The Life Aquatic- An Interview with the cast of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine

Aisling Deng Interviews Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige about Richard Ayoade’s Submarine

“Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship,” proclaimed Oscar Wilde. Submarine is a coming of age film that keenly, but not meanly, attests to this. It explores the murky waters of relationships while sparkling darkly with wit. The films director Richard Ayoade is perhaps better known for his acting, most notably as Moss from The IT Crowd, and cameos in The Mighty Boosh and Nathan Barley. However after his involvement in some cult television and directing a string of music videos for the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Ayoade turned his attention to adopting Joe Dunthorne’s novel Submarine after proudcer Mark Herbert optioned it. Soon into production, Ben Stiller, a fan of Garth Marenghi, discovered Ayoade’s script and came onboard as an executive producer.

While the cast boasts Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor and Paddy Considine, the real gems are the two leads: Craig Roberts as teenage misfit Oliver Tate and his pyromaniac girlfriend Jordana played by Yasmin Paige. The film painstakingly chronicles the tribulations of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. As Oliver awkwardly navigates the narrative between precocity and pretense, he finds little solace in his peers who dub him a “gaylord’ and even less so in the adults around him (his mother silently hugs him for 45 seconds when he reveals he has a girlfriend). However Oliver believes himself to be a demi-savior to those around him. As a result, he adopts a unorthodox yet determined view to solving problems he encounters. Instead of putting out the fire, he pisses on it. He attempts to atone for humiliating an overweight girl by typing a self-help manual for her and later schemes to poison his girlfriend’s dog so that she is better prepared for her mother’s imminent death. He watches with wide-eyed wonder, feeding voyeuristically on whatever struggling species he can find in the desolate Welsh landscape.

Oliver’s iconoclasm is richly punctured by his ironic existentialist commentary, delivered brilliantly by the deadpan Craig Roberts. It’s a performance that begs comparison with Jason Schwartsman’s Max Fisher in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. It is this anomalous narrative voice which initially drew Ayoade to the novel; ‘Oliver is a quite self-obsessed and self-regarding 15-year-old. What I liked from the novel is that he’s quite mean-spirited in some senses, and he somehow thinks he can get out of things by being able to describe and comprehend them. And that somewhat exempts him from having any moral responsibility. It seemed like a different type of character even though I guess it’s a well-mined area.’

With critics raving after screenings across the film-festival circuit (including being chosen to open the recent Dublin Film Festival) and after a dramatic bidding war for distribution rights won by Hollywood magnate Harvey Weinstein, it seems Ayoade has crafted a quiet triumph and that Submarine won’t be low-profile submerged indie fare. So in an attempt to understand more about the film as it opens in Irish cinemas, I talked to the two leads in Submarine, Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige, about abusive relationships, depression and rap music.

TN2: What attracted you to this particular project?

Craig Roberts: The money.

Yasmin Paige: (singing) money and the cars, cars and clothes…

CR: I mean it was a really awesome script and when I met Richard I realized how cool he was. It’s also the fact that everything about the film was really good.

YP: I had never read anything like it really before. I read the book when we started the film, but I mean the script that Richard wrote was just brilliant. I had never read dialogue like that before, it really felt…’non-British’ and I just thought that it was great and something I would really love to do it.

TN2: It has a really French new-wave feel to it. I’ve watched a couple of Éric Rohmer films and the way the guys idealize women…

YP: Yes! And also it always has a protagonist like Éric Rohmer

TN2: The woman has a kind of hold on the man

YP: They’re almost like temptresses in a way

TN2: Nostalgia is a prominent theme employed in the film, worth the furor of promoting it at different festivals, a year later how do you feel about the film and what have you learned in retrospect?

CR: I could have done it better. I could have been better in it. I could have maybe stopped drinking alcohol

YP: Yeah showing up late, not knowing your lines

CR: Yeah, well what do you think looking back?

YP: I can only comment on my own experience but it’s weird because it still feels quite present even though it’s been a year since we filmed it…

CR: It feels like ages for me. They took way too long to edit it. I just realized how good of a shoot it was actually. How friendly everyone was. I had never been on a set like that and having a director like Richard- I think he is one of a kind.

TN2: What about Richard truly makes him so?

CR: The hitting.

YP: Yeah. And the shouting

CR: …When he would hit us.

YP: The abuse. No. It’s hard. You can’t describe it or put it into an adjective

CR: He’s the calmest guy in the world. I would call him a genius but he doesn’t like being called that

YP: He’s just amazing. He’s got a great sense of individuality. He’s got a unique style, he knows exactly what he wants and he loves doing it you know. I can’t articulate how much we enjoyed working with him.

CR: I’ve always wanted to know what goes on n his head, like what’s he thinking because he is such a quiet, serene guy.

TN2: Would he crack jokes?

CR: His whole life is cracking jokes.

YP: But he was always really calm. It was so fun, Richard loved running around with the Super-8 camera and we were just happy…

TN2: The title ‘Submarine’ is interesting on several levels. What does it mean or symbolize for you personally?

YP: This probably sounds silly but because in ’Submarine’ a lot of the characters are kind of in their own bubble and world and in their heads and you know I thought that submarines are kind of like them being in that sort of containment.

CR: For me it sort of means your heads exploding because a submarine goes really low down

TN2: And the pressure gets to you?

YP: Yeah

CR: If it goes really low down and if you go that low down without a submarine then phew!

YP: Dead

CR: You’re going to pop

YP: Explode!

CR: Like popcorn. The pressure of life

YP: Maybe we should have asked the writer of the book why he called it Submarine. I wish we had prepared…

TN2: So the metaphor of the sea being 6 miles deep touches on depression that is an undercurrent through the film. A lot of coming of age films don’t really touch on the subject. How did you approach it?

CR: I think every sort of kid coming of age is depressed.

YP: Yeah I think that adults always expect kids not be depressed because they’re like “You don’t have anything to worry about you don’t have to pay bills’ but I even thought Oliver is very self-absorbed and you know he’s very certain and indulgent in his depression, he’s always seeing himself from an existentialist’s view, set apart from the rest… I suppose it’s about the perils and worries of youth. In the grand scheme of life they’re not that important but when you’re young they do feel terribly so and you do enjoy wallowing in self pity, like ‘Oh, I feel so sorry for myself’

CR: If we had moved the film into the 20th century the film wouldn’t have been funny because he would have had an x-box

YP: Yeah you see Oliver’s outlet was music and writing but Craig’s is x-box

CR: …killing people

TN2: Richard has said that for him the main struggle was filming out of sequence, so how did you get ‘in the zone’?

CR: There was no real process; I tried to stay in character for the whole screen test but that didn’t really work. But I tried to get into the right frame of mind through this playlist of Eminem that is really weird because it’s so not Oliver.

TN2: Iambic pentameters

CR: Yeah!

TN2: What were your favorite scenes?

YP: I suppose I like the scenes when Jordana comes over to Oliver’s house for an ‘evening of lovemaking’. I also like the scenes where Oliver poses the hypothetical question ‘Who would you save in this situation?’ to his parents. He asks his mum then asks his dad and gets two different answers. Those are my two favorite bits in the movie… Je ne sais quoi!