Double trouble for Ayoade

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 05:00 22/06/2014
Richard Ayoade

RICHARD AYOADE: likens his role as director to that of a football manager.

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Roman Polanski failed in his attempt and Bernardo Bertolucci's 1968 effort was described as giving "art films a bad name", so what an earth persuaded British comedian-turned director Richard Ayoade to tackle Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1846 dystopian novella The Double for just his second feature?

Even the softly-spoken 37-year-old admits he'd only read the more popular Crime and Punishment prior to co-writer Avi Korine suggesting that this should be Ayoude's follow-up to his critically-acclaimed 2011 Welsh coming-of-age drama Submarine.

"I'm a pretty poorly read person, although I have read more Dostoyevsky since. It really was Avi's idea to adapt it - not because it was his favourite but because he thought something about it would make a really good film."

But wasn't he worried that director's with far bigger reputations had him had foundered in attempting to adapt Dostoyevsky?

"His novels are psychological and interior and the received wisdom is that those don't make good films. However, it was Stanley Kubrick who said that he felt books [like The Double] that really map out a character's psychology are really good to adapt because you can use external events to show what they are thinking.

"I love Aki Kaurismaki's Crime and Punishment [1983]. It is one of the very few good adaptations. Yes, I'd heard about Polanski's attempts to bring The Double to the screen in the 1990s - presumably there's a script around somewhere and Bertolucci's Partner is a strange adaptation set in the world of student politics.

"Part of the novel itself is set in a particular world of 19th century Russian office life that's quite hard to relate to and its satirical qualities of certain Russian values at the time don't translate well so that's partly why we decided not to set it in that time."

Instead Ayoade's Double is set in a Terry Gilliam-meets-Michel Gondry dystopian alternative universe, where Jesse Eisenberg's nebbish office worker finds himself replaced by a more confident lookalike.

Ayoade says Eisenberg was definitely his first choice for the dual role.

"On a basic level he's one of the best actors around and certainly the best actor of his generation. I can't think of anyone who has his range and intelligence.

"Since The Squid and the Whale he has demonstrated this ability to be very moving but also believably intelligent - which I think is hard. Acting doesn't go very well with cerebral. That's because those kinds of people are defensive and don't allow you to view them emotionally. Apart from Jesse, I can only think of the likes of Dustin Hoffman or Jack Lemmon who could believably be a professor without you just laughing."

Ayoade says he also admires Eisenberg because he isn't someone who just relies on physical transformation.

"The Social Network showed he could be strong and powerful and mean and aggressive while still looking like he normally does. Because our two characters had to look exactly the same in order to evoke the nightmare of the situation, we wanted someone like him who didn't look to the wig factory as the first port of call."

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He says any differentiation was created internally by Eisenberg, with breathtaking results.

"In editing, if you just had a freeze frame of one of the characters you could instantly tell which one was which just by a close up of their face. He literally would just look different."

Ayoade describes his role in Eisenberg's process as similar to that of a football manager.

"You discuss things a lot and your rehearse but you're not playing the game when it happens - all you can do is will it. It's the actor who does it and embodies it. Their brilliance transforms it or not. You can kid yourself, but if you're not working with good actors you're sunk."

The Double (M) will screen in Auckland and Wellington as part of next month's New Zealand International Film Festival.

The full Auckland programme will be announced tomorrow night and Wellington's on Thursday.

For more information, see nzff.co.nz

- Sunday Star Times

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