Director Richard Ayoade Holds Up A Dark Looking Glass In 'The Double'

In The Double, a man finds that he's been replaced by his own doppleganger, whom everyone likes more than him. NPR's Rachel Martin talks with the director, Richard Ayoade.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The new film "The Double" is a comedy and a love story, but a very dark one. It's based off an 1846 Dostoyevsky novella. "The Double" focuses on a guy named Simon James. He is, by all accounts, rather nondescript - the kind of guy who fades, mostly intentionally, into the background. He stammers halfway through sentences, his boss can't remember his name and he can't seem to make any impression on the girl of his dreams. Then one day at work, things get worse when Simon James' boss makes an announcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DOUBLE")

WALLACE SHAWN: (As Mr. Papadopoulos) I'd like to introduce everyone to our newest coworker. A bright young man who I'm sure will be an asset. Everyone please welcome James Simon.

MARTIN: OK, so this guy, James Simon, this new employee, is a complete doppelganger of our protagonist Simon James - looks identical, where's the same clothes - except his personality. He is a charmer and everyone loves him. Richard Ayoade is the director of the new film "The Double." He's also a big name in the British comedy scene. He joins us from our studios in London. Thanks so much for being with us, Richard.

RICHARD AYOADE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So what was it about this story, this is very dark tale, that appealed to you and make you think, yeah, this would be a great film?

AYOADE: There was something that we found very interesting, which was essentially this idea that you have someone who's so invisible and put-upon and unremarkable that when - in that scene that you played earlier - their exact replica shows up, no one else seems to think it's remarkable, no one notices that he has a double. And that seemed to me very funny.

MARTIN: It is the same actor who plays both of these roles and they obviously look exactly the same, and you clearly find this entertaining because there are a few different comedic approaches that you take to this.

AYOADE: Well, it's that everyone just proceeds as normal and the only person tormented by it is the main character. And that really, I think, is a great metaphor for everything in that your concerns are often not those of others. Your vanities are your own, and who else cares about your private demons?

MARTIN: The look of the film is very distinct - there's no daylight in the movie and the technology, the clothes, the costumes are all sort of first half of the 20th century but yet unplaceable at the same time. And I found myself even struggling with that. I can't place this movie in time and that was a challenge. What were you going for there?

AYOADE: The feel of the whole thing really is meant to be a little like your inner-nightmare and it felt appropriate for there to be no daylight. In dreams, you don't have that sense of naturalness and we really wanted this world to feel like it was something you couldn't escape from, something where you didn't go, well, you know, there are other job opportunities in the neighboring town, why doesn't he go there?

MARTIN: (Laughing) At one point, getting back to these characters, Simon James eventually befriends his doppelganger James Simon. And there is this particular scene where he's talking about this young women that he has a big crush on and how he feels towards her. And we should mention, Simon James and his alter ego are both played by Jesse Eisenberg. Let's listen to this clip.

AYOADE: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DOUBLE")

JESSE EISENBERG: (As Simon James) I have all these things that I want to say to her, like, how I can tell that she's a lonely person even if other people can't 'cause I know what it feels like to be lost and lonely and invisible. I've tried talking to her, but I don't know how to be myself. It's like I'm permanently outside myself, like you could push your hands straight through me if you wanted to.

MARTIN: This is this very raw emotional scene and then this guy, later in the movie, takes this information and uses it against him - without giving too much away - this is a bad guy.

AYOADE: The sense of the story is that the doppelganger does the thing that would be the worst thing that Simon could imagine. And there's no real logic to it, but you just have this sense of - I don't know - inevitability and it feels kind of psychologically right and also funny, hopefully.

MARTIN: You got a lot of notoriety in the U.K. for playing this really insecure computer nerd in a British hit TV show called "The IT Crowd." And your films often seem to be about someone who's been crippled by anxiety and self-doubt. And I wonder if that's something that you have had to grapple with personally.

AYOADE: I think everyone has some self-doubt, otherwise, you know, you're sociopath. But it's interesting to look at characters who have a problem and don't know what to do about it.

And I think it's become a feature of a somewhat dull films whereby really the character is always right, and it's merely the job of everyone else in the film to realize what a genius they are and how great they are and how actually attractive they are. And that their only real faults are kind of perhaps not being bold enough, for example. I don't know, it's just an interesting area - someone who doesn't quite know how to be themselves.

MARTIN: Richard Ayoade is the director of the new film "The Double." It is out now. He joined us from our studios in London. Thanks so much for talking with us, Richard.

AYOADE: Thanks very much.

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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