Interview: Richard Ayoade, the star of “The IT Crowd”, on his directorial debut, “Submarine”

I’d watched and enjoyed the British comedy The IT Crowd quite a bit and when I heard that it’s star, Richard Ayoade was making his directorial debut with the film, Submarine, I thought that at the very least it would be interesting.

I was right and then some. Submarine is the coming of age story of 15-year old Oliver Tate (played by the wonderful Craig Roberts), a pretentious teen – think Holden Caufield – who is attempting to hook up with the equally odd Jordana (Yasmin Paige) while attempting to save his parents’ marriage. Ayoade brings a completely fresh look to the film and before it ends, you are so enjoying the world he created you’re wishing there were more of it.

I had a chance to talk to Richard in a conference call where he talked about casting the young actors, writing the script and directing his first feature.

The characters in this movie are so well written, was that something that took a while to polish and edit or was that just a luck of the draw and you heard how you wanted to write them and they just came out that way?

Richard Ayoade: Well, I think the novel is very well written and, none of it would exist but for the novel so and, in some sense you are doing something that is completely different to the novel because that’s a first person narration and testimonial, and it’s held aloft by Joe Dunthorne’s talent as a writer. But a lot of the feel of the film originates from the book and, you rehearse a lot and you alter dialogue during that rehearsal and the actors bring in lots of stuff and you edit it… so it’s slowly chiseling away at things throughout.

Did you have the cast in mind when you were writing the script?

Richard Ayoade: I mean not with Oliver and Jordana just because it’s fairly likely that they were going to be people I wouldn’t know at all. Not so much for the other characters either and their certainly as it neared completion, I had Paddy pretty strongly in mind or I certainly wanted to ask whether Paddy was interested before I went down certain roads with the script.

Throughout the casting process I’m sure you saw like a ton of young actors, what was it about Craig and Yasmin that stood out?

Richard Ayoade: They just have a policy that makes you want to watch them. I think it’s very difficult to describe what that is. I felt that they looked young which was very important, they looked the age of the character, they didn’t look like mid-20’s which very often people do. They both have very good voices and they kind of ended up looking quite similar to one another which I quite liked as well and just personally I really liked them and that is quite important that you feel you can get on with the people you’re working with and that you’re on the same page.

Taking on your first film, was there anything that was more difficult than you thought and anything that turned out easier than you expected it would be?

Richard Ayoade: The most difficult thing really is writing the script. I mean that’s proportionately where most of the time goes and I suppose where most of the major problems arrive and either solved or not so, that’s the thing that is most difficult.

And how about easier than you suspected?

Richard Ayoade: I suppose just the fact that we could get it made at all is easier than I thought because you never solely think that you’re going to be able to get funding or get something made so, yeah that’s really, that it got made at all.

What involvement does Ben Stiller and Weinstein Studios have in the movie and did you have to make any changes as a result?

Richard Ayoade: Yeah, there were no changes in terms of their involvement. Red Hour, which is Ben Stiller’s company got involved late on during the scripting, and I think largely viewed their role as trying to bring people’s attention to it… for being an advocate for it which they’ve just  being great at doing. And I guess similarly with the Weinsteins, they saw it in Toronto and I guess their role is also trying to bring people’s attention to it.

I was wondering if there is a similarity with British coming of age movies and American coming of age movies. Do you think that American movies translate in Britain and do you feel that your story is going to be universal for teenagers in America?

Richard Ayoade: There aren’t, to my knowledge, a lot of British coming of age films. I mean English films or British films, very often seem to be more based around children, initially than teenagers…

I think just more of the sort of Victorian feel that there’s a bigger dichotomy between childhood and adulthood. And adolescence seems to somewhat more American phenomenon in some respects.

I know that you’ve done a lot of acting as well as directing and writing, is it hard for you to switch between all the different hats you wear? Or is this something that’s just kind of intuitive to you?

Richard Ayoade: Well, the majority of my time spent writing really. I mean certainly the only acting I’ve done for maybe the past, I know 4 years, it’s just been, been The IT Crowd. We normally film for a couple of months and then the rest of the year I’m not really acting. And so, yeah, I spent most of my time writing and that feels good.

Doing TV and film, do you have a preference over one of the mediums?

Richard Ayoade: No, not particularly. I mean. it really depends on what the individual thing is. I don’t think doing one TV show necessarily means that another TV show will be as enjoyable or as truthful an experienced as the last one. And similarly with films I imagine, even though I’ve done one. So, yeah, I didn’t think there’s like an inherent superiority of one over the other. I also think that type of thing seems to be rapidly eroding.

You’ve got 3 just fantastic actors in the film, you’ve got Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor and Paddy Considine, how did you collaborate with them? Directing them, I would think, you can just put the camera anywhere and say, “have fun.”

Richard Ayoade: Yeah, I mean they’re all really great. You try and have them contribute as much as they feel they want to and you really try and make sure that the characters that you’re asking them to play makes sense and that they have some kind of internal logic and life and  they’re not having to try and make something work just through their own personal charisma rather than it making sense.

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