The majority of interviews we have the pleasure of undertaking here at HeyUGuys, tend to take place in hotels in central London, or when we’re really lucky, hotels in New York or LA. But when given the opportunity to meet first time filmmaker Craig Roberts – who burst onto the scene with the leading role in Richard Ayoade’s Submarine – it took place in a closed off bar, upstairs at a pub in Hackney. It seemed fitting for it to take place in somewhere so different, to mark a film that itself is so, well, different…
It’s very cool, I feel very privileged to be able to do that. But for me it feels weird that you even acknowledged the film is a film and we’re actually here talking about it. It’s mad that people outside of my head have seen it, and like it to some respect. It’s kinda cool. I love British film, it’s absolutely great, but we tell a lot of social realism stories and it’s very grounded and can be very bleak at the best of times, so what I wanted to do was to make a movie that is escapism, essentially. I don’t wanna go to the cinema and see my life played back to me – which is absolutely what this movie is, it’s my life played back to me, but at the same time having an American come in and having this heightened feeling that something is not right in this town – it felt slightly different to what we usually make over here, and I wanted to do something different I suppose. It does hopefully play with your perceptions, it goes one and then another, it’s slightly schizophrenic in the rhythm of it, especially after the American comes in.
The film is set in a surrealistic universe but explores very real themes, dealing with a protagonist suffering from depression. Was it a challenge to allow for us to connect with the character intimately, given the fantastical elements surrounding him?
I think it was fine because it essentially based on my experiences as a teenager. But one thing I wanted to do was to keep the performances as grounded as possible. They are very strange. Such as the parents, who are not affected by anything Jim says and they don’t pay him any attention. Like the bedroom, it’s so fucked up – he’s ripping the wallpaper off and then there’s this clown on the wall that goes against how Jim feels, and my parents when I was young, would have gone in that bedroom and cleaned it up, but they don’t and it shows they don’t respect him, they don’t get him. The world is slightly heightened because we’re with Jim and when you’re a kid you blow everything out of proportion and when people don’t get you, you think, fuck this, and put on an Eminem track. The movie is also very sunny, which is slightly heightened as well, because where I was from it was very bleak. It’s sunny because he’s depressed and he can’t realise this is the right place to be. By the end of it thought the colours have drained because Jim is essentially drained from his body. It’s weird.
I remember being that age and solving everything with an Eminem track…
[Laughs] Weirdly, Eminem was a big influence on this film. It’s very strange, the original concept came from a lyric he’s got which says ‘best believe somebody’s paying the Pied Piper’ and I remember hearing that and I didn’t know much about the Pied Piper so I researched it and it’s this guy who comes to a town and does something for somebody but doesn’t get anything back and so then goes crazy, which is essentially where the character Dean was created form. I think I quote a few Eminem lines in the movie.
With a debut screenplay there’s always the possibility it will be about a world you know so well, something you’re very familiar with. But could you see yourself in the next few projects writing something completely unrelated, like a sci-fi or horror?
I think so, I don’t know. Hopefully. I probably wouldn’t make a movie about the world ending because there’s enough of those – but I’d definitely like to. But then it’s wise to write about what you know about. Though PTA isn’t writing what he knows about I imagine, but for me it seems easier, and my next film is about a schizophrenic and that’s based on the story of somebody I know so that’s close to home as well. I just want to write movies about characters that need to overcome stuff. In life I’m always trying to figure stuff out, and I’ve never figured anything out and I don’t think I ever will. I’ll never come of age. Which is interesting, movies about young people are coming of age movies, but we’ve never come of age. Even Michael Caine is not of age. So movies about people discovering themselves, like Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, those kind of movies. They are the kind I wanna make – they’re very cool.
King of Comedy is my favourite movie of all time.
No way? It’s one of mine too. It’s so good. When he’s shouting “MOM” it’s so good. It’s like Taxi Driver, they’re very similar, both films are in their own heads, the endings to both movies don’t really make any sense. But yeah, I wanna make weird movies. We don’t have enough weird shit over here. It’s all very straight.
You’re obviously a big admirer of Scorsese and PTA, etc. It must be quite surreal that you’re now a contemporary, in a sense that you’re directing movies, they are too – and there could be a time where you could go to the cinema and pay to see the new Scorsese, or the new Craig Roberts film.
It’s bizarre, absolutely bizarre. I saw an article that had a five movies to watch feature, and mine was just next to Irrational Man, and I was like, this doesn’t make any sense. I’s ridiculous, but so cool. It doesn’t feel like it’s real. I just don’t expect people to even acknowledge it exists or anything, but I feel so grateful that people have come together to make the film. It’s weird.
When you say there’s not enough weird shit over here, this is some, and it’s partly down to Richard Ayoade.
Richard Ayoade and Jonathan Glazer.
With Richard, you can see influences from him in this, but in an affectionate, non-imitative way. Is he a big influence on you? I assume just working with him twice, it must rub off…
I love Richard Ayoade., I think him and Glazer are our best directors. They’re awesome. It’s escapism, they’re not telling the normal story that is told over here. At the same time I love Mike Leigh, he’s awesome. But Submarine was my first film and my first experience of doing anything good, and I learnt a lot from it. I guess we have the same sensibilities and the same sense of humour, stuff that is weirdly dry or awkward. He was a real help with this film, he was always there. Him and David Gordon Green were mentors for me. Which is probably why the movie is so weird. I had David Gordon Green in my ear – it was like Guilty Conscience.
Was David instrumental in getting Emile on board?
Absolutely, he’s the reason Emile is in it. I was working with David on a TV show and we were auditioning British actors, who were great, but I wanted an American, just because of the way they carry themselves, they know they’re cool.
It worked with him being an outsider too…
This is what I’m saying. It’s the same with Gravity for instance. Gravity is a great film, but I would have liked that movie more if they were non-actors. It’s so hard these days to separate the celebrity from the actor. But Emile, I’ve not seen him yet in a film over here and I’ve always been a fan of his work. Into the Wild is so good – he’s a great actor, and so good in the film. He’s so funny because he’s so serious and not many actors can do that, and that was the point of the American part, he’;s essentially uncool because he’s so cool in Jim’s eyes, and he takes himself very seriously.
The project you mentioned earlier that you’re working on next – how far into development is that? And are you planning on starring in it again?
I’m not going to be in it, which is good. It’s all written and we’re just attaching cast, but I’ve got no idea where it’s going to go. It’s based on this true story of a paranoid schizophrenic. It could be really cool, we do have some people attached – and I can’t say who they are, but it could be pretty cool. But I won’t be in it. I might be in it… No, I’m going to be in it. I’m trying to get Emile back though.
Just Jim is released on September 25th.