Entertainment.ie meets Richard Ayoade
Words: Mark Linehan
Upon entering a plush room in the Merrion Hotel, I register a double take. Sitting in front of me is probably one of the most instantly recognisable comic creations of the past ten years. He is minus the dead mouse brown tie, the pens and the short-sleeved shirt, but it's him alright. As the socially awkward Moss in The IT Crowd, his character has great difficulty in communicating, but now he seems to be engrossed in a conversation about specific sandwich fillings and a previously attended "very posh" buffet. The conversation is broken by myself when I congratulate him on the movie, asking him how he feels about fathering his film-child and letting it run free into the wild. "Do you set your children out into the wild? Set ants into the wild, not children, please," he feigns a mock concern. This is not going to be easy.
In terms of British comic royalty, this is the Prince that would be King. From Dean Lerner in Garth Merengi's Dark Place, Shaman Saboo in The Mighty Boosh, Ned Smanks in Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris's Nathan Barley and his most recognisible role as Maurice Moss in The IT Crowd; like a bespectacled afro-laden miner his characters have burrowed a place deep into the soil of cult television comedy. His latest creation is an adaptation of Joe Dunthorne's book, Submarine. His feature debut was chosen by Jameson as the opening movie of this year's film festival. It is a dark coming-of-age tale set in Wales about angst ridden teen Oliver (Craig Roberts) who attempts to halt the break-up of his parents marriage while simultaneously losing his virginity to Jordana Bevan, a kooky classmate who happens to be a pyromaniac (played by Jasmin Paige, the lady on the other end of the pre-interview 'sandwich' conversation). The impressive cast also boasts Sally Hawkins and a majestically mulleted Paddy Considine. There's a sense that Ayoade created a family atmosphere on set, so much so that Jasmine didn't want it to end. Talking coying through her hands, she said, "I was really sad when it was over. It was very exciting as it was my first feature," all while looking up at Richard like he's a protective older brother.
Submarine has been likened to a "Welsh Rushmore" and the comparisons with Wes Anderson are clear: incredible attention to detail, fully realised characters, a brilliant soundtrack (Alex Turner of The Arctic Monkeys contributed five tracks) angst by the shovel load, and a journey to redemption. Musing on it's subject matter, Ayoade murmers,"I have very strong personal feelings for this project. I was adapting a book so it wasn't initially really my idea, I tried to do something that (trails off and pauses)... something that makes sense and isn't too horrific. That's the tag-line on the poster by the way." When I tell him it has been described as a sleeper hit, he says, "What are sleeper hits? Does that mean it has dragged on so long people don't know what to think of it? I mean it's..." He has a habit of trailing off, which peppers the interview with pauses that stretch into uncomfortable silences - so that when you attempt to flow into the next question, he simultaneously finds the ending he has been looking for, leading to a delightful crash of words.
I ask about Ben Stiller's involvement (early in the process, himself and Harvey Weinstein came on board as Executive Producers), "Oh, Stiller well he got involved because he was working as a Grip on the movie, yeah good kid, but some of his tracking... my God. He knows he got involved for the tax break he can right it off as a charity contribution," he offers deadpan. We laugh but I stumble into my next question like a drunk in the dark knowing he won't answer straight. So, what was Harvey like, "Yes I've met Harvey Weinstein. Very shy man. You know Alan Bennett? Well, they could be twins that's how much similar they are in personality." If you have no idea who Alan Bennett is, just imagine a white middle-aged playwright mouse and tone him down.
Ayoade's CV is impressive. He studied Law at Cambridge. While there he became the President of the Footlights comedy troupe (previous alumni reads like a who's who in British comedy - all the Monty Phythons, Armstrong & Miller, Fry & Laurie, Mitchell & Webb, Punt & Dennis etc.) Fellow member and writing partner John Oliver is now a cast regular on the Emmy Award winning Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It was while performing his Garth Merengi comedy stage show, co-written with Matthew Holness in Edinburgh, that they won the Perrier Award and a contract with Channel 4. He also met Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh and the character of the belligerent shaman Saboo was born.
A self-confessed film geek he has been known to happily discuss the finer points of the French New Wave and recently described attending an Ingmar Bergman retrospective as the "greatest two months of my life." How does he describe his own effort, Submarine? "Well this film is redemptive if a little dark. I mean I have come out of films that were supposedly happy and felt pretty crushed. Renaissance Man with Danny DeVito. I expected a kind of Henry VIII role but it wasn't. I was gutted."
Is Graham Linehan concerned about himself and Chris O Dowd (Dinner For Schmucks and Gulliver's Travels) leaving The IT Crowd for the heady heights of Hollywood, "I think Graham will be okay. He is not a man that has to worry about his prospects. As far as I know I think Graham is writing or having another go at the US version." The original pilot was dropped by NBC as it was picked up during a transition to a new channel President. He wasn't as enthusiastic as his previous encumbent. Richard reprised his role as Moss in the Pilot alongside Joel McHale as Roy. McHale is the central character Jeff Winger in offbeat ensemble comedy Community, of which Ayoade has just finished directing an episode. He is also currently working on adapting a version of Dostoyevsky's doppelganger novella The Double. With all these projects to juggle and the new movie to promote he may have to ctrl-alt-delete on his Maurice Moss character.
If they ever do leave then maybe the silver lining for IT Crowd fans would come in the form of a collaborative Lazurus style resurrection of Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews. The Craggy Island Crowd perhaps?
Submarine hits cinemas on March 18.
For photos and an red carpet interview with Ayoade from last night's JDIFF launch, make your way to our JDIFF page.
Story by Sheena McGinley | 09:00 | Friday 18th February 2011 | Movie