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Richard Ayoade on Coming of Age With “Submarine” and His Take on “Die Hard 5”

Richard Ayoade on Coming of Age With “Submarine” and His Take on “Die Hard 5” (photo)

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This interview was originally published during the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

“I have a very sarcastic sounding, insincere voice,” joked Richard Ayoade during his introduction to “Submarine,” an adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s coming-of-age novel about Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a 15-year-old consumed with looking up words like “atavistic” in the dictionary, saving his parents (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor) from being split up by a mulleted motivational speaker (Paddy Considine), and romancing his humble classmate Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige).

Submarine_05302011.jpgCertainly, Ayoade can be self-effacing, as one might know from his turn as a regular on Britcoms auch as “The IT Crowd,” but as a first-time director, he is never anything less than genuine, even while wringing laughs from the most embarrassing of experiences from growing up. His directorial debut will surely draw comparisons to Wes Anderson and Hal Ashby for its bittersweet take on adolescence told with style to spare, but “Submarine” is a wholly original creation that I must admit I couldn’t hear all the dialogue for since raucous laughter was constantly trampling over the lines at the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

Shortly before Ayoade and his “Submarine” crew (including Ben Stiller, an executive producer) closed a deal with the Weinstein Company to bring the film to audiences everywhere soon enough, he sat down to discuss making the jump to making features from directing videos for the likes of Vampire Weekend and the Arctic Monkeys (frontman Alex Turner returns the favor with an original soundtrack for the film), the unusual influences for his teenage tale, and the sequel he’d like to tackle next.

How did this become your first feature?

It was, in many respects, random in that I had done a music video for Warp [the film’s production company] and somebody who works at Warp went to college with Joe Dunthorne, who had written the novel, so they sent me it before it had come out. I wasn’t aware of the book through being shopped or anything and they thought I might be worth considering to adapt it and I just decided to try because I really liked the book and didn’t necessarily think it was translatable very readily and it’s very internal, it’s all in the first person.

There were a number of things that seemed to indicate you shouldn’t try to adapt it, but I’ve always liked that subject area, partly because it feels peculiarly American, I guess. A show like “Dawson’s Creek” is unthinkable in England or “My So-Called Life” or “The Wonder Years” or anything like that, or “The Graduate” or those John Hughes films. There’s no real genre of that in England of what you’d call the teen genre. It just doesn’t exist. So I’ve always been very interested in that.

09172010_Submarine6.jpgI imagine that’s something you both wanted to embrace for particular story beats and overcome to make something original.

The thing you don’t necessarily think about more in this than potentially doing any genre of film, whether they’re the well-mined tropes of the horror film or a thriller or all of those types of films, is that they have their own clichés and rules and in some sense, it’s inescapable. You just hope that the characters in it feel real and right and it felt from the novel, there’s something different about the character of Oliver Tate that was different to characters I’ve seen in other things or read about in other books, so I guess that gave me the confidence to try and attempt it.

You mentioned the other night that many of the things in Oliver’s room were similar to knickknacks you had as a kid — how much of yourself did you want in the film?

I suppose you end up investing yourself into it in some regards because that’s your way of attacking it, in the same way that I think all good acting performances have something of the person playing them brought to it. Otherwise, it becomes a form of mimicry that doesn’t have any depth to it. So inevitably, you bring things that have meaning to you or you feel will inform it in some way or things that you feel are correct. I like in “The Graduate” how Dustin Hoffman is said to give Mike Nichols’ cough and Mike Nichols did that in meetings. If you put personal things into what you do, you feel that it’s authentic or they have some form of meaning to you.

Since you came up as a comedian, that’s such an improv-heavy medium and you’re obviously a film geek and this film has such precision. Did those two things collide on this film?

I think it’s both in a way that I suppose, for example, a lot of comedians write through improvisation and that you end up boiling it down and you keep the good bits. I think improvisation for its own sake isn’t particularly interesting.

09172010_SallyHawkinsSubmarine.jpgThere’s a tension when someone’s improvising in the room because there’s a one-offness to it, but as soon as it’s captured, it can seem incredibly baggy and self-indulgent and meandering, so you hope to have the illusion of improvisation without the long passages of rubbish that can come out of it.

You mentioned “The Graduate,” but were there other films that got you in the mood to make this one?

Oddly enough, the films that felt most directly influential on it were “Taxi Driver” and “Badlands,” not because of the subject matter particularly, but the dispassionate voiceover and they’re both having central characters who have an idea of their own legacy and even though clearly the subject matter of this is much less cataclysmic or violent or brooding or mythic than those films, there’s something about having a character with a stated view of reality juxtaposed with the view of reality the audience sees.

Like those films, “Submarine” also strongly invests in its visuals. What was it like expanding your style to a feature-length film?

Well, those films are incredible and obviously Terrence Malick and Martin Scorsese are just the best. I suppose in the shooting of it, the director of photography [Erik Wilson] and I both love [“Days of Heaven” cinematographer] Néstor Almendros and wanted to shoot with natural light and wanted to partly just so that people weren’t waiting for scenes to be lit. It’s just awful, I think, for actors if they have to just wait for a very long time and it just allows you to have more spontaneity and to film more and there’s something about natural light that’s very pleasing. Martin Scorsese likes to move the camera a lot and I like that in films.

In regards to doing shorter things and then moving to this, the main part of it is writing a script and just hoping that you have a story where the audience is interested enough in following that character for that length of time. One of the things about having a novel — even though you can’t directly translate it, and often I think films from novels are very bad or you can’t follow them – is that there’s something substantive there to begin with. It’s not simply a matter of compression, but your main worry isn’t whether you can fill time, your worry is whether you can be distilled enough not to repeat the same thing again and again or not make it too long and ungoverned.

How did Ben Stiller get involved? Did you send him the script?

I don’t know. I didn’t personally send it to him. I’m not exactly sure how he got it. I think he maybe liked “Garth Marenghi,” this TV show I was involved with, so maybe he was interested to take a look.

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In terms of coming along and presenting it, I think he’s the person who downplays his involvement the most in that for him, he said that [his production company Red Hour Films] just wanted to do whatever they could to help find an audience for it and be supportive really. They’re incredibly kind in that regard and weren’t overbearing. But in terms of the development of the film, that was through Film4 and they’ve been great.

How was the premiere for you as a whole?

It was very frightening and overwhelming really and it seems very inappropriate to massively enjoy those things because then you’d be insane. It would be so strange if what you enjoyed most was assembling 700 people and watching something you’d done with them, the idea of that is so bizarre. It can’t be something you would seek out. It ended up happening that you don’t really think about it at all when you’re making it. You somehow don’t imagine that anyone other than maybe your friends might see it. That’s how I’ve always imagined things and in many cases, that has been the case. It’s generally just friends who’ve seen things I’ve done.

Are you working on anything now?

“Die Hard 5,” I’m in early talks to do that. [smiles] I’m going to just try to bring some of the feeling of this to that.

I’ve always wanted to see the younger version of John McClane.

Yeah, there’s going to be a lot more stuttering and he’s going to have self-esteem issues in this one. [laughs]

“Submarine” opens in limited release on June 3rd.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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