Richard Ayoade Talks Coming-of-Age Films

His featured SIFF flick takes us back to the angsty world of Holden Caulfield.

By Ariana Dawes May 27, 2011


Richard Ayoade dives in on the set of Submarine.
Photo by Dean Rogers / Courtesy the Weinstein Company

When Richard Ayoade’s quirky coming-of-age movie Submarine hits big screens nationwide on June 10, the Brit will be a writer-director to watch. Until now, Ayoade has been most recognizable to audiences who’ve seen his hilarious portrayals of comic cartoonish characters on British sitcoms like The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh. Fans of indie bands Vampire Weekend, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Arctic Monkeys might recognize Ayoade as the director of some of their favorite music videos.

Set in Swansea, Submarine stars Craig Roberts as word-of-the-day-spouting Oliver, 15, whose main (and competing) goals are to get a girlfriend and save his parents’ marriage. The poignant adaptation of a 2008 novel is already being compared to Rushmore and The Graduate. Before his film screened to a packed house at SIFF last Friday, we sat with Ayoade to talk about Submarine, Wales, Seattle, and The Catcher in the Rye.

This is your first time in Seattle. It’s 70 degrees and partly sunny in May. So aside from that, is it anything like what you’d heard?
I know very little other than probably the very basic cliches of Seattle: Jimi Hendrix, Sub Pop, Starbucks. I know sort of where it is on a map. I know that Bruce Lee’s buried here. It seems very good. It seems very clean as well. …There’s something slightly Scandinavian about it that I quite like.

Was there any one thing about Wales that stood out to you during your tour with Submarine novelist Joe Dunthorne?
There are areas of Wales that I particularly like that are a mixture of being incredibly beautiful but with industrial sort of carcasses strewn about the place. And so it was a very interesting mix and had a slight Last Picture Show feel to me. And [it] was quite Scandinavian as well.

You collaborated with Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, 24-Hour Party People) to invent his character: a motivational coach, martial arts enthusiast, and rival for Oliver’s mom’s affections.
Nothing in the film would exist but for the book, so it feels too much to say that something’s a pure invention, in terms of an adaptation, even if it’s not in the book.

Did that creative process change the way you approached the story?
Because Oliver’s quite strange, [the adults] ended up being stranger. I think it’s a way of you being able to follow the main character. Holden Caulfield is quite strange, really, and when I first read The Catcher in the Rye I just thought he was completely normal, but it’s partly because everyone else around him is so…awful in their own way. Although you become more sympathetic, I find, to the other characters as you get older. …So I guess that was the thing that made us not worry about that [Paddy’s] character being a performer, and, I suppose, somewhat more heightened.

Are there collaborators from your past you’d like to work with again?
I’ve burnt all my bridges, so… The thing I’m working on at the moment is an adaptation of The Double by Dostoevsky, with a writer called Avi Korine (Mister Lonely).

Submarine premieres in theaters June 10.

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