Richard Ayoade Surfaces with Submarine

When you hear about a film called Submarine, you expect a war movie, perhaps set during World War II.

 Action! Suspense! Water! Dive! Dive! Dive!

 But Submarine, directed by Richard Ayoade and adapted by the filmmaker from the first novel by poet Joe Dunthorne, is something totally unexpected. This wonderfully acted, richly textured coming of age saga set in Wales concerns an awkward, dictionary-reading teenager named Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) who falls for his classmate, a cute pyromaniac with skin problems named Jordana (Yasmin Paige).

 While Oliver tries to figure out exactly how to lose his virginity, he has other things on his mind, like saving the marriage of his parents, Jill (Sally Hawkins) and Lloyd (Noah Taylor). Oliver is concerned that Mum is having an affair with her old boyfriend Graham (Paddy Considine), a TV psychic / dance instructor / guru who lives nearby.

 Submarine marks Ayoade’s film debut, although he has extensive experience in front of and behind the camera. He is best known as Moss, a nerdy member of the TV show The IT Crowd, and has also appeared in many other British programs as well. He’s helmed episodes of such Brit TV series as Man to Man with Dean Learner and has done lots of projects with the group Arctic Monkeys.

 MovieFanFare caught up with the soft-spoken Ayoade, who recently directed an episode of the American TV show Community, when he was in Boston on a press tour for Submarine. 

 MoveFanFare: Is there any particular film that inspired your style for Submarine? After all, the movie has lots of interior monologues by Oliver, its lead character, who is either quirky or seriously neurotic depending on your point of view.

 Richard Ayoade: I would say Harold and Maude and The Graduate for sure, but my main influence was Taxi Driver because it was very internal and you have this voiceover. The whole movie was all subjective, and I always thought Oliver Tate was a benign psychopath. There is some Badlands and The Graduate here, too.  Mike Nichols is pretty inescapable.   

 MFF: Did you want Submarine to be similar to the novel and, if not, what departures did you want to make?

 RA: The characters are so well written. If I hadn’t made it first person it would have been quite different from the novel, which is first person. A lot of the feel from the film is similar to the book. During rehearsal you edit it and work with the editor, slowly chiseling away things throughout.

 MFF: Did you work at all with Joe Dunthorne, the author of the book, while making the movie?

 RA: The author acted as a script consultant and I would give him drafts to read. He seems pleased with it.

MFF: What was the most difficult thing about making your first film and what surprised you as being easier than you thought?

RA: The most difficult and protracted thing was writing the script, and proportionately where the most of the time went and where most of the problems were. That was most difficult. I suppose I just thought getting it made was easier than I thought it would be. It was tough to get funding and get it made. The fact it got made at all still surprises me.   

 MFF: You picked a winner of a cast, mixing newcomers in the two main roles of Oliver and Jordana with veteran performers like Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor and Paddy Considine. Did you have the cast in mind when you were writing the script?

 RA: Not with Oliver and Jordana, and not too much with other characters either. When I was near completion, I had Paddy in mind. Certainly, I wanted to ask him.

 MFF: What was it that attracted you to Craig Roberts as Oliver and Yasmin Paige as Jordana?

 RA: They just had the qualities that made you want to watch them. They looked young, which was important. They didn’t look like they were in their mid-20s, which sometimes people do (who play teenage roles). They have good voices and they kind of ended up looking like each other, which I quite liked as well. And personally, I really liked them. It is important to get on with people you work with, to make sure you are on the same page.

 MFF: Can you tell us about collaborating with the three adult actors.

 RA: All are great and you have them contribute as much as they feel they want to. You make sure the characters make sense in their internal logic and life, and they are not trying to make something work through their own charisma, but through some internal logic as well.  

 MFF: Locations seem to play an important part of the film. They are very distinctive, and you’ve captured them with a kind of melancholy look, whether be it Oliver’s family’s bland house, the brownish/grayish exteriors or Graham’s garish New Age-y place.   

 RA: The locations were important to me. The idea was we came to shoot with natural light. No artificial lighting was used throughout the film, so where you shot was crucial. I wanted to find places where you would hang out if you were that age.  

 MFF: You have some heavy hitters involved in this production: The Weinstein Company is releasing it and Ben Stiller, who has a cameo in the film, and his company were among its producers. Was there any reediting because of this?

 MA: No changes were made. Red Hour (Stiller’s company) got involved later on during the scripting stage. And it brought people’s attention to it and they were an advocate of it, which has been great. Dealing with the Weinsteins, who saw it in Toronto (at the Toronto Film Festival), has helped as well.

 MFF: Could you talk about the role of Alex Turner, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for Arctic Monkeys, who composed five new songs for the film?  

 MA: I asked Alex. We were quite involved with the music even before the film. He read the books and he read the script. There was always an orchestral score that Andrew Hewitt composed and songs that Alex would produce—these are the songs to give to Oliver.  I didn’t want familiar songs that came with extra baggage.

 MFF: There are similarities between Submarine and Rushmore, Catcher in the Rye and, as you mentioned, The Graduate. Do you see similarities and differences between American and British coming-of-age films? Do you think there will be a problem of American audiences relating to Submarine?

 RA: To my knowledge, there are not a lot of British coming-of-age films. British films about young people seem to be based around children and not teenagers. I think it has something to do with the Victorian ideal of the dichotomy between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence seems to be focused on more in movies in America. I think with the Internet and access to things all over the world, people can get whatever they want. American films are prevalent in England, and some of the most popular British TV shows, like American Idol or The Office, obviously translate to American TV.  I don’t think things are as localized as people are portraying them.