Richard Ayoade found fame as Moss in Channel 4’s IT Crowd. The presenter of TV show Gadget Man went on to make music videos for the likes of The Arctic Monkeys before directing his first film Submarine in 2011. The director talks us through the making of his latest feature The Double, based on a short story by Dostoevsky. Jesse Eisenberg stars in a dual leading role as Simon, a man whose doppleganger James begins taking over his life.
Was there any scope for improvisation around Dostoevsky’s story?
“We were cutting rather than adding… These days you see comedies where there’s a 90-minute plotted film and then 30 minutes of jokes so they can feel really long, for a comedy. It seems a bit odd because Spinal Tap is barely 80 minutes.”
Can you tell us a bit about the set? It seems quite intricate and reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil…
“The Double is all set at night but you don’t see any sky and it’s focused on interiors. There’s a dreamy feel to it… A nightmarish quality… It’s sort of like an alternate universe. It shouldn’t feel Jesse Eisenberg’s character Simon could go and get a job at Match.com or go an open a bar in Tenerife. We wanted to make sure it felt like there was no other world than this. We didn’t want too many signifiers so we filmed at an abandoned business centre in Wokingham.”
What was the biggest challenge shooting on a budget?
“We didn’t use the latest face replacement technology (used in Benjamin Button)… Doing it the ‘old fashioned’ way takes longer shooting two Jesse Eisenbergs because you’re doing the scene over and over from different angles with triple the amount of set ups.”
You’ve said you get nervous acting. How is it when you’re directing?
“It’s not the same as being in the spotlight performing live – that’s probably the highest form of tension possible. Whereas in a filmed situation the highest level of tension is just having one line to deliver on a crowded set, that’s like a really tense ‘taking a penalty’ type situation.”
What did you learn from making music videos that helped you on Submarine and The Double?
“The main thing that came out of music videos was that I met Eric Wilson, who shot those two films, doing Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo. And meeting Alex and the band lead to him doing the songs for Submarine. A lot of the videos I made didn’t have the band in, or they didn’t want to be in them, so I got to do a story without dialogue, which was great training for me visually.”
Any plans to work with Alex and the guys again in the future?
“He’s in LA, I’m in London…”
How important is it to set the mood with score and soundtrack in your work?
“Well, you don’t want to ‘set it’ because I guess you’re hoping it can survive without the score. Really the soundtrack should enhance something that’s already there. Francis Ford Coppola talks about a scene in The Godfather where Al Pacino goes to assassinate a crooked cop in a small New York restaurant… In most bad films there would have been a tense dum, dum, dum score running underneath but the swell of the music comes at the end of the scene and on the DVD commentary Coppola says this great thing about how the music should consolidate the emotion of a scene rather than create it.”
How much time did you spend working with your composer on The Double?
“Andrew Hewitt and I started working on ideas for the soundtrack a year before shooting. A lot of Andrew’s score was influenced by the feel of composer Schubert’s song cycle The Doppleganger. We thought it might just be an element, but the whole score became based around that motif. We had some of Andrew’s music on set and on everything I’ve done he’s always finished his score before we’ve edited the film so we edit to his music which is, I think, unusual.”
What can we look forward to on the DVD extras?
“Bloopers! And we’ve done another version of the film with all different jokes. Like Anchorman… There’s a show in the film featuring Paddy Considine so we’ve got some deleted scenes from that people may like.”
We’ve heard you never got round to seeing the comedy you made with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughan and Jonah Hill… Will you ever watch The Watch?
“I still haven’t. It’s become an affectation now so the idea of seeing it is weird. I never sit down and watch anything I’m in anyway. I was filming The Double when The Watch (the alien invasion comedy was released in 2012) came out so missed the premiere and didn’t see it then so it would have been strange to go to the cinema especially to see a film you’re in. That’s just creepy.”
So was doing the whole Hollywood thing just a one off for you?
“Yeah, it was a clerical error. I don’t know how it happened exactly… I knew the director but who knows? It was a bit of a blip.”
Did it take you’re fame to a newly amped post-Moss level?
“What is worrying is when children come up to you and say, ‘I’ve seen you in The Watch!’ You shouldn’t have been watching that!”
Following your stint as the Gadget Man you must have a pretty good idea of the one invention that could most improve your life…
“I’m still waiting for food in tablet form… Like astronauts have. Just as a time saving device.”
“My book comes out in October. I interview myself – which is a joke. It’s called Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey.”
The Double is available on DVD & Blu-ray now