Richard Ayoade talks di­rect­ing with Don­ald Clarke – and re­veals his in­ner Moss,

Richard Ayoade, who shares some of the shy­ness of the lov­able ec­cen­tric he plays in has turned his hand to fea­ture di­rect­ing with a com­ing-of-age tale set in Wales. The burn­ing ques­tion: how Moss-like is he? Don­ald Clarke pries

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

WHAT’S WRONG with those peo­ple who think Hugh Laurie is re­ally a doc­tor or Sarah Michelle Gel­lar gen­uinely kills vam­pires? These lu­natics do seem to ex­ist. When­ever such stars ap­pear on chat shows, they in­vari­ably drag out anec­dotes about be­ing mis­taken for the char­ac­ters they play. It’s all very wor­ry­ing.

That said, Mau­rice Moss, the ec­cen­tric given flesh by Richard Ayoade in The IT Crowd, Graham Line­han’s first-class sit­com, is so fully re­alised you can’t help but suspect that shards of the ac­tor’s in­ner be­ing are on dis­play. Moss, one half of a ha­rassed IT depart­ment, is the hi­lar­i­ous, lov­able em­bod­i­ment of con­tem­po­rary geek cul­ture. Adopt­ing rec­ti­lin­ear hair-part­ing and rigid pos­ture, Ayoade of­fers us a sit­com char­ac­ter as pre­cisely de­fined as Norm from Cheers, Manuel from Fawlty Tow­ers or Cart­man from South Park.

“It’s all Graham,” Ayoade says in his quiet, po­lite voice. “I can take slim credit for the char­ac­ter. There were peo­ple I knew who had qual­i­ties of that char­ac­ter. Though orig­i­nally, Graham thought I was more like Moss than I my­self thought. I sup­pose I have al­ways been in that nerd camp. I wasn’t com­ing in as this suave per­son.”

Do peo­ple re­ally ex­pect him to be able to fix their mo­dem? “Not re­ally. Aside from any­thing else, if you did have a prob­lem I don’t think you’d re­ally want to call that par­tic­u­lar depart­ment. Would you?”

Like Moss, Ayoade ap­pears to be a shy fel­low. Whereas the char­ac­ter ex­hibits an ag­gres­sive en­thu­si­asm for his var­i­ous ob­ses­sions, the ac­tor comes across like a well­man­nered pupil who – for rea­sons he can­not fathom – has been sum­moned to the head­mas­ter’s of­fice for un­prece­dented chas­tise­ment.

“I do feel a bit awk­ward in in­ter­views,” he says with an ac­tual foot shuf­fle. “I have a dif­fi­cult time tak­ing an ob­jec­tive view of my­self and com­ment­ing on that.”

He’ll have to get used to it. Af­ter a decade ap­pear­ing in such shows as The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Dark­place and Nathan Bar­ley, Ayoade has just di­rected his first film. Sub­ma­rine, based on a novel by Joe Dun­thorne, is a de­light­ful, sad com­ing-of-age story set in a damp cor­ner of Wales. Craig Roberts stars as a teenager who, con­vinced he is some sort of lit­er­ary ge­nius, sets out to woo the most pop­u­lar girl in school. An un­happy se­ries of re­ver­sals soon fol­lows.

Ayoade has di­rected for tele­vi­sion and was be­hind the cam­era for sev­eral Arc­tic Mon­keys videos – Alex Turner of that band pro­vides songs for Sub­ma­rine – but di­rect­ing fea­tures is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent job. Or is it? “The tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments are min­i­mal,” he says. “Or­son Welles said some­thing to the ef­fect that all he knew about di­rect­ing Gregg Tol­land [cin­e­matog­ra­pher of Cit­i­zen Kane] taught him in an af­ter­noon. That sounds a bit hubris­tic. But it’s like chess. It’s easy to learn the game. It’s dif­fi­cult to get good at it.”

Get­ting back in to au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal mode, one can’t help but as­sume there is some­thing of the di­rec­tor in the young pro­tag­o­nist. The child of a Nor­we­gian mother and a Nige­rian fa­ther, Ayoade spent his early years in dow­nat-heel Ele­phant and Cas­tle, an unlovely cor­ner of south Lon­don. He must have been the sort of char­ac­ter who kept Jean-Paul Sartre tomes in his blazer pocket, surely. I cer­tainly can’t imag­ine him as the class bully.

“My first school was quite tough. I lost two teeth on the very first day. I think that’s just be­cause I was new. That was the prime in­sult.

“What I liked about Joe Dun­thorne’s book was the way it talked about that thing where you keep quiet at school about read­ing books and so forth. Other­wise, you might be

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