Excerpt from: Interview with Richard Ayoade for The Double
This is an excerpt. The complete feature is published in the Big Issue.
Genteel and intelligent, cool and considered, there’s no mistaking the voice on the other end of the line belongs to Richard Ayoade. You might recognise his lilting inflection as that of uber-nerd Moss from British comedy series The IT Crowd, but these days the actor and comedian is turning his talents to writing and directing. In 2010 he made his feature debut with an adaptation of the whimsical coming-of-age tale Submarine. Four years later, he returns with another literary reworking, this time levelling his distinctive wry wit at Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novella The Double.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a hapless government clerk invisible to everyone around him, including the copy room girl (Mia Wasikowska) he covets from a nervous distance. Simon’s inconspicuous life is thrown into turmoil when his physical double arrives at his workplace. Confident, seductive and conniving, James Simon (also played by Eisenberg) is Simon’s doppelganger and complete opposite. Living a waking nightmare, Simon finds that nobody cares when James starts taking over his life.
Renowned for his work on cult British TV favourites like The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, Ayoade’s decision to adapt a Russian classic may seem like an incongruous step down a bleaker path for this wit. In his hands, however, Dotstoyevsky’s psychological thriller becomes a triumph in black comedy.
“Dostoyevsky is funny because he’s so good at mining people’s personal pomposities and puffed-up-ness,” Ayoade explains. “It sounds like it’s difficult, because it’s Russian and old, but in Notes from the Underground he has this long thing about how someone was so offended that someone bumps into them that they spend the next year trying to bump back into that person, which seems like a Larry David revue.”