Getting down with Submarine’s captain
Published: June 15, 2011
Read a review of Submarine
Richard Ayoade has been working in the entertainment industry since 1999—first as an actor (in roles such as Moss on the hit British comedy The IT Crowd), and more recently writing and directing for television series, including Community. Now he’s ready for the big screen with the coming-of-age tale Submarine. He adapted Joe Dunthorne’s 2008 novel of the same name and directed this flawless but mellow comedy, which uses 15-year old Oliver Tate’s flights of fancy as surreal touches to a very stylized exploration of being a teenager in small-town 1980s England. Wonderful character actors Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor, and Paddy Considine offer a wide berth and solid ground to the young Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige, teen performers acting their age. It’s a funny movie that isn’t sweet. City Paper chatted with Ayoade by e-mail.
City Paper : This is your first time out directing a film, yes? Tell us a bit about your history and experience.
Richard Ayoade: Submarine is the first movie I’ve directed. I had worked with Warp Films, one of the producers of Submarine, for a number of years directing music videos for the Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and others. Warp had optioned Joe Dunthorne’s book, and they gave it to me to read and I really liked it. I’ve also co-written and directed some television shows.
CP : Submarine has such a lovely tone: realistic and truthful, yet fantastical too. What were you looking to create tone-wise, and how was tone important to you?
RA: Very kind—the main idea was to try to see the world through Oliver’s eyes—the tone was really about being very subjective.
CP : Who are the directors that influence your style or inspire you?
RA: There are so many–but with this film in particular I’d say [Jean-Luc] Godard, [Ingmar] Bergman, [Martin] Scorsese, [Satyajit] Ray, [Éric] Rohmer, [François] Truffaut, [Peter] Bogdanovich, Whit Stillman—I also love Aki Kaurismaki, Paul Thomas Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, and Lucas Moodysson.
CP : What was it about the novel that made you want to adapt it? Is it the sort of story you imagined your first film would be about?
RA: I’ve always liked books which deal with adolescents, like The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, and movies like The Graduate, A Ma Soeur, and Harold and Maude. In Submarine, I found Oliver Tate’s character unusual and interesting. Most characters of that age in books or films are somewhat blameless because they’re meant to be an author’s alter ego, a geek who turns the tables on the oppressors. I liked that Oliver is self-obsessed and a bit cruel and neurotic. Much of the humor in the novel lies in the tension between what is happening and how Oliver is describing it, and that really lends itself to film, where you can see the action unfolding on screen in contrast to Oliver’s voice-over.
CP : Oliver is a wonderful character and Craig Roberts is perfectly cast. What was the casting process like? And what about Yasmin Paige as Jordana, his girlfriend?
RA: I wish I had more exciting stories about the casting, but it was a pretty traditional process of seeing hundreds and hundreds of actors. With Craig, there was something unexpected about him. He had a Pete Townshend-ish haircut with a very short fringe, but with big bags under his eyes. He’s naturally funny and charming. Yasmin is a great actress. Her instincts on everything were always the right ones. They’ve both acted since a very young age, so they were really professional and incredibly consistent. You just start off hoping you’ll find people as good as them.
CP : Is there any of you in the character of Oliver? What was your childhood like?
RA: I don’t feel there’s that much, really. My childhood was pretty normal, I think. Oliver’s quite a singular character.
CP : OK, I would love to hear anything at all that you’d like to say about Sally Hawkins.
RA: I have known Sally for a long time, and she, as a favor, has done lots of small things in shows or videos I’ve done. I suppose actresses generally never play people who are older than them because most actresses are quite vain or it’s seen as bad for their career, but Sally is not vain at all. She’s terrific and so versatile. She’s just a joy to be around and a great friend.
CP : Actually, the same goes with Noah Taylor and Paddy Considine.
RA: Noah is always great in everything he’s in. My wife and I watched Flirting, the film he did with Nicole Kidman and Thandie Newton, which is sort of similar territory to Submarine in a way. We were watching it before we’d cast and we said, “Oh, Oliver has to be like him.” So it’s just great that Noah ended up being Oliver’s father because he seemed like he would have been like Oliver when he was young. Noah’s great, really funny, but also completely affecting in everything he’s in. Paddy is such a great writer and we worked on his character together, coming up with a biography for Graham and working out that kind of transatlantic cadence he ended up having. He’s also a talented director—I’m a big fan of his directorial debut, Tyrannosaur.
CP : Finally, what are you working on now and looking forward to in the future?
RA: I’m working on an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Double with Avi Korine (who co-wrote Mister Lonely with his brother Harmony). ?
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