Jesse Eisenberg & Richard Ayoade on The Double

Heavily influenced by Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, The Double follows lead character Simon as he is driven to near insanity when a confident and ambitious doppelganger enters his life. Set in an alternate industrial world of perpetual night time, the film questions identity and what happens when the world you live in no longer recognises you.

Directed by Richard Ayoade the alt-comedy champion shares writing credits with Avi Korine and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska and is the second time Korine has been involved in a film Ayoade directs (after 2012’s Submarine). The Double also has a wonderful cast full of familiar faces who’ve worked with Ayoade previously including Chris Morris, Paddy Considine and Noah Taylor.

The movie debuted in the UK at the 2013 London Film Festival which is when Flicks And The City sat down with leading man Jesse Eisenberg (JE) and director Richard Ayoade (RA) and asked them about doppelgangers and meeting themselves.

39How did you approach playing two characters for the film?

JE: The difference with a movie like this is the characters really cannot exist without each other, they are opposite sides of the same psyche – what one has an excess of the other one lacks. Simon feels uncomfortable in his own skin and has no confidence, James has an excess of confidence and assuredness and is ego-less so they both really couldn’t exist on their own, so that’s how I thought of them in conjunction. In terms of the acting it was basically like playing two different roles but just in a very short period of time.

Which character are you most like and would you want to be similar to either?

JE: Well, they are not really full people, so I couldn’t say I am like one or the other because they really couldn’t exist on their own. They [Simon & James] would be a real danger to themselves – James would self-destruct because he is ego-less and Simon is paralysed by his fear and insecurity, so I wouldn’t like to be like either one of them nor am I similar because they are half people.

Richard, where did the idea come from, are you are a big fan of Dostoyevsky?

RA: I think he is a good writer and I have always tried to support him in bookshops, but the idea was Avi Karin’s. He did the first couple of drafts of the script before we started working on it together… so when I read his script I just really liked it and the conceit of it seemed very original to me and like something I hadn’t really encountered before. It was taking something that stands to be very supernatural and conveying it almost in a very deadpan way by taking something very extraordinary into a very everyday situation.

The sound in the film is very unique, how did that come about?

RA: There is virtually no, I guess what you would call, sync atmosphere… we just really didn’t use environmental sounds that existed there because because it’s in a slightly alternate reality so you couldn’t record the sounds because they didn’t exist. Existence is a key thing in recording and I find if it doesn’t exist you just can’t record it which is why I never made it as a soundman. So, we made every bit of atmosphere from scratch and it was kind of several layers and just multi-tracking sound and it took four months, it took longer then the shoot, we liked having something that was removed and didn’t become monotonous. Then there was the score by Andrew Hewitt which was another thing and then songs were by the Blue Comets.

Its called ‘mickey mousing’; underscoring stuff using music to say the same thing as a picture. So generally the music happens when there is no dialogue and the soundtrack is kind of given over to the music and you have large relatively long passages where there is instrumental score. There’s no underscore as such in The Double because I don’t really like an underscore – it makes everything feel like a computer game to me.

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How do you strike the balance between humour and horror?

RA: I suppose you are not necessarily aware of it that much because you’re more thinking about the situation and what could be most interesting in that situation. Like if a scene only has one sense to it, it feels like a boring scene, a cliched scene, you want something that has a number of things going on.

The things that seemed funniest were often the same thing that might seem the most heartbreaking for Simon or the most frightening for Simon. You know I think David Lynch is someone who is a great example of someone whose most frightening scenes are the most funny. But you’re not saying “I need to make this funnier because this is too frightening”, you are dealing with what would be good for this character or the situation I think.

What was your preparation for making a doppelganger movie?

JE: The stuff we discussed was more along the lines of characters dealing with loneliness, characters dealing with worlds that seem almost systematically unfair to a particular character, less so about the doubling. Because Simon’s plight almost exists irrespective of the doppelganger, the world almost seems to be opposed to him in the same way the elevators doors don’t open and his colleagues ignore him and the cubicle is at an inconvenient height for him to walk freely through it; the doppelganger is almost another manifestation of that.

RA: Technically, you just need to know what has been done, how if you are going to have a certain shot with two people played by the same character you can’t have the lights change in between takes, so it mean you can’t shoot in natural light. I mean I saw most of the films that have multiple characters just from a technical point of view like Dead Ringers, but not from a dramatic or character tonal point of view.

The Double - Credit Dean Rogers 6649Were you trying to explore the idea that personalities can just be eroded in this film and just vanish dependent on how other people react?

RA: In the book, the idea seems very strong that someone can be so invisible and unremarkable that someone else could just show up and be like that person and no one else would notice and further more when it’s figured out, no one is really bothered, and that’s interesting.

There is a sense that if people don’t recognise you then your sense of identity can go. It’s like that cliched situation where a celebrity isn’t allowed into a club and everyone loves hearing someone saying “don’t you know who I am”, and the reality is that if that person on the door does not know who you are, you are not that person, you are just some dude trying to get into a bar. That’s an interesting and a funny situation to me too.

The Interlude pieces with the cheesy superhero were reminiscent of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Was that intentional?

RA: Film can be a peculiar weird ghetto where no one reads or watches things and you don’t want the character to be watching something from the real world because they are just watching Neighbours or something… like in Twin Peaks they watch Invitation To Love and I always liked those kind of things and it can make the world slightly better. Also, it was going to be slightly silly because Paddy [Considine] was in it.

What about working with Noah Taylor?

RA: He was in the film I did before [Submarine] and I just really like him as an actor and I saw him in The Year My Voice Broke and Flirting, and he is just one of those great actors who if there is ever a part he would be suited for you are lucky if he is free to do it, I just really like him.

JE: I have loved him for a long time, so I knew him very well and I think he is just phenomenal and such a unique presence that is so funny. He is also one of these people who is very funny and doesn’t laugh at himself, so it’s occasionally difficult to do scenes because I would laugh at him and my embarrassment is heightened by his lack of acknowledgement that something funny is happening.

RA: I find it hard to watch him sometimes because I just laugh and I know I am going to screw the scene up by laughing behind the camera. He’s really funny, but never in a way that is indicating a joke.

Mia WasikowskaHow did you come to cast Mia Wasikowska? 

RA: Mia is just great – really everyone wants to cast Mia… everything you see her in, she’s just great and different. And upon meeting her, you realise how interesting and well she is going to do stuff, she works well with other people and is always very interested in what the scene is supposed to be doing and not just what her part is. It’s a very difficult part because the film is all from Simon’s view – you only see them as the character sees them and perceives them incorrectly. A lot of actors could view it as ‘this isn’t rich enough’, ‘this isn’t multidimensional enough’.

How was it working with Chris Morris again since he directed you on Nathan Barley?

RA: That was strange because I know him quite well now. In some respects it’s quite helpful when you know someone that well when the actor is only going to be in for a day because you can talk to them about it for a long time in advance, in a way that isn’t breaching etiquette, so they come prepared and know you and they aren’t uncomfortable.

Dave Franco (brother of James Franco) did a Funny Or Die video where he meets his doppelganger and it ends ‘romantically’. If you met yours, would it end romantically too?

RA: Well, Dave Franco is a very attractive man and I would be less comely than he is. I am looking specifically not for myself in other people. I tend to find attributes not shared by me in other people as good – that’s more what I am looking for.

JE: I have a tiny taste of this experience in so far as I do things that are public, there are pictures of me in places I didn’t plan on having pictures of myself, its a very uncomfortable situation, its the uncomfortable by-product of doing this kind of thing, so, no, I don’t look forward to meeting myself.

RA: Also if you meet yourself, you die!

The Double is out in UK cinemas on 4 April 2014.