You know the hair. The glasses. The voice. The sheer talent. Richard Ayoade spoke to HeyUGuys about The Double, which is out now on DVD and Blu Ray. Other subjects included The
I’d like to start by going back a little bit to your first feature, which was obviously Submarine. I think for many people, they didn’t realise that a comedy actor was also going to be a great director. So I was wondering, did you feel that was a liberating experience?
Erm, I don’t know. I’d directed TV before – I directed a show called Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and music videos and things, so the main thing at the time [was I] felt the writing of something that was much longer than anything I’d done, and the structure of doing a film that has ninety minutes to it. So that was, I think, my main concern rather than being on a set, directing, and that side of it, I guess. That’s what I remember my main focus being.
And with The Double, your second film, it’s got quite lofty themes I think, and potentially challenging to the viewer and, I assume, it was quite challenging to make as well. With all those psychological, existential themes. Is that what you were looking for, for your second movie? Something really challenging?
This started before Submarine, because it was Avi Korine’s idea to adapt the book [The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky] and I ended up writing it with him. But yeah, it was his idea, and so his script, the first one that I read was in 2007 when I first started writing Submarine, when I was just about to start it. He did a couple of drafts, probably while I was filming Submarine and he was working on some other stuff, and then after I’d finished that film, I started writing and I did some drafts, and so there’s no sense of deciding what to do next. That was all beneath, that what I wanted to do next. And would have done, or would have tried to do that regardless, even if say, Submarine hadn’t got made the I still would’ve tried to have done this film.
And is that kind of the way you work all the time?
No, I don’t think so. I mean, this was based on meeting Avi via the producers and just really liking him, and his sensibility – I guess you’d call it. That’s the standard term – ‘his sensibility’. So yeah, I’d love to do some more stuff with him, and you know, I think from now on I’ll always call him if I was ever doing something, and he’ll send me some stuff he was looking at. So I’d like to continue that, but it really depends; at the moment, I’ve just finished a book, and that was a completely different thing. It really varies.
Could you tell us a bit about your book?
Sure! It’s called Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey, and it’s about this character who is just called Ayoade – his first name cannot be mentioned, like Almodovar. And he talks about his very lofty views of cinema, and the world, and creativity, and is interviewed by himself, by an alter ego.
Sounds slightly like The Double in the way it’s a split personality.
Yeah, there is a similarity. But this is purely comic, you know; it’s jokes, really. It’s not a thriller, or anything, although there are some sex scenes in the book.
Were they fun to write?
They were great to write, yeah.
Mentioning that, you say that’s more of a comic experiment. The Double obviously has its really serious, dark moments, many of them. Which is something you saw glimmers of, I think, in Submarine, like when he [Oliver Tate] kind of fantasises about his own death and his funeral – which was a great moment. Is that something you might be thinking of in future works, or will it always come back to being funny? The comedy?
I don’t know. I mean, I like comedy, but it really depends on what you feel could be interesting to people, and the only real barometer for that, which is probably not a reliable one, is whether I’m interested in it. Only because I think for definite someone probably won’t be interested in something you are not interested in, if you’re doing it. As in, if you look like you don’t care about it or are bored, or are being patronising. I mean, I think the worst thing is when you get someone going, ‘well, I don’t really like it, but other people will’. That’s just the worst thing. I’d rather someone do something they liked, and it just doesn’t, you know, hit for whatever reason, but at least you know that they were… the worst thing is when someone goes, ‘yeah, I didn’t really believe in that.’ Well, why did you do it?
I think a lot of filmmakers, artists, writers, anyone creative go down that route, unfortunately. So on that note, how hard is it to push your own vision through, something that you’re passionate through the filmmaking side of things? Because I know that the production company [Alcove Entertainment], they were very useful to you.
Yeah, they were great. There wasn’t really a great deal of conflict in terms of people trying to make a different kind of film. That wasn’t the feeling. Everyone’s trying to make something as good as they can, but really, if you’re working with people you like and you like what they do, it’s simply a matter of, in some ways, being a fan of people. Like Jacqueline Durran who did the costumes, you’re not in conflict with someone like that. You’re just going, ‘just do more. Have more ideas’. That’s really your role with everyone; you’re not in conflict with Jesse or Mia, you’re just going ‘yeah, please try things’. You try and create enough time to try so that everyone can push, and do as much as possible. That’s really the aim.
And obviously working with people you like, and liking what they’ve done before, including what Jesse’s done before otherwise you wouldn’t have brought him onto the film. I noticed from both Submarine and The Double, more so The Double actually, you always seem to get the best from your actors. I think that The Double has both the best Mia Wasikowska performance I’ve ever seen, and the best Jesse Eisenberg performance I’ve ever seen – well, two of them.
That’s gratifying. You know, that’s them; I think if you really like someone, and hopefully not in a patronising way, as in if you really like someone, you really want the best for them, and you can feel that from people around you. If you feel someone wants the best from you, you want to do the best for them. And that’s it. As soon as you don’t like someone, or are kind of annoyed with them, it’s just utterly restricting and it’s just horrible, you know. Everyone knows that feeling if someone is sort of on them. You just don’t want to do anything. So hopefully, it’s not like a big backslapping fest or anything – it’s an element where you go, ‘oh, I know you can do more than that. I know that it’s not right yet, but we can get it better’. So yeah, as I say, hopefully it’s just not just a thing of everybody massaging everyone’s egos, it’s more that we go, ‘we’re not going to leave until everyone’s happy’. And so, as a result, that means that they feel that they can do some takes, and they go, ‘oh, I didn’t like that, I want to do it again’. There are some directors, and they get great results sometimes when they do one or two takes. And I think that that can create a thing where everyone goes, ‘right, it has to be good straight away’. But for me, I’m too… greedy. I want to see another thing. These great actors are here – why get them to do one thing? Get them to do it as many times as they can stand.
I think it was Woody Allen who always did a fast take, a slow take, an angry take… Are there any other directors who you take from their rulebook?
Well, he’s not known for his multiple takes. I think he sometimes does a lot, from actors who I’ve heard from who’ve worked with him, often they’ll usually do one, two takes all the time, then suddenly it’ll be forty for something he wants. I know that Terrence Malick does a ‘silent’ take – you do the same thing but without words – and that could be an interesting way of how it can distil something. And then, sometimes you go, ‘oh yeah, we don’t need as much chat’. When people are talking in films, there’s always an element of you going, ‘do I need to remember this for the plot?’ And I think that can sometimes be unenjoyable. And when dialogue’s enjoyable, I think that’s why people like Tarantino so much. Because you just think it’s funny, but your plot things are going in all the time, and so it doesn’t feel like work. It’s not like, ‘I need to pick up the kids at seven’, and you’ve got to remember seven; all those expositional things where somebody goes, ‘what are we doing here?’ ‘I told you – we have to go…’ you know, all those things. So that’s interesting; silent takes, and pace is a big thing. I know David Lean used to time takes, and he would have a sense of how long it should last. ‘We need literally three seconds faster.’ ‘The audience can take this for five seconds, not seven.’ And I think those things are important. Pace is very important.
And on the note of other directors, you recently did an ‘Introducing’ screening at the BFI for Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. You talked quite effusively about him. Was there any time you were shooting, writing, editing The Double that you were thinking, what would Ingmar Bergman do?
Oh, like the ‘what would Lubitsch do’ thing that Billy Wilder had. Well, I recently went to Fårö, his island, for the Ingmar Bergman festival. I went to his personal cinema that he had, and I saw the start of Persona in his cinema on a 35mm print, which was incredibly exciting. But when you really like someone, that’s it – I don’t think, oh what would Paul Thomas Anderson do? I’d just go, ‘he’s amazing’. There are elements… what I like about him, there’s so many things that he’s said that I remember. He said you should make each film as if it’s your last, which I think is an interesting idea. That if you never get to make another film, fine – you’re happy with what you’re currently doing. I think that’s a good thing. And he said, don’t worry too much about technical stuff, you just have to get to the guts of the story. His staging is very good; there are various things. I literally just watched this Bergman documentary last night called Trespassing Bergman. It’s various people going to Bergman’s house, like Haneke, Claire Denis, Iñárritu, John Landis. An interesting group of people.
That’s a mix, isn’t it?
Yeah, strange. It’s interesting what people would say about him, but I think the main thing is that he started off in commercial cinema – he was a writer, and he made kind of melodramas. And so he always had this great sense of how to be entertaining; they’re not medicine, his films. They’re not like Scenes From a Marriage; the viewing figures for that were fifty percent of the population of Sweden. He’s not marginal. He is to us, because he’s a subtitled director. He could really connect to an audience, I feel. And when you watch his films, some I don’t think have weathered as well as others, but they’re so entertaining. He’s interested in audience response. He doesn’t make a lot of long films, you know; Persona‘s eighty minutes, and Through a Glass Darkly is Short and Winter Light is short, and The Silence is short. And Scenes From a Marriage are in hour blocks. He has this sense of get off, before they boo you off.
‘Get off before they boo you off’ – is that something you’ve absorbed into your professional career?
(Laughs) I hope not to bore people. You’re trying not to. That’s the last thing you want, is to be dull.
You kind of came back in 2013 for the IT Crowd‘s final episode. It was wonderful to see you, who had gone to become an awesome director, and Chris O’Dowd who’d gone over to Hollywood, and Katherine Parkinson and Matt Berry who have continued to do great comedy, all coming back for that one time. How was that for you? Was it nice returning to that?
Yeah, it didn’t feel like a return. It just felt like doing the next one. In that there’s no grand going away at all; they’re so short in a way, the series, six episodes. So they take a couple of months or so. You know, it was Graham [Linehan] who does all the legwork of writing, he directs it and he edits it, so you’re in a very fortunate position of getting these funny scripts, then you rehearse, it’s really enjoyable, and funny. And then there’s the brief stress of doing it live; you have stage fright, and it’s pleasurable, but there’s a stress of first-night play feel to it. So yeah, there was no question of anyone coming back, or anything. It was just like, oh great, Graham’s got something again, and we’ll do it. And if he said that again, everyone would do it again. He has this great show, The Walshes which is terrific, really funny, one of the funniest things I’ve seen for ages and Count Arthur [Strong] which is great. So he’s always doing something. And I think he felt, he wrote and directed twenty-five episodes of a show, which is amazing. It’s a lot. And it’s all him. He doesn’t have a co-writer. So from his point of view, I think he was like, it’s fine for us if we can just go.
And for your next project, do you think you’ll continue to do bigger budgets, bigger casts, or will you keep it very much small?
I don’t think there’ll be bigger budgets at all. I think if anything, the budgets will be going down generally, and that’s fine. I’d like to make something else, before I die, I don’t know when exactly or what it’ll be. I’m just writing at the moment. But I’m really happy to get to make these two films, and if I can make films in this vein, I’d be delighted. Just to have the resources, not that I think this is like Tokyo Story.
It’d be nice if it was though.
Tokyo Story is a good film. It’s pretty amazing. But I don’t feel the need to do superhero films particularly at the moment.
I’d watch a Richard Ayoade superhero film.
The Double is out now on DVD and Blu Ray.