Where Ayoade succeeds is in keeping a lid on the zaniness and maintaining a gloomy but energetic air of fragility and desperation. It helps that Eisenberg and a host of top-notch side players (including James Fox, Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine) give imaginative, smart performances.
Eleven things you should know about Richard Ayoade
The super-geek with the toilet-brush hair in ‘The IT Crowd’ and the man behind the indie hit ‘Submarine’ is back directing with ‘The Double’
Critics are raving about ‘The Double’. But Ayoade talks down his bit. ‘Even if you don’t turn up, it will still get made. Once everyone’s shown up, something’s going to happen. So if you get hit by a truck that morning, they’ll film something. It will go on regardless. Actors are the main component in a film.’
Everyone loves him as super-geek Moss in ‘The IT Crowd’ and Saboo in ‘The Mighty Boosh’, but Ayoade doesn’t rate his skills. ‘Chris O’Dowd and Katherine Parkinson were the real actors in “The IT Crowd”. That’s not my forte. I think directing is more suited to my temperament.’
Famous for being Mark Zuckerberg in ‘The Social Network’ and for being mean in interviews, Jesse Eisenberg is a socially awkward office drone who meets his cocky mirror image (Eisenberg plays both characters). ‘Jesse is just a great actor. He is intelligent, which is harder to come by than you’d think. We never really considered anyone else.’
Ayoade is married to actress Lydia Fox, of the British acting dynasty, whose dad James appears in the film. ‘It was okay. He’s acted before,’ Ayoade deadpans. ‘Mainly your job is just trying not to get in the way of the actors.’
Ayoade says he was always going to do a vocational degree. ‘I think it happens to a lot of kids whose parents are not English [his dad’s Nigerian and mum Norwegian]. There’s lots of us in law and medicine. There’s that sense of: you’re not doing it for your own personal interest. This is for a job. But I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I wanted to be John Squire. That didn’t pan out.’
Ayoade reckons he was wasting everyone’s time with his routine. Not even winning the prestigious Perrier award at the Edinburgh fringe in 2001 changed his mind. ‘I was terrible. I never worked out the main job of becoming a stand-up, which is creating a character for yourself. I couldn’t do that. I found it too embarrassing.’
He’s played an IT nerd and his new film is set in an office. But Ayoade has only had one proper job. After graduating he wrote for ‘The Big Breakfast’. ‘I didn’t hate it. Hate is a strong word. It was okay. I felt grateful to have a job writing. But I don’t think the people in charge found what I wrote funny. I don’t think there was any danger of my employment continuing.’
Ayoade has made videos for the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Last Shadow Puppets. ‘You just keep going until it feels as un-wrong as possible. I wouldn’t say I am a perfectionist. That sounds like something somebody on “The Apprentice” would say: “My only fault is that I work too hard at being the best.”’
Ben Stiller was an exec producer on ‘Submarine’ and asked Ayoade to star in ‘The Watch’ with Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill – it’s Ayoade’s one and only flop. ‘It felt a bit like winning a radio phone-in competition to be in a film with movie stars. I was essentially a speaking extra.’ Ayoade hasn’t seen the film (lucky him). ‘I heard that it’s the best movie of all time,’ he jokes. ‘I’m too frightened to see it because I love “Citizen Kane” so much, I don’t want it toppled.”’
There is a Richard Ayoade on Twitter, with 18,300 followers, one tweet and a photo of the Richard Ayoade. But it’s not his account. ‘I don’t know much about Twitter. It’s group texts in a way, isn’t it? Archived group texts. I’m sure it’s a delight. But it also feels like it could operate as a kind of tracking device to tell people where you are.’
‘The Double’ is funny in a absurd, cruel, Kafka-esque kind of way. Some might find it a little bleak. Not Ayoade. ‘The things I find hopeless are things that are just rubbish. I don’t find the most supposedly depressing Bergman film hopeless. I’m less depressed by “Taxi Driver” than a Coke ad.’
‘The Double’ opens in UK cinemas on Apr 4.