Exploring the Dark Art of Interviews with Submarine Director Richard Ayoade


If you could not withdraw, necessarily, but maybe choose your interviews more selectively, would you?

Even that is sort of loaded, because it feels lack of ingratitude to people who've been kind enough to talk about your film or interview you -- through no great desire, I'm sure, on their part to spend time in your company. But I suppose the other way of putting it is: If all you wanted to do was talk about your film in this context, there would be something very wrong with you. In most situations it would be seen as a sign of incredibly bad grace to want to be the center of attention I that kind of a way. And it's also having things that you, in many cases, are thinking up off the top of your head codified and recorded forever -- which is such a juxtaposition to something that has taken three years and had a quite a lot of applied thought. To have the ill-thought-out ramblings be the things people see more than the thought-out thing is strange.

I don't think they're so ill-thought-out! You're doing fine.

They're not massively considered, I'd say. But yeah, I don't think it would be a great loss on anyone's part if I didn't give interviews. People doing interviews wouldn't have to retire weeping. It's not like Tarantino stopping talking about things. I think people would quickly adjust.

Is there something to be said, however, for letting work speak for itself?

I think so. I think in many ways it ruins it for people. Or it can. It's interesting. I think also there's a thing whereby... I mean, it feels very presumptuous to talk about stuff because you're already assuming that it has some kind of worth -- that it ought to be discussed. It seems so soon, so close after the fact. It's clearly infected by the idea of selling it, which seems a disingenuous way of discussing things -- when you read an interview and at the end it says, "Submarine opens June 3." It is somewhat infected. People writing it know that, and people reading it know that. People doing the interview know that. It's a genre, isn't it? The interview genre.

I never thought of it that way.

It can limit things. You don't want to say, "This is what this film is." It might prevent a certain way that someone else might have of enjoying it. On some level, you hope it's something people can enjoy. I think some people have a certain way of unlocking films that can make others enjoy it more. Some people feel they would prevent others from enjoying it. It's a feeling of whether or not you think it's appropriate to go on about something.

There's an interesting scene in Submarine where Oliver and Jordana walk out of a movie early, and Oliver feels bad. He believes it's rude to the filmmaker. Do you share that philosophy?

Yeah. I try not to, really. I've only done it a couple of times under extreme circumstances.

You don't have to name the film, but what was the extreme circumstance?

The extreme circumstance was the film, sadly. Yeah, I just couldn't. But in general, you do [stay], although as I get older... I suppose you must have to leave films at certain points?

Very rarely. Sometimes it's unavoidable at a festival, perhaps, but my job is to stick it out.

Yeah. I don't think an audience is duty-bound to stay in there. I think he has an idea of himself as someone who sees everything through properly. I think it's more about that, really.

Can filmmakers in fact feel when an audience member walks out, as Oliver believes? Did you have these kinds of psychic premonitions if, God forbid_, people leave Submarine?

You can hear the hit of the seat. It's interesting with an audience. If you watch it with one other person, that's an audience, and you get a sense. It's like if you play someone a song, and you say, "You've got to hear this song," that song will immediately feel like the longest song of all time. And you regret ever choosing that song to play for this person. You pause and you go, "Oh, this bit..." And that bit takes ages to come. All of those feelings sort of occur in the film.

But I don't know. Why do you think Malick doesn't do interviews?

The word on the street is that he's shy -- that he doesn't feel like he can present himself or his philosophy or take on the work in a way that is appropriate to the work. And there is that thing where I think he truly believes it should speak for itself.

Especially since I've been a performer, I think there's some inherent suspicion about the idea that you can be shy and be a performer. I find it relatively uncomfortable. Performing is a very controlled situation in which you can, for a very brief time, not be that shy. But before it, you're sick. And you're sick afterward. In terms of actually talking about the thing itself, I've probably not talked about it. I've batted it aside, effectively.

How do you mean?

Well, I probably haven't particularly talked about the film. I've done interviews about avoiding taking about the film, which I'm sure is a relatively frustrating, annoying tack.

Do you think in some back part of your mind that you just aren't prepared to talk about it?

Yeah, to an extent I'm not really prepared. Just on a central level. If you started doing jokes and doing things like that, and you needed to talk about the joke, then it's already gone wrong. As in, you go, "The reason that was funny..." It either was funny to some people, or it was not. And talking about it is annoying. For me it's the difference between talking to a friend about a film you like -- and that being a pleasurable exchange -- and being the kind of person who's in the queue in Annie Hall and talking so loud that everyone else has to hear. I suppose as interested as I would be if that person in the queue was John Cassavetes -- and because I do not feel myself to be John Cassavetes -- I do not feel that my thoughts are particularly worth codifying. It's just somewhat embarrassing.

They do say explanation is the death of the joke, but by the same token, isn't there something scientific about comedy? Can't we break it down?

No, I don't think you can. Not really good comedy. You could do some kind of topography of Buster Keaton's face and say, "This is what makes this the best face for silent comedy," but it's just somewhat unexplainable. That's not to say analysis isn't incredibly interesting. Truffaut wrote very interestingly about films, and Godard did. Even Chris Marker did -- someone who's completely averse to being interviews. It's incredibly interesting, and the discussion is interesting, but it's not necessarily good to do that about your own stuff. I imagine Malick could talk pretty interestingly about stuff he didn't do. He's talked about The White Sheik at the Rome Film Festival -- he felt he could talk about that. It's outside of him.

For example, I find it very hard to look at pictures of people I know. There's something very frozen about it. It's quite an intense thing. Some people like having their photograph taken, and some people freeze. You can change, but I think some people just have that as an instinct. It's not necessarily anything to do with renown; some people just don't like it.

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  • Troofire says:

    There's nothing as boring as an interview in which the interviewee is mainly asked questions about his antipathy to interviews. This was a waste of time

  • So you read maybe a quarter of this?

  • edward says:

    I'm a huge fan of the Richard on The IT Crowd. But I have to agree the interview grew tiresome. Half way through he was still talking about not enjoying talking about his film. I think the interview would have served him better with some judicious editing.

  • Wandering Menstrual says:

    I guess I'm in the minority, but I really dug this interview. I found Ayoade's intelligence and humanity to be a refreshing change of pace.
    I assume Troofire would have been happier with a puff piece where Ayoade gushed and rattled off effusive canned responses about how great his cast is and how he has the best DP in the business or whatever. But I actually enjoy a little shop talk and theory every now and then -- especially from a dude who's as articulate as Ayoade.

  • Bradley Paul Valentine says:

    I would't blame the subject or the interviewer, especially when the intent is the title of the piece. You really couldn't find anything interesting in that? I understand this site is meant to be entertaining, but I come here because it is also witty and intelligence and informative, not just noisy. For that to work, the audience to be entertained sometimes has to help out by bothering to do some thinking, reflecting, to find what is good about it even if it might not be immediately identifiable.
    I think it's interesting lately I've been noticing interviews online at different sites seem to be growing in the chagrin at being part of the grinding machine actors and other talent are part of where the same questions, bland interrogation held over and over again. And the subject and interviewer's job is to in a way make a connection and make it "good" every single time, if possible. The interviewer gets really one swing while the subject is kept there all day going through the motions over and over and over.
    I think the dynamics of that is interesting as hell.

  • Man, you really nailed it. You have no idea how much I appreciate this.