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Richard Ayoade Interview: The Double

17 March 2014

When meeting Richard Ayoade in person, the actor, writer and director is far removed from the depths of geekiness that plague the loveable Maurice Moss, of IT Crowd fame. However, for a man as recognisable to the British television viewer as Ayoade, he is still altogether modest – and confused as to just how he became famous.

With two feature films under his belt, 36-year-old Londoner Richard Ayoade has an interesting career trajectory. Evidently multi-talented, it was whilst studying Law at Cambridge that the immediately recognisable comedy intellectual stumbled upon his passion for acting. Becoming increasingly involved with the institution’s famed theatrical department, he rose to the role of President of the Cambridge Footlights, the famous playground of the Monty Python troupe.

After graduating, a younger Ayoade spent a few cumbersome years writing for TV sketch shows and attempting comedy on the stage - now admitting that stand up wasn’t quite his calling – before migrating to the capital.

The East Dulwich based self-confessed 'natural pessimist' has collected an impressive armoury in his subsequent London years. Witty comedy, quirky acting and assured directing are all part of his repertoire. He tells us that directing is where he feels most at ease.

“I’d directed before I was in The IT Crowd and that was the thing that I felt I had most aptitude for, I guess: writing and directing.

“The first thing I directed was a show called in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, and that was about 10 or so years ago.”

Writing and directing are separate evils, but for Ayoade, the two were infused in his creation of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. The cult show harps back to the 1980s age of sci-fi television shows and was coined during his years of stand-up struggle. And it was whilst performing the stage version of the leftfield hit in Edinburgh that he became familiar with fellow comedians and now collaborators Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh.

But with experience in the director’s stool, he wasn’t tempted to meddle in the production of Channel 4 sitcom The IT Crowd.

The IT Crowd was Graham Lineham’s show, and being a big admirer of his, I was just wishing to please him,” he assures us. “You very much have that mind-set where you turn off your more controlling ‘I’d like things to be like this or like that’. That’s just it’s not my place.”

And when feeling at home on both sides of the lens, Ayoade does stress that it’s important to know one’s particular role.

“Partially it helps because you’re aware of how hard it can be on the very rare occasions that someone tries to control it in an unhelpful way... you just don’t backseat drive! Your focus is more ‘how do I play this character in a way that pleases the director?’ – they are my thoughts with it.

“Generally I’ve done things where, you know, you have to trust the director. Otherwise, well, it often doesn’t end well.”

Exploring his way around London’s entertainment angles, Ayoade has also found himself shooting music videos. Mentioning in a meeting with record label and film company Warp that he loved The Arctic Monkeys, he was placed behind the camera creating rock videos for the Indie rock’n’roll band, as well as directing the likes of Kasabian and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. This musical enterprise led to Warp suggesting Ayoade direct a film from a book they had optioned.

The result was Ayoade’s first feature film, Submarine. This coming-of-age story focuses on the adolescent struggles of 15-year-old Oliver Tate. We follow his awkward transition to adulthood and his attempts to seduce his pyromaniac girlfriend. With The Artic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner creating original songs for Ayoade, the kitchen sink comedy offers an original and introspective soundtrack, coupled with genuine laugh-out-loud episodes.

Following the success of this debut feature, next up is dark comedy The Double, an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novel of the same name. Ayoade centres the action upon a protagonist who is driven to madness by the inexplicable appearance of his doppelgänger.

The Double - Trailer

 

“The book The Double is just, I think, a brilliant idea,” he continues. “What is so great about this novel is that no-one is bothered by the fact that this double exists, that it’s an existential concern with just this one person. I think it’s interesting in terms of how you see yourself and how other people see you.”

When it comes to discussing The Double, which stars The Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg, Ayoade grows animated and his clear intellect shines. And while the director himself implores that the premise of the dark macabre drama is not a new one, its creative energy is palpable, taking Dostoevsky’s story out of the 19th century and into the modern age.

For a relatively young director, Ayoade’s list of accomplishments is growing – and so is his film budget. With increased resources being put his way, there must be a story Ayoade is dying to get his claws into…

“I feel I’ve been very lucky to have the resources to make the two films that I have. The main thing is, there’s a certain level above which you have to make a different kind of film, I think.”

Here his natural modesty comes into play again. “This current level feels better for the sorts of stories that these two films are, I feel. And it’s not just about money – we’re talking people and time here.”

If Ayoade is heading upwards and onwards, we hope that his foray into feature films won’t keep the actor off the small screen. Is there a particular director, of either big or small screen, in whose path he would love to follow?

"I can only think of directors I really like, and there are so many it would be boring to list them all. It’s hard to know because if I really like someone then they are just so lofty in my mind that it would be absurd to feel you could do anything like them.” He says, in his signature self-deprecating manner. “Paul Tomas Anderson I think would be great, but I don’t think I could do anything like he does.You know, there are so many people like that, all the Andersons – Roy Anderson, Wes Anderson. There are so many directors I really like.”

But when we begin to compliment Ayoade’s own work, his characteristic humility returns. If we learn one thing about Ayoade from our talk, it’s that he isn’t a man to bask in public glory. His vast scope of work, however, and his two feature films to date, can do the talking for him.

“I feel very happy, you know, and if I were able to make more films like this I’d be very happy.”

Richard Ayoade was interviewed at the Glasgow Film Festival ahead of the release of his film The Double, which hits London cinemas on April 4.

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