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You Might Fall In Love With ‘Brian And Charles’

Back in January, during Sundance (which was, once again, virtual only for the second year in a row), I got a text from a friend of mine telling me I had to watch Brian and Charles before the festival ended. I, in turn, texted back, “What’s that?” He then sold me on the movie in one sentence, “It’s about an inventor who invents things that don’t work, but then accidentally invents a robot with actual artificial intelligence.” Alright, I’m in. I watched Brian and Charles. So late, in fact, that we had already done our site’s “best movies of Sundance” list, which is why I didn’t get to include Brian and Charles, or I certainly would have. Anyway, I was smitten. It’s the kind of movie that, if the festival had been in person, it would have gotten the word of mouth bump. But now, it was relegated to word of text message.

Brian (David Earl) is that said inventor, who has played this character on a stage show and in a short film, but as director Jim Archer says ahead, the character in the feature film is far less crude. Here, he’s incredibly sweet. And by the time Brian invents Charles (Chris Hayward) out of a mannequin head and an old washing machine (who gives himself the last name Petrescu, and it’s never not funny when Charles says, “I’m Charles Petrescu,” and he says this a lot), we, the audience, are just so happy Brian finally has a friend. Of course, local town bullies take notice of Charles Petrescu.

Being released by Focus Features in theaters, Archer doesn’t know what to expect really. It seems like he just hopes enough people see it, tell their friends, then someday it becomes enough of a cult classic where they can make another one. Or, as he suggests, maybe they can put Paddington in the movie then people will see it. (But, seriously, if you have a chance to see Brian and Charles, you will love Brian and Charles.)

This feels like a true word-of-mouth movie. The only reason I saw it is because during virtual Sundance a friend texted me and said I’d like this.

I mean, I think that’s basically our marketing campaign from now on. Some people see it and then some people say it’s good. Folks do an amazing job. But we’re still a low-budget thing so I think word of mouth is the key.

I didn’t expect to feel so emotionally connected to Charles Petrescu. First of all, where does that last name come from?

Well, Petrescu actually, do you know what? The original thing, I think it’s probably just because it’s funny.

It is a funny name for a robot. Every time he says it I laughed.

Yeah. And I like that. I like that he just literally comes up with it on the fly. But if you pause the film at the right moment, there is one of the books on the shelves is by someone Petrescu. We have printed and put something in there. I think it’s just funny. It’s funny that he gives himself some sort of Eastern European surname for no reason.

Was the look of Charles difficult? Because I feel there’s a fine line between Charles looking grotesque and Charles looking too funny. Because you want to hit that sweet spot where people feel empathy towards him.

Yeah, exactly. I think he is a very kind of blank slate, which works for that. I mean, he is actually, weirdly, he’s quite handsome. This sort of mannequin head. It’s a real mannequin’s head so it’s got all the high cheekbones and stuff like that. But we just sort of made him into this old man thing. And I think the first version of him, the one that we did for the short, was slightly more janky and a bit probably more on the side of scary. So when we did the film version, we slightly wanted to give it a bit more logic, and make the eye metal, and make him look more like he’s been built from a washing machine.

The concept is easy to pitch to people: “This inventor who invents things that don’t work accidentally invents artificial life.”

“It’s a park full of dinosaurs that come to life.” Okay. I’m in.

Yeah, that one did really well.

Yeah, I’ve heard of it.

That should be your new line. “We are the new Jurassic Park.”

Yeah, exactly. I think that sounds like a slightly different version of the film we could have made.

What are you hoping for, release-wise, with the release date? As we were saying, it’s the kind of movie that needs people to see it, then tell someone.

I don’t know. I don’t know. This is my first film and so this is my first experience of all this stuff. You’re right, though. I think it’ll be a slow open, and hopefully people will see it and like it and tell their friends to watch it. But I think it will still be… it’ll be a slow burn. Or it’ll just fizzle out and its life will be beyond that. Maybe it’ll be a cult film in a year’s time. Or maybe it’ll live on on-demand. Who knows? But hopefully, everyone goes to the cinemas to it.

I know there’s a short film. But how does this come to fruition?

I sort of got involved halfway through. But it existed, David Earl was doing the character of Brian Gittins as a live comedy act. Since 2006 or something. And then there was a radio show where Rupert did a call-in with the voice of Charles, so that started to do a thing. And then Chris listened to that and was like, Oh, maybe I’ll build the robot and we’ll do this as a live act. And then I came involved when they’re like, we want to make a short film. The live act is kind of crude and big and completely chaotic.

And this movie is very sweet and not crude.

Do you know what? I think just when translating that to cinema, you want people to engage with the characters most. And to do that, you just need to find the heart. And just treat everything super seriously and cinematically. And suddenly, you take these characters that are in this chaotic, weird universe on live comedy stages and then be like, right, let’s make them as real as we can.

If these characters are crude, maybe I’m not feeling as bad for them when they’re being picked on by the bullies.

Exactly. Yeah, it just doesn’t work.

Let this man have his friend that he built.

Exactly. When we are doing Brian, we were like this is our version of Brian, not the stage version. We even softened his voice a little bit.

I would watch more movies with Brian and Charles.

Well, we are up for it. I think it requires this film to do well which is… It’s not Paddington. It’s a low-budget, British feature, so we’ll see. If it does well, maybe there will be more. Although maybe there will be a TV show? Who knows?

Paddington fans should see this. “You’ll like this thing just as much. The fun bear and Charles are the same thing.”

So I’m seeing Charles pop up in the Paddington universe…

Now you’re thinking. That’s the future, here. Get Charles and Paddington together.

Yeah, I’ll call Paul King and see what he says.

‘Brian And Charles’ opens in theaters this weekend. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.