Interview: Richard Ayoade
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN AUGUST 2011 FOR THE VELVET ONION
Hi Richard! It’s a pleasure to talk you… we at TVO loved the film.
Thank you very much!
How did you prepare for the challenge of making your first film?
The main thing seems to be spending time on the script. Writing it and getting it right seems to be the most time-consuming element, that you’re most focused on for the longest. That’s the major thing to get right.
There’s quite dark subject matter in the film, even if it’s ultimately uplifting. Would you say it’s fair to say it’s not really what people would expect of you?
I suppose it’s hard for me to know what people would have expected, really. I think because it’s an adaptation of a book, it hopefully follows the tone of the novel, so I don’t think it’s like something I would be in. It’s different, I suppose.
It’s proven to be an international success, really. Are you happy with the level of success it’s had?
It seems to have gone well, largely. All of those things feel a little out of your control, so you try not to get too connected to that. Who knows how things will go? Historically, brilliant things have done terribly and terrible things have done brilliantly. It’s very hard to make a connection – you just hope to get lucky.
I’ve got a feeling it’ll benefit from repeated viewings. Could it become a cult classic?
I don’t know at all! Who knows why people fall for some films and not others?
Is there a particular element of the film that you are most proud of?
I think the acting looks really good, and I can take very little credit for that. Not really… you tend not to categorise things in that way. It’s impossible to answer, really, because you do it for two or three years, so it’s just the thing that you’re doing. It’s a bit like saying to someone: How pleased with yourself are you feeling at the moment? I mean, I don’t know… hopefully not very pleased with myself…
Every major character in it has a major problem they need to overcome. Is there a particular character you associated with the most, or do you find elements in them all?
Hopefully, your interest is in all of them, really. You try to argue from each person’s position as much as you can. The danger is that if you focus too much on one person’s perspective, everyone else becomes straw men. I read that Noah Baumbach, when he wrote The Squid and the Whale, wrote a draft from each person’s perspective, which I thought was an interesting way to do it.
You managed to make the film without turning to any of the people you were known for working with, beyond your composers Alex Turner and Andrew Hewitt. Was this a conscious decision or just that it didn’t benefit the film?
No, it wasn’t a deliberate choice. It’s just that the parts were for schoolchildren, by and large, and most of the people I’ve worked with are my age. Most of the people in it were meant to be either fifteen or forty-five, so I couldn’t really put anyone in…
Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige were previously known for their cult tv roles. Can you see them going on to bigger things?
Well, hopefully better things. Yeah, I hope this doesn’t end their careers…
I’m sure it won’t!
I think they’re both great, so I’m sure they’ll do lots of stuff.
I have to say… you downplay your contribution a great deal, but in many ways this is your film which you developed from the get-go. Do you bear in mind that you have a fan base who do follow your work?
Erm… not really. I suppose you don’t quite think people follow you, because there’s lots of other things going on besides what you’re doing. I guess your contribution – even if you’re writing and directing – is very much not the whole picture. Even if you’re Russ Meyer, who’s the closest there’s been to a complete auteur…
There’s so many atmospheric conditions that can change it. Who’s in it… whether it’s the right time for it… what else came out that week… you know, there might be another film about a Welsh schoolboy. There’s all sorts of random occurrences that mean something utterly disappears.
I just think in general, publicity about something is, if anything, more than a kind of story than films are – in that generally it’s presented as though it’s the heroic work of one person and there’s a kind of narrative constructed around the film. It’s all presented as a journey. Essentially by being interviewed you’re consenting to become subject matter – the story in which the writer is the hero, but sadly, it’s not often true. You just cannot make a film on your own, unless you’re an animator…
That’s quite a noble outlook. A lot of filmmakers wouldn’t necessarily say that. There’s definitely a focus on ‘The Big Name’.
Well, I think it’s not very interesting. It’s much more interesting to hear about filmmakers like Herzog who are incredibly colourful characters and it’s the story of how they do it. That’s much better than saying how about fifty people over six months slowly ironed out a number of problems. That’s not a terribly romantic picture of things…
Now that you’ve made your mark as a director, and The IT Crowd looks like it’s coming to an end, do you think you’ll continue to act or move completely behind the camera?
If I was better at it, I’d probably be more keen. It’s not really my strength, so I think just on the basis of ability, I’ll probably end up doing less of it.
Next up is your adaptation of The Double. How’s that coming along?
It seems ok, I think. I’ve enjoyed writing with Avi [Korine], who came up with the idea to adapt it… I feel pretty pleased with it at the moment, so we’ll see.
Is there anything else coming up on the horizon?
I’ve just directed a live show for Tommy Tiernan, so I’ll be editing that and that’ll be coming out fairly soon.
Ok, I’ve got a few rapid-fire questions to round things off… The Boosh Movie: if they ask you, will you be involved?
I’m sure, yeah!
They say George Martin was the Fifth Beatle. Could you be the Sixth Boosh?
I don’t know… I think that’d be somewhat presumptuous.
Bit of a silly one… Moss, Dean Learner and Saboo meet. What would be the outcome?
I don’t entirely know where they’d have met, so I suppose the discussion of whatever location that was.
Playing devil’s advocate a little bit, if there was a big-budget Hollywood remake, who could you see playing these characters?
Right, well… erm… Mr T?
Is that Mr T as Oliver?
Yeah, just Mr T as all of them. Get him to do a Nutty Professor… then he can finally show his range.
Now that could’ve made a great extra…
It would’ve been good, yeah.
Finally, is there anything you wanted to tell people about Submarine, that nobody has bothered to ask you?
It’s just essential that everyone buys thirty copies to fully enjoy the film.
Have they got to watch it on multiple screens like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth?
No, they should sit on the other twenty-nine, as a stool, and just watch the one.
Richard Ayoade, thank you very much.