seeing double with richard ayoade
Ahead of the release of Richard Ayoade's new feature, The Double, Tom Seymour tries to pin down the comedian, director and reluctant personality
By getting so many students through so many sofa-contained hours - as Dean Learner in Garth Meranghi's Darkplace, Maurice Moss in the IT Crowd and Ned Smanks in Nathan Barley ("It's good because it looks like it's good because it's rude"), and by directing music videos for, among others, Vampire Weekend, The Arctic Monkeys and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Richard Ayoade became 99 carat cool a long time ago.
Yet it's a habit he's maintained. We meet in Covent Garden on a cold autumn afternoon during the London Film Festival, and Ayoade is studiously polite, fantastically dressed, bone-dry funny and effortlessly articulate in his cinematic-references. Yet he's also painfully shy, as if he's meeting the celebrity and not the other way round. Hidden away on YouTube, Armando Iannucci tries to interview Richard Ayoade, but before he can start, the director of Submarine and The Double asks: "Do you mind if I look away from you like pretty much eighty per cent of the time? I just find it difficult to think of words and take in your face at the same time."
"I can't recommend it, but I'm happy it exists," Ayoade said when introducing The Double in Toronto. How did he find the premiere of the film in Toronto? He looks away, and formulates the question slowly. "It's not what I choose to do as a pastime,"he says. "It was strange. You're convinced something is going to go wrong. You've seen the film so many times that all you're doing is spying at other people's reactions, trying to work out how much they don't like it."
The Double is the perfect vehicle for such a persona. Starring Jessie Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, and loosely adapted from the Dostoyevsky 1846 novella of the same name, it's a dark satire about coming face to face with the person you desperately wish you were.
"I like stories that have a high-content premise but are played out in a real, tangible way. So, when I read the book, I was struck by this idea that there's somebody out there who looks exactly like you, but no-one else notices or is bothered. That's an incredible idea, such an unusual way for a narrative to unfold. It's like Monty Python; there's something completely illogical about it, but also kind of not."
The film actually pre-dates Ayoade's debut Submarine, and has been in production for years. Mia Wasikowska, the Australian actress who has risen stratospherically, was cast before her star was so obviously bright. What did Ayoade see in her? "She never really puts a foot wrong. She's completely believable. She's suitable for any part. She's so versatile, so interesting, yet she's not interested in cultivating a star persona. She's really intelligent and nice, so it's unsurprising she's now in such demand."
And as for Jessie Eisenberg, who plays the shy Simon James and the impossibly brash doppelgänger James Simon, Ayoade says: "He was perfect -there was no-one else we offered it to. There aren't many actors who could play both parts, and have that precision. He's technically brilliant, but also spontaneous and instinctive."
Great stories, Ayoade says, see humour in melancholy. "I'm not sure there's such a strong division between what's uncomfortable and what's funny," he says, "and Jessie definitely gets that." Ayoade certainly does as well.
The Double will be in UK cinemas from Friday 4th April.
Text Tom Seymour