Entertainment & Arts

Richard Ayoade takes the helm for Submarine

The cast and producers of Submarine
Image caption Richard Ayoade (left) launches himself into film direction with Ben Stiller as producer (back right)

Not since The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole has there been a teenage character like Oliver Tate, whose self-obsessed and sometimes hilarious inner monologues are the subject of Submarine.

"It's the story of a 15-year-old boy who is embarking on his first ever relationship, and because he manages this he thinks he can save his mum and dad's marriage and rule the world," explains director Richard Ayoade.

Submarine is Ayoade's first feature film. Audiences will know him as an Edinburgh Fringe comedy award winner, a music video director and as the socially inept Maurice Moss in hit TV series The I.T. Crowd.

Social awkwardness also pervades Submarine as Oliver Tate and his girlfriend Jordana explore their feelings for each other.

"I've always liked coming of age stories," Ayoade says, "whether it's The Graduate or The Catcher in the Rye.

"When I read Joe Dunthorne's original novel, I loved the character of Oliver Tate, and his voice. It's a pompous, self-regarding voice.

"What was interesting to me is that the book was written entirely in the first person, and you don't have any description of what he looks like or what he actually sounds like."

The film is set - and shot - entirely in Wales, with 20-year-old actor Craig Roberts, who plays Oliver, having an easy commute from his home in Caerphilly to set locations like Barry, Swansea and the Valleys.

The scenery of south Wales - from its dramatic beaches to its old industrial landscapes - gives the film its heart, yet its dark comedy easily translates for overseas audiences.

"There is something of an American feel for it too," agreed Roberts. "It was a standing joke on set that this is the kind of story that Michael Cera would be playing if it had been made in the US.

"Whenever my acting was bad, Richard would threaten me with: 'I'm going to call Michael Cera.'

"But I certainly relate to Oliver and that stage in life he is going through. He is such a cool character and although he is so self-obsessed, at times I feel so sorry for him."

"I think anyone can relate to the pain of being 15," adds Yasmin Paige, whose character Jordana is a school troublemaker with pyromaniac tendencies.

Image caption Submarine has no cultural references to set it in any particular era

"You feel things so strongly. If you like someone, it's suddenly an amazing and all-consuming thing.

"What I like about Submarine is that it feels realistic. It is gritty, but it's also really tender. It's a very pure picture of adolescence."

That purity may stem from Submarine being set in a time without laptops, Facebook and mobile phones.

There's a certain innocence seeing Oliver run to the phone box to call Jordana. Yet Ayoade says his film is not set in the 1980s.

"The idea was for it not to be set in any specific era. Because there's no computers or mobile phones I guess that makes it seem like the '80s or early '90s.

"But it was only in order not to have what we consider the social necessities of now.

"To me, all coming of age stories seem to be set slightly in the past. I definitely didn't want to make it all 1980s, with hilarious clothes and music."

Music is actually provided by Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys, who wrote a collection of new tracks for Ayoade. He's directed many of the band's music videos and their Live at the Apollo DVD.

"I know Richard didn't want any songs with baggage for this film," Craig Roberts explains. "He didn't want audiences to hear a track they already associated with a memory or a movie."

Image caption Richard Ayoade says he would love to make more films

Submarine - whose cast includes Sally Hawkins as Oliver's mother and Paddy Considine as an oily teacher - has received strong reviews from screenings at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals.

Does this mean Ayoade is going to make a full-time transition from TV to film?

"I'd love to continue to direct films - I'll just see if I am allowed," he replies. "Sometimes there's a fake opposition between TV and cinema - especially now with Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire.

"Their budgets are far greater than the budgets of many films and in many respects tell more epic stories. So I don't think there's any difference, apart from this being 90 minutes in a row.

"I just hope people can get through it without becoming bored, angry or violent," he says with self-deprecation worthy of a scene from The I.T. Crowd.

Submarine is released in the UK on 18 March.

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