In person, Richard Ayoade's the world's most softly-spoken man, analysing every word, considering every syllable, visibly agonising over being misconstrued and taken out of context. With his trademark afro and glasses, he looks (and sounds) like a hipper, more stylish version of Maurice Moss (IT Crowd). He discusses film like a full-blown cinema junkie. But it's awkward, uncomfortable. Usually, I get nervous before a big interview. Not this time. If anything, it's Ayoade that looks nervous. At one point he offers, "I’m not a natural interviewee. It’s not my strongest suit. I feel sorry for people having to interview me".
Besides IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi's Dark Place and The Mighty Boosh, Richard Ayoade's directed music videos for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Super Furry Animals, Vampire Weekend, Kasabian and his friends Arctic Monkeys (and The Last Shadow Puppets). He also directed the comedy "rock opera" AD/BC, working with IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi and Mighty Boosh co-star Matt Berrry. Submarine, a coming of age story starring Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate, is his first full-length feature film. I spoke to Richard at the Soho Hotel (above).
What was it about Submarine that appealed to you as a filmmaker?
Initially, I just really liked the book. I liked Joe Dunthorne’s writing. I liked the character. It wasn’t something I thought was particularly filmy. The book’s very literary. All first person. It felt very hard to translate. But I liked the book so much I wanted to try.
So you weren’t actively looking for your first film at the time?
Not really. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I… Er… Yeah… I wanted to make a film, maybe. It was a matter of wait until something felt right. It wasn’t a thing of me reading through various books and going, “I’ve hit upon it”.
The film stirs up a lot of awkward childhood feelings. Did it affect you the same way?
You’re so focused on the characters and making sure the story works, you’re not really third personing yourself and wondering how it affects you on a grand scale. You’re not thinking in the terms that, I guess, reviewers think in. Which is reviewing something as a completely finished, total thing.
Who was the first person you sat down and watched the finished film with?
Probably at Toronto, in terms of it being completely finished, as a print. That was the first audience. It was such a tight deadline. I mean, people had seen cuts, but no one had seen it totally finished until then.
Yeah, it was horrible. It was terrifying.
Are you an avid self-Googler?
Every three minutes. I just like to keep up with what’s being said. If I could have it on my retina, I would.
In their review, Total Film wrote, “If Rushmore were set in Wales”. Fan of Rushmore?
Yeah, I love Rushmore. I think it’s amazing. And I can see the comparison. I gave Craig (Roberts) Rushmore to watch, as well as a few other films. Like, The Graduate… and maybe The Squid and the Whale… Some actors, you never show them another performance, because it would make them feel really inhibited and weird. But Craig and Yasmin (Paige)… Yasmin, I could show Christina Ricci and she would get what that meant without just doing Christina Ricci.
I’m not sure what it is. It’s a kind of tone thing. As in, there’s a good register that these people are operating in. A kind of level. Deadpan, in the same way that I could show Craig some Buster Keaton. And even though what he’s doing is not like Buster Keaton, it’s about how straight to play it. I think they’re different characters. Max Fischer, in Rushmore, is a real enthusiast, very gung-ho and really involved. Whereas the Oliver Tate character (Submarine) is more self-consciously an outsider…
More socially awkward?
Yeah, and he would never wear his heart on his sleeve so much. Oliver’s more of a private commentator.
Have you been able to explain Submarine without using the term “coming of age”?
I’m sure I will have said that phrase, but it’s not a phrase that offends me. I don’t feel it’s a denigrating term. Like, Catcher In the Rye is a coming of age story. I love that kind of stuff. I love Dawson’s Creek.
Any favourite scenes or memorable moments in the film?
I couldn’t say really. I’m not very good at doing that kind of thing. If you feel like one scene is better than the one before or after, you set about trying to fix the ones before or after it. I genuinely don’t have one. I know that’s not a very interesting answer.
What was your biggest challenge switching from music videos and television to feature film?
It doesn’t feel like there’s a switch taking place, particularly. Everything has its own demands. And you’re just into what you’re doing at the time. It’s completely different, in a way. But each film is different. It’s not like, if you’ve made one film you now how to make another. Each thing you do is difficult with its own problems to solve. You’re just kind of obsessed with it at the time. It’s all you think about.
What was it like going through all those audition tapes looking for Oliver and Jordana?
It’s fine, you know. And you see lots of great people.
What was it about Craig and Yasmin that caught your attention?
It’s very hard to say. I guess its just people you have a kind of pull towards. They both have the ability to be very deadpan. I never felt like they were trying to be really funny or overtly comedic. I don’t know… It’s just opinion, really. Directing is just you deciding things that you like over other things that you could decide. You’re making it up as you go along. It’s a kind of gut decision, really.
How did Ben Stiller get involved?
I think he read the script and liked it. He and Stuart Cornfeld (Red Hour Productions) decided they wanted to help the film get a release in America.
And you’ve got Alex Turner doing the songs - good friend of yours?
Yeah, it was great that he could do it. It’s nice working with friends. Most of the people you try and work with are your friends. Or that’s what I like to do.
Has anyone mentioned how much Oliver/Craig looks like a young Alex Turner?
Yeah, people have said that. I don’t know what Alex dressed like when he was young. I haven’t seen Alex in a duffel coat, as yet. They have a similar look. I can see that.
You’ve been working on the film since 2009, how does it feel now that it’s finally out? Well, almost...
It’s even longer with the writing. It’s a long time to work on something. I just hope some people enjoy it, I guess, at this stage.
And how does it feel seeing the marketing campaign kick in? Sitting down for interviews, walking past billboards?
I’m not a natural interviewee. It’s not my strongest suit. It’s strange. I feel sorry for people having to interview me. I’m not a great subject.
Can you just walk around London like a normal guy these days, or do you get mobbed in the street?
I have a tough guy walk that I do. I kind of strut. I look very aggressive and people are very frightened to approach me. I have a kind of Plan B air about me.
When people do approach you, what do you get called the most; Dean Learner, Moss, Saboo or Richard?
Just, “You!” “You’re that man from that thing!”
What else are you working on, or is it all about Submarine promotion at the moment?
It’s a lot of this at the moment. Then it’ll just be writing again, hopefully. Just trying to write. I’m trying not to jinx it by talking about it too much.