be a love interest. And David was saying, “now Brian wouldn't have a girlfriend, he's lonely.” So we didn't want that. We didn't want there to be a bad guy etc but then it gets to a point where you go, but what's gonna happen? You realise you have to have some sort of jeopardy, so it was a matter of just fleshing out that world and trying to build on what we already had with the shorts. And working out a story that was going to be there was going to hold people's attention and that we found funny, and which would have some sort of dramatic element to it. Yeah, it was a long process!


Brian and Charles
is a genuinely lovely script with a quirky odd-couple dynamic. When you originally wrote the script, at the time did you approach it as sort of a form of escapism?

Well when we wrote it, it was before the pandemic, so we didn't have anything like that in mind. I mean, Brian, as a character, has always been a bit of a loner, so we just kept that character's heart for him. And we just initially just wanted it to be funny, we just thought, okay, let's just make a really good comedy, but then sometimes that can only go so far. You can lose people's interest, so it has to have some sort of heart to it and some sort of point. So, it was just a matter of coming up with just different themes until we thought, okay, that works – you kind of get a gut feeling where you go. Okay, that's a good idea, that works and then at some point, David, realised what we were writing kind of reflected his relationship with his own son.  I mean, it's not like all about that, but there's elements of that in there, which made it feel a bit more real. 


I have to ask, where did the idea for all the cabbages come from?!

Just because we used it in the short film where he's eating cabbage and for some reason, we put it into the film. But initially, just as like a little mention and then we ended up using it again. And then before you know it, as you've referenced it so many times, it becomes the thing. And then because it's the kind of thing that you feel like you need to address or use it in some way, so it kind of always builds up. But it really was just something we chucked in, in the short and, again, put it into the film. And then it takes on a life of it's own and the next thing you know, you're getting asked questions about cabbages! 

 

Still Courtesy – Focus Features


So can you talk me through the process of actually getting into the character, the costume and the crazy movements? 

Well getting into character. I guess it sort of depends on what he's doing. I always say Charles is a cross between a teenager and a Labrador, because he's so big. He's about seven foot tall. When he behaves childlike or is clumsy it's just funny. So in terms of mimicking that, I mean, I would just think about my dog, when I was a kid, and you know, how we all behave as kids. And so that part of it is easy enough, I think. 

But getting into it isn't so easy! So it's basically like a cardboard box – I've got my arm through one side. The costume is actually sewn into my clothes, so I'm kind of pinned inside the box. And then yeah, I operate that mannequin head with one hand, and I can't really see anything in it. That's the main problem. So then it's being guided around to places I had to memorise like pebbles on the ground where they were so that when we did a take, I could follow the pebble and make sure I was going in the right direction. So yeah, it was a weird experience. Makes me sort of think this is what Mr. Blobby or the Teletubbies would have to deal with!

 

And cycling!

Yeah, I was cycling in very quick shots for good reason. Because I'm unbalanced on it and David is having to hold my arm. So I just close my eyes and hope for the best for a few seconds. But we didn't fall over amazingly. David had a harder time on the cuckoo clock, which is on well, the bike. You can't really steer properly. At one point, you were sort of travelling downhill and it started to pick up speed, he looked quite scared actually. Whereas I was fine. I thought you know, you need to look at this like a daredevil.

 

How many iterations of Charles' design did you go through before you settled on this one?

Well, I made the original one that we used during the comedy shows and that was really a case of getting a mannequin head that I could then stuff like a blue eye light in a litter picker. And actually, the one that we used for the film is very similar to the original. So it's made of the same stuff really. We had to find the same looking heads that were used in the short and that was the hardest part of the process, because I originally found them on Ebay but this was about 12/13 years ago. 

And so when it came to the film, I can't remember where I got this weird mannequin head from, they all look quite different. It's quite hard to find the same one. So, Jim spent hours on eBay and the internet searching for these heads and then we finally got them from Americaand when they arrived, they all looked a bit more handsome, they look more like their skin colour is more tanned. He's got like a thicker jaw line than the original, he's quite freakish. He looks more like a sort of Hollywood actor. Which is fitting. And then it's a case of sticking on loads of wool for his hair and making him look ridiculous.

 

You obviously have loads of inventions in the film, which I absolutely adored – I would probably say the catapult is my favourite. What was your favourite and did you have many more that didn't make it to the screen?

I think my favourite is the pine cone bag. It's not really an invention I guess, but I just quite like the scene where he goes around to the farmhouse and the two girls. They really want one of those bags. We looked at so much. The cookie clock was a brilliant piece of engineering. We had an amazing art department team who made that and that just looked as ridiculous as I'd imagined, so that was really fun. In terms of cutting things, I think the best ones probably made it in the film, we had one  that we cut that was like a weathervane. It had these two little dolls on this weathervane that came out of a little house, it was like a weird thing and David was improvising most of the lines and he held it up and he said “I call this one the Sisters of Swansea, don't know why”. So, the Sisters of Swansea got cut. But I would say the best ones probably stayed.

 


And what was it like filming during the pandemic in rural Wales? 

Yeah, it was actually really weird because this was at the start of the pandemic so no one knew what was going on or how to react or what to do. And Wales had relaxed their restrictions enough to allow filming, but they were still under a sort of semi-lockdown. So we were kind of isolated. And that's why we were allowed to do it because we weren't a production company team, we were in like a bubble. But it was just weird, everyone was wearing masks and so the first time I met everyone, I couldn't tell who was who. So we went for weeks like that. And it wasn't until like during lunch breaks and stuff you might see somebody's face. So I remember several days had gone by and one of our camera team, he took his mask off and he had a big moustache and I didn't know he had a moustache!

And then yeah, the weather was pretty bad but for the most part it was okay. But we did have a couple of days where the weather was just horrendous. And then the main thing with the pandemic was there was a kind of anxiety hanging over the whole production thinking at any point this could get shut down. So we'd had a really good first week of filming, everything was looking really good. And our director called Jim just texted us and he said, “I've got I think I've got a fever.” And I was like, oh my god, this could be the end of it. But it turned out his room was just a bit hot, so that was like a false alarm. But we're very lucky because at the end of those four weeks, the day after we finished, Wales went back into full lockdown. So we were very lucky in getting it shot and getting it finished when we did yeah.

 

Brian and Charles is about an android and AI. Quite a lot of films focusing on that topic take quite a bleak and dystopian approach, obviously Terminator and Ex Machina. Was it always sort of your approach to go in a more positive outlook with AI and create a kind of heartfelt film about loneliness and an alternative to loneliness?

You know, we didn't really overthink it that way because I think the germ of the idea came from the stand up show, which wasn't anything to do with AI it was just this ridiculous kind of puppet robot and Brian. I think if we were starting from scratch again, we probably would address those themes more, you probably would just subconsciously start talking about what's their relationship to AI. But that wasn't really our approach, we just wanted to make a comedy. So that's why it'd be less bleak than sort of like the Terminator, I suppose. But yeah, it wasn't really a comment on AI. But in terms of loneliness. Yeah, I think even before the pandemic, there was a pandemic of loneliness, like a lot of people were feeling isolated and lonely and wondering how to connect. So I suppose we yeah, we did factor that in, you know? What does it mean to find a friend and, you know, loneliness and all those sorts of things. We tried to talk about it.

 

What can we look forward to from Brian and Charles next? Will there be a round the world special?

I mean, for an around the world special, if it was hot, I dread to think how I'd cope in that costume! It would get so hot. I was actually shielded from the weather in Wales, it's quite good. But actually, if we did something in Hawaii, I would probably be fainting regularly because it gets too hot. But I would like to, because it would be fun. But yeah, who knows? We'd like to do something with them. We don't quite yet know what that will be, maybe a TV series could be quite funny. But yeah, they are quite funny because they are fun to play, and we've always got a lot of ideas for them. It would be good to re-visit them both.

 

Would you ever see in the future maybe a Brian and Charles and a Wallace and Gromit crossover?

Oh wow! I mean how would that be done? Like a sort of stop motion, but in real life? Because who knows?

 

I could just see that working because when I first watched it, I could see elements from it.

Yeah, there's definitely a bit of Wallace and Gromit in there and I'm a big fan of that stuff. So yeah, let's give them a call and make it happen!


Brian and Charles is out on DVD & Blu-ray 24th October and is available now to rent or own on digital.