Richard Ayoade is one of those guys who's done it all. He's a mega-talented writer / actor / director that's seemingly everywhere, but not yet a household name. I first became aware of Ayoade on the brilliant TV show, The IT Crowd, and recently was able to catch his directorial debut, Submarine, a quirky coming-of-age tale that's truly funny. But it's his follow-up, The Double, an adaptation of the Dostoevsky novella about a sad sack of a guy who meets his match in his unbelievably charismatic doppelganger, played by Jesse Eisenberg, that proves why Ayoade is a talent on the rise. I recently sat down with Ayoade at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood where we talked about why Eisenberg will make a good Lex Luthor (you can read that here), as well as adapting Dostoevsky and why Terry Gilliam comparisons aren't all bad.
When you're adapting someone like Dostoevsky, how do you know when to limit or expand what you include? It's not like The Double was as dense as Crime and Punishment...
Richard Ayoade: Well, it was Avi's (Avi Korine, Harmony Korine's brother) idea to adapt the book, so I feel he's sort of done both the job concerning that question, which is, you know, yeah, it already wasn't set in that time and various things have been attacked already, so I suppose when I was writing it I felt I was more kind of writing with Avi on his idea of how to do it. The book became like another resource that we could go to. For me, it was like I was working with Avi on a thing based on his idea. So, yeah, I didn't read the book and go, "I'm going to adapt it." I didn't have that burden that you described. Yeah, you know, it changed and then you definitely have to refer back to the book. I read it a dozen times or something. I didn't have the same feeling I had when I adapted Submarine, which I did before this film - where I was like - what stays in? How do you do it? What's the form?
The setting is this weird reality. It's ambiguous when it takes place. What was the process in deciding this sort of bizarre alternate reality?
Richard Ayoade: Initially, it was more a modern metropolis, a standard modern metropolis that probably wasn't what it ended up being. Rather than it being a little man in a big world, which you see in his apartment or you see in movies like Modern Times where you have that, of it being a more lonely place where there aren't many people and that makes it funnier to us that no one notices him. There are only ten people working in that office and they're all at least 40 years older than him and still no one notices that someone looks exactly like him. It became more about being an alternate world that wasn't a futuristic one, nor a past one, just another direction of how things have gone.
It almost came across as how people imagined the future in the 1950s.
Richard Ayoade: Yeah, that was something we had with David Crank (the production designer) who had that feeling that they thought this is what a computer will look like, which is why it's really wrong and not user friendly in any way. Partially, it was to have a world where you wouldn't say, "Well, why doesn't he just get a new job?" It was to have the sense - this is it. This is the only world that exists. I suppose, in a way, when you watch Metropolis now, it exists in a strange space in that it's both an artifact and a science fiction film. That's something strange - when you start reading old science fiction predicting paths we've gone past already, so what kind of world would they exist in? It's not just the year 3000. It's just a different way.
You mentioned the comedic aspects of the film, but it was also terrifying in places. And I think that's because it's all from Simon's perspective. Was looking at his reality always the goal or did you think about looking at the world through different people?
Richard Ayoade: It became more like when we started writing together. Before, there were scenes where you maybe see Hannah (played by Mia Wasikowska) on her own. It became more apparent that we needed to stay in his head all the way through. It felt more consistent. It feels like it's being told through his head even though you're outside of it. This way it's sealed in one consciousness and that felt appropriate.
Can you talk about how the final product turned out versus what you thought it would look like when you were making it?
Richard Ayoade: I'm not someone who can completely imagine what it will be like in the end. I'm sure there are people who can, but I can't. If your dolly grip is bad, that's really going to affect your film. You really need everyone to be in on it. Everyone made these great contributions. Often, you're a fan of the people who feel invested in this type of thing and you want them to bring as much of themselves to it, but they themselves are also bringing only what they feel is appropriate to the idea. You get a strange group effot toward an imagined thing. It's a very odd process, but one that's very attractive after the writing of it, but you're still quite isolated.
You've been getting a lot of comparisons to Terry Gilliam with this movie. How annoying is that? Is it flattering?
Richard Ayoade: I suppose it doesn't really affect what it is. It just means that's the way it's currently being talked about. It's not something we had directly in mind, but that doesn't necessarily matter. I don't know, really.
I don't know how I feel about that.
Richard Ayoade: But, I do in some ways. It's something that looks distinctive, which is more likely to get comparisons. To me, every film is influenced by Michael Bay. He's the most influential director in the world. I don't know a major Hollywood film of the last 20 years that doesn't feel somehow influenced by Michael Bay.
It just seems like an interesting perspective: How you would define something and how other people do.
Richard Ayoade: I don't know! He's the fella, you know? That's the style. That kind of flair, those long lens close-ups, that constantly moving camera, the way of doing action. That is the way it is done. If you do anything that has a green tint, that's Fincher. That could be a love story or about three people skipping. There are certain things that are just emblematic. It's weird that those directors now are adjectival, like Tarantino. They were considered the most derivative directors themselves. Paul Thomas Anderson was just like Altman, Scorsese, Altman, Scorsese. And it's like, really? I don't imagine being like Altman. But if you do any film with intersecting storylines, it's Altman-esque. I think things are adjectival and they mean a certain thing. Mike Nichols is not an adjective despite being the most - even with how influential his comedies are - but nothing is being described as Mike Nichols, and it's like, I can't even imagine Friends existing without Mike Nichols.
There are a lot of doppelganger movies this year: Enemy, The Pretty One, and even Muppets Most Wanted and TV shows like The Vampire Diaries. Doppelgangers have been around for ages, but why do you think they're having a moment right now?
Richard Ayoade: I haven't seen Enemy, in which I know is a doppelganger film. It's one of those things that's interesting to see in film. It's one of the few things films can do better than other mediums because there's a specific, uncanniness in seeing an actor play two parts. It's really well suited for film. Even if it's not a very good film, it's always interesting to see an actor play two parts.
The Double hits theaters May 9.