Fifteen-year-old Oliver Tate has two big ambitions: Save his parents' marriage and lose his virginity, in theaters June 3rd
Best known for his work on the hit British television series The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh, Richard Ayoade makes his directorial debut with Submarine, a new coming-of-age comedy that stars Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Paddy Considine, and Sally Hawkins.
Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine follows the plight of Fifteen-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), who has two big ambitions: To save his parents' marriage via carefully plotted intervention and to lose his virginity before his next birthday.
We recently caught up with Richard Ayoade to chat with him about this great new release, which is being hailed by many as a masterpiece of cinema. Here is our conversation.
As a fan of your acting career, I have watched a few of your video interviews, and you are quite condescending of your own work when someone mentions this as a cinematic masterpiece. As a first time director, do you find it hard to take yourself seriously as a filmmaker?
Richard Ayoade: In interviews, yes. It's hard to know what taking one's self seriously means. Just because you are joking doesn't mean that you aren't taking things seriously. Some people will not like this film, regardless, and some people will. But I think being your own advocate is not an easy thing to do. It's hard to give myself a good review. Also, the people that I like...I like Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini, so its hard NOT to be modest if you like them...I think you should always be more modest than you are currently being.
Losing one's virginity is a subgenre in comedy that has been around for a longtime. In a lot of the older films, the actors in question don't really look like teenagers. Here, we have two incredibly young looking people. Why did you think it was important to cast for age in Submarine, and how do you think that will change people's perceptions of the movie?
Richard Ayoade: You don't want to be looking at people who seem like they should be shaving five times a day. It was incredibly important that they looked fifteen. That was a key consideration. Its possible to watch things where the actor is older, but it does take you out of it. Sometimes it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that Dustin Hoffman is thirty-years-old in The Graduate. It's just so good, that transcends everything else. I wanted my kids to look the appropriate age.
I know that your were a fan of Joe Dunthorne's novel, upon which this is based. What part of that martial did you connect with enough to make you say, "I would love to make a movie out of this"?
Richard Ayoade: It was his writing. It was just funny, and I really liked the character of Oliver Tate. That he was a somewhat presumptuous and puffed-up person. He felt that being aware of the pitfalls of adolescence, he could avoid them. That self-awareness was something I found interest in.
Did you see that self-awareness within yourself at that age?
Richard Ayoade: I don't think so. The thing about reading something really good is that you forget about yourself. Being involved in a good story allows you to not have to shoot everything through a self-realizing prism. For me, when I read something, or I watch a film I am enjoying, I am not thinking of myself. Which is one of the primary attractions of films and books for me.
Yet, you have such a distinct visual style that is of yourself. Was it hard to make that conform and fit into the confides of someone else's story?
Richard Ayoade: For me, the style of this movie really came from Oliver, and imagining how he would want himself to be seen. I never felt like I was implying a personal style to it. It may well be, but it doesn't feel like the approach I would take to something else. It only felt appropriate for this. I have always liked how Woody Allen has different styles between the films he has. He has formal Dadaist memories, and then he has handheld cameras and wipes. I like that he opens it up depending on what the feeling of the film is. He never has one way of doing things. I hope I found a way through the material, but you can't help not getting out of the way of yourself. You try to.
Was there ever an instance where you felt too much of yourself was coming through the material while you were filming?
Richard Ayoade: It's a mixture of stuff. There is a little bit of that. You always want the actors to contribute as much as possible. Normally, by the end, they try to make the character new, because they are focusing on that one single thing. And as a director, you are slightly spinning plates. I try not to be too descriptive about it.
You are coming from a background in TV. Was it hard to tell a story in 90 minutes when you usually only have 22 minutes?
Richard Ayoade: It's harder, certainly from a script point of view, structurally. Especially if you are coming from a background that is primarily comedy. People forgive a lot if it's funny. But even if it's very funny, people need more of an investment if you expect to carry them through for ninety minutes.
What is your approach to working with the actors on set when it comes to having them deliver jokes? Do you simply present them with the script and let them go? Or are you at their side working through each moment as you come to it?
Richard Ayoade: You rehearse a lot. You hope that you reach a point where you are not looking for the same thing, really. Also, you want to be surprised by what actors do. You don't want them to just do what you would have done. Very few people have a complete brain. I certainly don't. If the film were limited by what I could do, it wouldn't be very good. But because of those actors, and their ability, that is what makes this film have some kind of life.
Were you met with surprises everyday, on set? And what was the biggest surprise that has translated into the movie we see now?
Richard Ayoade: Most of what Paddy Considine said was a surprise. The whole ending was found out during the shooting of it. There are these little things that seem meaningless without the context. They are little things that make you feel like they make it more real.
How did the ending move and change from what you originally had planned to do?
Richard Ayoade: It is a lot more visual than it was originally. It used to be a lot more verbal. It's hard to say without spoiling it. It became more of a visual ending, yeah. I think I am inclined to want verbal things. I think I compensate by making sure things work visually.
What kind of input did Ben Stiller have? Or was he someone that just came in and stuck his name on it to get more attention?
Richard Ayoade: They read the script before it went into production. They very much viewed their role as being ambassadors for it. Being supportive on that front. That is incredibly affective in giving us loan of his credibility. And his status. They knew what kind of film this was going to be. Even in the work that he has done, he has demonstrated all types of interests. He has different levels of humor. I don't think there is a kind of Ben Stiller type humor. He has got a very broad range.
Have you been amazed by the general love for the movie? You say that someone might not like it. But I haven't seen one bad review yet...
Richard Ayoade: I am amazed. You can't assume that people will like it. You just hope that people can find it.