By Alex Johnston
Submarine is the feature debut of cult actor and comedian Richard Ayoade.
Best known for his role as ‘Moss’ in The IT Crowd, he has begun by plunging deep into the arena of British filmmaking. The cinematography and storytelling techniques explored in Submarine have led to parallels being drawn between the film and cinema as varied as the new-wave movement to the work of Wes Anderson.
The film, based upon the book of the same title by Joe Dunthorne, follows Oliver Tate on his coming-of-age journey, encountering girls and self-inflicted pressure, to the backdrop of his parents’ marital problems.
Ayoade felt that some elements of the book upon which his screenplay is based had to be omitted to fit his vision of the story. An example is Ayoade’s wish to portray the story as timeless, and not attached to a particular date.
He said: “I like films which are not set in a specific time. It was a pre-emptive strike on it looking dated to make it look dated already.”
Paddy Considine’s memorable turn as a psychic hippy was in Ayoade’s mind before the casting process even begun: “I wanted Paddy to play Graham. There was no other option. If he hadn’t done it, well, nobody would.”
Considine’s loud character conflicts with Oliver’s intimate internal voiceover, a theme which runs throughout the film, and gives audiences a sense of seeing the story from the eyes and mouth of the main character himself.
This technique had led some observers to note the similarities between Submarine and Wes Anderson’s 1998 feature Rushmore. When prompted to acknowledge parallels between the films leading characters, the director is keen to distance Oliver as a deeper, more complex figure than his equivalent in Rushmore, Max Fischer, as he says: “his mind is far more hidden than that of Max.”
Ayoade appreciated how difficult it would be to match his original vision of the film, because of the elements which were unavailable to him at the beginning of the process.
He said: “You can’t imagine the finished article before you hear the finished music, or the score or the editing.” It’s difficult to consider at the start because lots of things change,” he added.
Having worked on projects such as Arctic Monkeys Live at the Apollo in 2007 as well as a number of promotional videos for the band, Ayoade reflects that the transition from acting to directing was relatively straight-forward:
“With a music video you have a song which precedes it, you don’t have to let an audience read it as it is already there for them to hear. It is similar with adapting a book. It is something that already exists and you adapt it.” “You can disappoint more people with a film!”, he added, bashfully.
Many cinemagoers may be surprised to learn that Hollywood names such as Michael Cera and Ben Stiller were involved in the production of Submarine. On the subject of Stiller’s input, Ayoade is almost embarrassed to admit how it came about: “He read a script and liked it, and had admired Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. He was doing Greenberg at the time and saw some similarities in our work.”
Having written and directed Submarine, Ayoade is set to begin work on a new project, a film adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novella, The Double. However, this time he is happy to have writer Avi Korine by his side. He said: “I’ll have a go at a draft for that but I’ll want Avi to be there throughout.”
The man himself is clearly uncomfortable when faced with a barrage of questions, but handles each with a composure and humour which betrays his bushing exterior. As if to apologise for not making brash statements, he notes: “I’m not mad on confident people. I can’t imagine myself ever making the Bon Jovi story.”
Ayoade’s career has, to a certain extent, progressed in the public eye, with a large number of cult followings for his various roles and performances. Interest in his directorial talents in America may mean that Submarine is the first fruit of a burgeoning off-screen career. If this turns out to be the case, the bashful young artist may have to get used to addressing even greater numbers of people in even bigger venues.