Director Craig Roberts Chats About ‘Just Jim’
Close-Up Film recently caught up with actor-turned-director Craig Roberts, star of Richard Ayoade’s 2010 smash hit, black-comedy ‘Submarine’, now in the directorial chair for his feature film ‘Just Jim’ to discuss the pressures of being one of the youngest actor-turned-directors in recent history.
‘Just Jim’ is the tale of a socially awkward outcast named Jim whose life is transformed by a mysterious American who moves in next door, bringing with him the promise of transforming his life and social status in his dreary Welsh hometown.
I start the interview by asking Craig if I can record the interview to which he exclaims “no!” before quickly laughing and apologising, retracting his early exclaim with the upbeat “of course” as the interview gets off to a fun start.
C-UF: So, I really liked the film. I watched it very very early this morning [something which I probably shouldn’t have admitted] and I was incredibly surprised…
Craig: How early this morning?
C-UF: I’m being generous when I say 4am…
Craig: Wow, you must be delirious…but thank you for the compliments.
C-UF: No I think it was a good time to watch it. I was completely focused, and I chose not to read the film’s tagline or reviews online, so the only reference I had was the film’s trailer that I watched beforehand, but I really loved it…
Craig: Aw, thank you….
C-UF: So… a big question to start off with: what does it feel like to be described as ‘one of the youngest actor-turned-directors in recent history’?
Craig: Oh my, well I didn’t know I held such a title. Now you say it I must admit I am having a panic attack. I mean, wow! Then I think of Xavier Dolan (French actor/director, ages 26) and how brilliant amazing he is and it is an honour to be put in the same category of sorts.
C-UF: Oh I am so sorry, have I just put a huge amount of added pressure on your shoulders?
C-UF: Well I say this because your our transition between roles (from actor to director) was seamless in so many respects and so I am curious to know if this was always the plan, or have you just been very careful and taken the opportunity when it presented itself?
Craig: I can’t say that it was planned, but I will just say that I am very lucky!
C-UF: Would you then say that you have a preference for one role over the other?
Craig: Err…. having now directed a film I feel that I like directing more. It’s a strange thing because there is much more pressure on your shoulders.
C-UF: What pressures?
Craig: For instance, if the film is bad then it is entirely your fault. You know there is such thing as directors’ jail…
C-UF: Directors’ jail…?
Craig: It’s this thing that as an actor you make one good film and several bad films and still recover, but as a director you make one bad film and that’s it…you’re in directors’ jail!
[From which it is hard to recover. Hollywood’s most recent example is Josh Trank and his latest effort, the catastrophic Fantastic Four (2015). Despite his huge successes with The Kill Point (2007) and Chronicle (2012) it now seems that Hollywood has largely disregarded him in a directorial role for the near future at least.]
C-UF: From working with Richard [Ayoade] on Submarine would you say that Just Jim makes any references to the film, in terms of visual style or in its feeling?
Craig: I can see why people think the film makes references to Submarine being that it is set in Wales and has the same sense of darkness or black comedy to it, but I don’t feel like there are any direct references to the film. Richard was really helpful throughout the whole process of making Just Jim, and we were in constant contact throughout.
C-UF: So what differs about Richard’s film in your opinion?
Craig: Richard’s work was so fresh, not drab in the slightest. I personally see Just Jim as incredibly dark at times, with a disturbingly dry sense of humour.
C-UF: So do you find it somewhat annoying when people see the film over which you have had complete personal control over it, and yet immediately associated it with Submarine?
Craig: No not at all, but I would just say that our perspectives on Wales are quite different. In Just Jim my representation of Wales seems quite still, but it is home. In the film I don’t know if you recognised that fashion is dated, yet you can’t place the film in any timeframe, and also there is an increasing lack of technology used in the film.
C-UF: So I want to ask about your onscreen persona. How much of this is ‘put on’? Are in fact as awkward as some of your characters?
Craig: I don’t think that I am that awkward. You know I feel bad to make people feel awkward. So if I was acting awkwardly, making you feel awkward because of my awkward behaviour, I would feel bad!
(We both laugh)
That does make sense doesn’t it?
C-UF: No it does, don’t worry. So you’re just a very good actor then because I always imagined you as being this intensely socially awkward person in real life…
Craig: Well then I must be! I mean in my early adolescence I guess you could say I was more like Jim, but as I have matured I can say I have become less awkward.
C-UF: So, then you can say that Jim’s character, in part, references yourself in your younger years? That the film is somewhat autobiographical? A form of self-therapy?
Craig: Yes you can say that, and it’s strange to see the differences to my character from then until now.
C-UF: Are there any specific references made or is Jim’s character just a generalisation of how you perceived yourself in your adolescence?
Craig: Yes, there are a few specific references, one being the birthday party scene where I had arranged a party and invited loads of people and nobody turned up.
C-UF: Oh no, that can’t be true?
Craig: Yes, it really happened. But is Ok because I have always seen myself as an old soul. I am 24, but I have always felt as if I was 44. And it made for good material later in life!
C-UF: And so the film’s title then….
Craig: Just Jim is a film about Jim in all his beautiful awkwardness…
C-UF: Now lets talk about funding. You of course talk about the inherent pressure of being in the directorial role, but what was it like in terms of funding the film, and getting people to really believe in your vision, your story?
Craig: Actually, funding the film was not as hard as I initially thought it would be. It is really a strange thing that people trusted me with their money. And a lot of it. They trusted me to throw their money away!
C-UF: Oh no, you don’t believe that do you? Surely you are just being modest?
Craig: I’m joking really I am. It is a nice thing to think that they had that trust in me, and I am very grateful.
I was actually part of a BFI scheme that gives £300K to 3 filmmakers and so I was very, very lucky!
C-UF: And now from funding to reviews. Famously most celebrities say they don’t read the gossip columns about themselves or read the reviews of the films they appear in. Many going so far as to say that they do not even watch any of the films they star in. What are you in regards to reading reviews about the films you are in, or now you can say, have directed?
Craig: Reviews are a strange thing for me. I find them very one sided, You know audiences and critics can say whatever they want about your film on so many platforms, but there is not a platform for you to respond. Nevertheless I read them all anyway. I am compelled to!
I get a strange ego boost from a lot of the reviews I have read about Just Jim because vast majorities have been very positive, but still I wish I could respond.
I mean I guess the thing that I will always find weird is the fact that people are actually watching the film, and with that in mind I hope it does well.
C-UF: In terms of casting, do you think it became even more important due to the fact that you were going to being starring alongside the Emile [Hirsch, who plays Jim’s American next door neighbour Dean] as well as directing him?
Craig: Yes definitely, for both of those reasons.
Hirsch came in quite quickly and we were all quite shocked. He was really eager to know the specifics about the camera and how we would be filming and spent much of the time in character.
It’s strange because we never imagined we would get him and then he was on board and we were so grateful.
And its weird because Hirsch’s role in Just Jim reminds us of his role in The Girl Next Door (2004) as Matthew Kidman, a nerd whose life is transformed by the girl who moves in next door. I just find these similarities quite unnerving.
C-UF: So, going back to your earlier comments about your perspective on Wales, and the idea of fashion being quite dated, can you go into further detail about what you meant?
Craig: I don’t know really. I just remember my hometown and thinking how now it resembles London like 10 years ago, and I wanted to reflect this in the film. For instance, one of the characters in the film wears the same earring to the one that Eminem famously wears.
It’s a strange thing to pick up on but I just felt that writing allowed me to say something you are not allowed to say when you are in the public eye, or in public in general. Much of the clothes in the film represent this feeling of my childhood and how I perceived Wales.
The whole film is my perspective of Wales.
Just Jim is the feature debut of Craig Roberts and is out for general release on September 25th