Craig Roberts was brilliant as a quirky teenage misfit in 2010’s Submarine, but for Just Jim, his debut as writer-director, the 24-year-old Welshman really amps up the adolescent angst. He plays Jim, a clumsy loner stumbling through life in small town Wales until a trendy American called Dean (Emile Hirsch) moves in next door and takes him under his wing. Though he initially flourishes under Dean’s ice-cool guidance, Jim begins to suspect that the enigmatic American may not be as benevolent as he appears, and the film becomes increasingly dark and ambiguous. Intrigued, NME gave Roberts a call to find out more about his offbeat coming-of-age film.
Where did the idea for Just Jim come from?
“Strangely it came from Eminem’s song ‘Lose Yourself’. The lyric “Best believe somebody’s paying the pied piper” seeped into my brain and got me obsessed with the pied piper story. Emile Hirsch’s character was essentially created from that: he comes in, helps this person out, feels he isn’t rewarded and then goes crazy.”
How did Emile Hirsch get involved?
“I was working with a director called David Gordon Green [on Amazon Studios series Red Oaks] and he passed the script to Emile. I didn’t really think anything of it, but then out of nowhere someone called me saying, ‘Hey, it’s Emile!’ and he told me he liked the script. Because he’d heard it was a low-budget film, he wanted to make sure I wasn’t shooting on, like, a flip camera, so I assured him we were using a proper camera and that was that, he was in. Within week he was in Wales, it was all pretty last minute.”
You shot the film in Maesycwmmer, the village where you grew up. Was it weird going back with Emile Hirsch in tow?
“It was very surreal because the film features all my childhood landmarks: the streets I walked round, the secondary school I went to, the place I first kissed a girl. I could have done with Emile Hirsch there when I was growing up, that might have been helpful.”
To what extent were you like Jim as a teenager?
“I mean, completely. I thought I was a very boring teenager with nothing to offer. I didn’t know what to do or where I fitted in. That’s why I wanted to tell a story about a kid like that. At the start of the film Jim is essentially having a breakdown. He’s really depressed because his best friend has left him and he feels like nobody gets him. I think a lot of kids feel like that – like the world is slightly against them…”
When did you realise you might not actually be boring?
“Never… Even then when I was talking, I was thinking, ‘You’re very boring, keep this quick’. Sadly I don’t have the spirit of Kanye West and I wish I was as entertaining as him when I talked.”
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What are you like as a director though?
“I’m just myself, I think, but with a slightly more confident persona. You need to have this air about you of ‘if I say it’s good, it’s good’. Otherwise people start questioning what you’re doing. I learned to maintain that kind of confidence and behave very decisively. Even if I didn’t know the answer to a question, I’d say yes or no so I didn’t look weak, and then change my mind later if necessary.”
The film becomes pretty ambiguous as it progresses. Have you heard any really odd responses to the ending?
“You know, what feels really odd to me is the David Lynch comparisons. I mean, I do like a David Lynch a lot, he’s incredibly cool, but it just feels weird that people are comparing me to him. I’m intrigued to hear how people interpret the film’s ending, though. I think audiences like having their own take on stuff and there are definitely different ways you can interpret Just Jim.”