Richard Ayoade: Film maker, film lover

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Comedian, writer and now director, Richard Ayoade tells David Jenkins how his debut feature 'Submarine' offered an outlet for his long-held love of cinema

Connoisseurs of quality British sitcoms will have first noticed Richard Ayoade in his guise as low-rent producer and non-actor Dean Learner in ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’, then later as ineffectual tech bod Moss in ‘The IT Crowd’.  ‘Submarine’ is his fine debut work, a hip, moving and cineliterate portrayal of teenage angst in the badlands of Wales. It stars Craig Roberts as eccentric high-schooler Oliver Tate whose crush on classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige) is complicated by the breakdown of his parents’ (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor) marriage.

Can you talk about your personal relationship with the cinema?
‘I started late. I wasn’t one of those people who got into neo-realism at six or anything. For me it was quite a “thing” going to the cinema. Where I lived you had to get dropped off there or get money for the bus: it was quite tricky. I ended up watching lots of French new wave films, partly because it was a way of learning to speak French without reading textbooks. I liked Louis Malle’s films a lot: his “Zazie dans le Metro” and Claude Chabrol’s “Les Cousins” were the first films I can remember watching more than ten times.’

At that age where you aware of the rich history behind the French new wave directors?
‘Getting interested in them, you start to find out about who they liked. So, you’d look at Howard Hawks or Ernst Lubitsch. And through liking Woody Allen you’d find out about Ingmar Bergman or Fellini or Kurosawa or the Marx Brothers. If you like Scorsese, then following things he liked just means you end up watching everything. So you go through Nicholas Ray, Satyajit Ray… All the Rays.’

Did you use cinema to explain the tone of ‘Submarine’ to the actors?
‘There are certain shorthands that you can use. I got Yasmin watching Christina Ricci films, particularly “The Ice Storm” which I love. For Craig I had Dustin Hoffman and Buster Keaton in mind.  With Paddy Considine, who plays this New Age preacher, I asked him to think about David Icke. I didn’t really do this so much with Sally Hawkins or Noah Taylor. With Noah, I wanted him to be an older version of the character he’d played in John Duigan’s “Flirting”.’

i4-Oliver (Craig Roberts) & Jordana (Yasmin Paige) in Submarine 35DP0051.jpg

Was there a specific cinema you would visit during your youth?
‘Yeah, in Ipswich there was an Odeon and there was an art cinema run by the council. There was a bigger screen where they would show things like “Bullets Over Broadway”, then there was the smaller one where they’d show more obscure stuff like “The Passion of Darkly Noon”. I remember they had the “Three Colours Trilogy” there. It was a 50-seater, and about 12 people made it through them.It was about £2 for the lot. A bargain.’

Like Oliver in the film, have you ever taken a date to a Carl Dreyer movie?
‘No… My cinemagoing was pretty solitary. But yeah, I’m not one of those people who need a gang to go and see a film.’

People are generally quite shocked when you tell them you go to see films on your own.
‘That’s my main experience of going to see films. I always used to go the NFT [now BFI Southbank] on my own. It’s a pretty romantic thing, but to some it seems taboo.’

Cinemas are changing. It’s all about The Experience now.
‘Yeah, it’s become very eventy. I remember the NFT used to have a school dinners-style canteen and there was always someone who would make sure the matting [the black framing around the screen] wasn’t off. If it was, then he’d send a text to the projector. “Matting off,” he’d say. I like that. And of course people have their special seats…’

Do you have ‘your’ seat?
‘I have preferred seats in various cinemas. It depends where it is and it’s even different for different screenings. In NFT 2, I would have different seats to NFT 1.’

Do you know any of the regulars? The older men who always sit in the front row and go to what seems like every screening?
‘Yeah. There’s one old crinkly who has a very distinctive laugh and always looks around at the funny bits to check that other people are laughing.’

There’s also a smelly guy.
‘Oh yes.’

I’ve sat behind the smelly guy about three times now.
‘This may sound pretty gross, but in situations like that, if you’ve got any chewing gum to hand, I’d put a small pellet of gum in each nostril. That will overcome the lion’s share of it.’

But it’s potentially hazardous, especially if there’s a big laugh…
‘Yeah, but if you’re next to him, as grim as the idea of putting chewing gum up your nose is, you kind of have to do it. I remember when I first encountered him – it was so powerful.’

Well thanks for that.
‘No worries. If anything, it’s been a good ad for the NFT.’

Some of the attacks on its clientele will have to be toned down.
‘Yes, please do.’

If I’m referring to this smelly guy and he knows, he could sue.
‘Sued by the smelly guy… It would be worth it.’

It might make him wash?
‘No, it’s a deeper smell than that.’



Author: Interview: David Jenkins



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