Actor, director and Gadget Man, Richard Ayoade, talks to Camilla Davies about his feature film The Double and life in East Dulwich
With his signature afro and thick rimmed glasses, you may be most familiar with Richard Ayoade from his appearances on our screens as the loveable but socially oblivious Maurice Moss, star of The IT Crowd, but the quirky English comedian first rose into the public’s consciousness in his role as Dean Learner in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, a parody of the 1980s sci-fi genre with a distinctly retrograde aesthetic.
Not one to settle for a settling into a singular niche in the entertainment spectrum, Ayoade’s cameo roles in a host of cult leftfield comedy shows have aligned him with zany TV personalities including Tim Minchin and Noel Fielding, securing panel show roles and the position of team captain on Channel 4 hit Was It Something I Said?
It was whilst studying Law at Cambridge University that the high achiever rose to President of the Cambridge Footlights Club and decided to pursue a creative career away from the courtroom and closer to the capital. Growing up in Suffolk, the 36-year-old, who boasts both Norwegian and Nigerian ancestry, now calls East Dulwich home.
Yet in a departure from his ensuing TV roles, Ayoade recently spent time proving his worth as director. His debut feature film, the coming-of-age ‘dramedy’ Submarine surrounds 15-year-old protagonist Oliver Tate’s quest to lose his virginity, as well as seeking to separate his mum from the potential clutches of a hare-brained suitor.
But this wasn’t Ayoade’s first stint at directing. Known for his involvement in numerous music videos, his ties with The Artic Monkeys led to band frontman Alex Turner fashioning several original songs for the Submarine soundtrack. Now, Ayoade has impressed once again in his filmic rendition of Dostoevsky novel The Double. It seems like directing is a craft that comes naturally.
‘I’d directed before I was in The IT Crowd and that was the thing I felt I had most aptitude for, I guess,’ he admits. ‘In a way, writing and directing feels more like my default setting, rather than the exception.’
Following on from the smaller scale production of Submarine, one would think that working with stars like Mia Wasikowska would be intimidating for someone who is, essentially, still a rookie director. However Ayoade has a slightly different outlook.
‘In some ways, it’s more nerve-wracking doing films without actors who have been in so much… not because Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige (the leads in Submarine) weren’t really good, but because in some ways you might have a false sense of confidence with high profile actors. You’ve seen these actors in stuff and you really like them and what they do, but is the reality the same? It’s a difficult one.’
So impressed was Ayoade with his young cast in Submarine, that he re-recruited them for his higher-budget second production. Dostoevsky’s The Double is at the heart of Ayoade’s dark and stylised adaptation. So what inspired this doppelgänger production?
‘It’s a folkloric tradition, the doppelgänger. There have been doppelgängers in E.T.A. Hoffmann, in Poe – I’m never great on my 19th century chronology – but what is brilliant about Dostoevsky’s The Double is that no-one is bothered by the fact that this double exists.
‘I suppose it’s a bit like the thing where you hear of some celebrity who couldn’t get into a bar and they say ‘don’t you know who I am?!’ And the reality is that unless someone knows who you are you aren’t that person. There are two people required in that cognition. I think it’s interesting in terms of how you see yourself and how other people see you.’
Ayoade himself isn’t a celebrity you’d see queuing up to secure entry into a trendy south London nightspot. When he’s not working, you’ll more likely to find him reclining in a rather more low key setting. Does this recluse have a favourite hangout?
‘I guess my house, the place that my wife and I live in. That’s where we generally reside. East Dulwich is great for its green spaces and its nice cafes and bars, but when you work away a lot, the appeal of sitting down and doing very little is, I guess, very great!’
Sharing a panel with Micky Flanagan, fellow East Dulwich resident and comedian, how likely is it we’ll see the pair taking a leisurely stroll around the neighbourhood as they prepare for their next appearance in front of the cameras?
‘We don’t have each other’s postcodes, so I don’t think you’ll be seeing that particularly double act! I know he lives in the better part of East Dulwich though – he made that very clear to me in several conversations,’ Ayoade says wryly. ‘Micky’s a great character and it’s always fun being around him.’
But as a man known to collaborate artistically with friends, perhaps Richard would anoint a fellow comedian to play him in the movie of his life. Could Micky be in the running, or as casting director, is there anyone else in mind to star in Richard Ayoade: The Movie?
‘Wow – it would have to be someone really down on their luck, because this would not be a high budget film.’ He quips, ‘I can’t imagine the circumstances in which such a film would occur – it might be a frightening experience for all concerned!’
If not a professional actor, maybe someone from the outside world will suffice. But when it comes to choosing someone with a striking similarity to master the part, Richard opts for a completely leftfield candidate. ‘Sebastian Coe. A lot of people say I look like him,’ he announces with a poker face. Somehow, we’re not so sure the Olympic director is such a sure fit.
Jest as he might, if Ayoade’s double isn’t an absolute doppelgänger, it’s not altogether surprising. After all, when it comes to his creative ventures, this is someone who holds individuality in the highest regard. ‘There are so many directors I really like. Part of you liking them is realising you couldn’t be anything like them, and that’s a really key part of succeeding in the entertainment industry. You’ve got to be your own person.’
Richard Ayoade was interviewed at the Glasgow Film Festival for the premiere of his film, The Double