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SUBMARINE

Interview With Writer and Director Richard Ayoade
What was SUBMARINE's journey from novel to feature film?

‘Submarine' is a book by Joe Dunthorne. Ally Gipps, who works at Warp Films, has known Joe for years, and Warp optioned the book before it came out. I'd done a music video for Warp, an Arctic Monkeys video, and they gave me the book to read and I really liked it. Warp then asked me to write a script with a view to directing it. Joe and I met several times and talked about what might translate well from the novel to a film.

Much of the humor in the novel lies in the tension between what you think has happened and how Oliver is describing it. The question was how to do that effectively in the film. The idea was to keep Oliver's unreliability as a narrator but to juxtapose that with an actual reality – not just one that Oliver describes. But, saying that, the film is quite subjective as well. I think Eric Rohmer was amazing at doing that. A big reference was LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON. I'd say the film has moved away from the book a good deal, but I hope that it's kept the spirit of the Oliver Tate character that Joe wrote.

Joe has been great throughout – I think I would be terrible if someone was adapting something I'd just written. Joe was so encouraging and always there with good comments. I couldn't have asked for better in terms of the source material and how kind he was about it.

What attracted you to the character of Oliver Tate?

Traditionally in films, if the main character is an adolescent they're quite sympathetic. In films where you have a young hero they're often portrayed as blameless. I liked that Oliver was sort of mean and distant and selfish. There was something very interesting about that and the voice of Oliver was very funny and pompous. I've always liked books that deal with people of that age like ‘The Catcher In The Rye', ‘Franny and Zooey' and films like THE GRADUATE, A MA SOEUR, and HAROLD & MAUDE.

What made you choose Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige to play Oliver and Jordana?

Often when you're casting it's a case of what you don't want: you don't want it played in a certain way, but you're not quite sure exactly what you want. You're hoping to meet someone who makes sense of your idea of the character. With Craig there was something unexpected about him. He had a Pete Townshend-ish haircut with a very short fringe, but with big bags under his eyes. He had a pleasing look. Throughout each call back I was just willing him to be as good as he seemed - and he was always much better…. And I really liked him. He's naturally funny and charming. Yasmin is a great actress. She is very watchable and very intelligent. Her instincts on everything were always the right ones.

I just felt very fortunate because the film would have been inconceivable without Craig and Yasmin. You just start off hoping you'll find people as good as them. And also to find people you like and enjoy being around. That's probably the most important thing.

How did you approach working with such young lead actors?

With Craig and Yasmin it was just hanging out with them a lot and getting to know them and how they spoke, things like that. We shot two days as a kind of screen test and then we rehearsed quite a bit. It's cheap, rehearsal time, and it's really useful. They were just natural. They've both acted since a very young age, so they were really professional and incredibly consistent. There was no difference in approach because of their age. They were just brilliant actors and their inherent skill had absolutely nothing to do with me! You just hope to enable them to see the character, answer questions they have and create an environment that allows them to work well.

I'm used to the comedian approach of winging it - never saying a line the same twice. It was completely different to anything I'd done before, but they made it very easy. I couldn't have asked for better, I was very lucky.

The other members of the principle cast are a very experienced and acclaimed group of actors. How and why did you cast Noah, Sally and Paddy?

Noah Taylor (Lloyd Tate) is always great in everything he's in. My wife and I watched FLIRTING, the film he did with Nicole Kidman and Thandie Newton, which is sort of similar territory in a way. We were watching it before we'd cast and we said, ‘Oh, Oliver has to be like him'. So it's just great that Noah ended up being Oliver's father because he seemed like he would have been like Oliver when he was young. Noah's great, really funny, but also completely affecting in everything he's in. I think he and Craig really got on and seemed to really like one another. The family seemed really right. It was a real honor to meet and work with Noah.

I have known Sally Hawkins (Jill Tate) for a long time and she, as a favor, has done lots of small things in shows or videos I've done. She's just terrific. I suppose actresses generally never play people who are older than them because most actresses are quite vain or it's seen as bad for their career, but Sally is not vain at all. Again, just very funny I think, but never in a way that looks like her brain is thinking that what she's doing is funny… You don't feel that awful brain-whirr you see in more obviously comic performances. She's terrific and so versatile. And again she's just a joy to be around and a great friend.

Paddy Considine (Graham T. Purvis) has a longstanding connection with Warp so [Producer] Mark Herbert was able to show him the script. We worked on his character a bit together. Paddy's such a good writer that it would be daft to ignore how much he can add. So it was good to be able to work with him, coming up with how he should speak - that kind of transatlantic cadence that Graham's ended up having. Paddy really works at it. He really likes to research the characters and he sort of stays in character. You create a biography for the character and you work all that stuff out together and then he can just seemingly improvise infinitely within those parameters.

Did you choose to set SUBMARINE in a particular period and how did that inform the style of the film?

The idea was that it shouldn't be set in a particular time frame. Partly because it didn't seem important and partly because I think you can just get into radiating a lot of information that doesn't have any bearing on the story. It's too specific in a way. I like films where you don't really know what era they are from, especially films where you don't know the culture very well - like Satyajit Ray films. I don't know if the Apu films are set in the childhood that he had or a slightly more modern time or an older era. They feel slightly fable like. Or 400 BLOWS, is that set in 1959 or is it in an era closer to Truffaut's childhood? It's just in a slightly remembered past. We tried to avoid things that might date the film, but I hope that there's nothing overly retro about it.

What influenced the look of SUBMARINE?

Erik [Wilson, DP] and I really like Néstor Almendros as a DP and he, I guess, was the main influence in that he doesn't really light. It's natural light, often shooting at dawn or dusk and just trying to be simple with it; not being fancy, not having lots of big film lights…We were in Wales and it was autumn and it was freezing cold so there was a very specific kind of watery, thin light.

Gary [Williamson, Production Designer] did my friend Paul King's film BUNNY AND THE BULL (also Warp Films), which has amazing production design, and it just felt like he liked the same films and references we were going for. Most of

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