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David Earl talks ‘Brian and Charles’ premiere at Sundance 2022, taking cues from a robot

production still from brian and charles
David Earl plays opposite a robot in Brian and Charles. Pic credit: Bankside Films

British comedian David Earl has had an eventful week, celebrating the Netflix release of After Life Season 3 and the 2022 Sundance Film Festival premiere of Brian and Charles. Earl does more than just play the lead in the upcoming feature, Brian and Charles. He also took on a writing role, collaborating with his friend Chris Hayward on the movie’s script.

Directed by Jim Archer, Brian and Charles explores the life of a lonely, middle-aged man named Brian (Earl). He lives alone, in a small rural community, and builds eccentric inventions out of the found objects in his home. Throughout the first part of the movie, he’s seen rejecting the generous offers from the few people he interacts with — the kind cashier at the grocery store and other bystanders— choosing to live in a world of isolation.

This changes when he builds a sentient robot named Charles. The two strike an odd and codependent friendship, resembling a father-son relationship as Charles tries to shield the curious bot from the dangers out of the world around them. While Charles seems to have cured Brian’s loneliness, he also brings a few complications to the outcast’s life as he encourages him to live in a somewhat venturesome manner.

Monsters & Critics had the opportunity to chat with David Earl about Brian and Charles — a story first introduced in 2017 as a short film. We spoke about his experience tapping back into his character Brian, the unconventional relationship between the man and robot, and his remarkable chemistry with his costar Louise Brealey (Sherlock).

Opening up about returning to play Brian, Earl told us, “I’ve been playing different shades of Brian for years. So it’s just like putting on comfy shoes. Comfy, but sort of ugly ones.” He continued, I love working with Chris [writer] and Rupert [producer] and Jim [director and Charles actor]. Being four mates just making a film together was bizarre. And then working opposite Charles was just me trying not to laugh all the time.”

He went on to share about “plucking” bits from his personal life to tap into his character. Earl shared, “As the writing progressed, we gave Charles more of an evolution, sort of similar to growing from a kid or toddler, through a dog stage, and then becoming like an adolescent, and finding his way in the world.”

production still from Brian and Charles
Brian and Charles follows a lonely man and his robot friend. Pic credit: Bankside Films

The father-of-three added, “There were definitely quite a few moments in the script where it’s — I’ve got three children — looking at the little moments we’ve had together and drawing on those experiences. One minute they’re a little child and they want to be around your side, and then within half an hour, they’re like, ‘No, I’m off, I want to see the world.’ There are little scenes in there that I’ve definitely plucked from everyday life.”

Monsters & Critics: You spend most of this movie playing opposite of this non-human character. What was the biggest challenge that arose from that?

David Earl: It was only afterward I thought, ‘God, I was just acting with a plastic head.’ It was just so easy and so much fun. And knowing Chris was in there, and Chris would do these little movements that would make me laugh, and Rupert might surprise me sometimes on the software and that would make me laugh. I mean, it’s tough. It was cold up there, but it was just a really, sort of easy fun two weeks with your mates mucking around with a big doll.

There’s a scene where I had to get emotional. I was struggling a little bit to find the emotions and Louise [Brealey], who is in the film, said to me, ‘Well, just take your cue from Charles,’ even though he doesn’t do anything. And yet you read all this emotion, it’s all in his face. I think Charles is the best actor on the planet because so many times people watch him and go, ‘He looks sad there’ or ‘He doesn’t look happy right now,’ but he’s just a plastic head.

M&C: Sounds like it was a really comfortable work environment. Was it bizarre to not have someone to react to? Was that a mindset on its own?

Earl: That’s really true. Yeah, not having another human being react and do something that might put you off or send you in another way makes it pretty straightforward.

M&C: You mentioned working opposite Louise. It was so interesting to see Brian break out of his shell and strike this natural chemistry with another character. What was it like working opposite of her?

Earl: We did some auditions in the same room. But when COVID hit, we did an audition with Louise on Zoom. And it was the one where it felt like a connection. She was really making me laugh, just being sort of quirky. It just felt easy. The first scene we filmed was them by the lake when they’re sort of bonding, and it just felt pretty easy for those personalities to be bumping along together. But definitely in the Zoom, it was like, ‘Yeah, Louise is the one.’

louise brealey and david earl in brian and charles
Louise Brealey plays a surprising love interest in Brian and Charles. Pic credit: Bankside Films

M&C: When I was watching this movie, I kept thinking of the movies Her and Lars and the Real Girl. I just love this genre of humans forming relationships with nonhuman characters. Did you look at any specific movies for inspiration when it came to Brian and Charles?

Earl: Documentaries were the ones for me. I kept going back to American Movie with Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank, and their little relationship together. And there’s a film called Monster Road about this guy who’s obsessed with making little clay models and there was a British documentary set in the 90s in a tower block that I was obsessed with.

M&C: What do you think Brian and Charles are up to now?

Earl: We were talking about this yesterday, just having fun. We always thought it’d be funny if Charles comes back from his trip and badgers Charles to build him a female robot. And so, that’s the next stage. And they have this little relationship going on around the farm that Brian can’t get his head around.

M&C: Do you think Brian would? He’s wrapped around Charles’s fingers.

Earl: I think so, just to shut him up. Yeah, I think he builds him a female one and they’re holding hands, walking around the farm.

M&C: I love that. I’m looking forward to an eventual Brian and Charles rom-com.

Brian and Charles premieres at Sundance Film Festival 2022 on January 23, 2022.

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