Tuesday 1st July 2014
Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a timid soul who lives alone, suffers an awkward relationship with his unsympathetic mother and labours virtually unnoticed at his deadening office job. Starting a conversation with his attractive colleague and neighbour Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) is almost beyond his capabilities, though he does sometimes observe her from his apartment window through a telescope. The threat of vanishing completely seems to stalk Simon. His own mother has trouble remembering who he is when he visits her care home; the security guard at his office refuses, day after day, to recognise him; and the area in which he lives is beset by suicides (Officers investigating these mark Simon down as "a maybe"). "I'm permanently outside myself", Simon observes. "You could put your hand straight through me". Others agree: a colleague tells him that he's "pretty unnoticeable. a bit of a non-person" and one of the fellow residents of his mother's care home tells him "You're not right". This resident, however, also provides him with the odd gift of a knife - and the enigmatic advice to "make the cut deep".
There's reason for Simon to feel even more "outside himself" - but also a glint of hope - when a new arrival joins his workplace. James Simon (Eisenberg again in a double role) is, as his name suggests, Simon's mirror image: ostensibly the same, with an identical physical appearance, but with diametrically opposite character traits. James is as confident at work as he is with women: a philanderer, a rakish risk taker and the life and soul of every party to which his meek lookalike has never been able to get himself invited. James also moves in across the street from Simon, within the sightlines of his telescope.
Initially James seems to be a source of guidance for Simon, advising him on his romantic life to the point of talking him through a date with Hannah via an earpiece. Simon reciprocates by helping James to succeed at work - for all the newcomer's popularity and bravado, he's no grafter and has little idea what his job is meant to entail. When James commences relationships first with the boss's young daughter Melanie (Yasmin Paige) and then with Hannah herself, Simon's loyalty is challenged and it runs out altogether when James asks him to assist in keeping his conflicting love interests apart. Simon asks James to desist in his courtship of Hannah, using his knowledge of James's professional incompetence, but James responds with a threat of blackmail: he'll expose compromising photographs of himself with Melanie and tell the world that it's Simon who's with her. In his increasing desperation, Simon discovers that he's connected to James via more than appearance: when James causes him a minor physical wound, the mark appears on both of their bodies.
Hannah, meanwhile, suspects that James is seeing other women and asks Simon to find out for her. Simon opts to intervene indirectly: knowing that James is with Melanie, he calls Hannah, pretending to be Simon and asks her to come over. When she does so, James sends her away; Simon sees all through his telescope.
At work, however, Simon seems less substantial than ever: his ID card is taken away from him and he's told that "according to the system", he's never existed at all. Simon tries to report James to their superiors as an inadequate worker, but he cannot make himself heard and he is finally ejected from the premises. At home, through his telescope, he sees Hannah prone on her bed. He breaks into her flat and finds her unconscious, a suicide note left behind. He takes her to hospital and is told that she has suffered a miscarriage. On her recovery, he takes her home; she is far from grateful, rather declaring that she hopes to try and again and suggesting that Simon might be best served by doing the same.
Simon receives a phone call letting him know that his mother has died. Upon arriving at the nocturnal funeral she has requested, Simon finds James there and attacks him. Once again, their physical interconnection is apparent: when Simon punches James his own nose bleeds. This gives Simon an idea. Following the funeral, he goes to James's apartment and handcuffs his double to the bed. He telephones the police and tells them that he has observed a neighbour "about to jump". He then returns to his own apartment and jumps from the window. Because of his detailed knowledge of a previous suicide, he knows how to angle his jump to avoid death. Badly injured, but satisfied that he has destroyed his rival; Simon is taken to hospital in an ambulance. James, meanwhile, lies undiscovered, bleeding from his own head wound.
Robin C Fox and Amina Dasmal operate their Alcove Entertainment on the basis that the creative talent leads the process - always. Their partnership with Harmony Korine as producers on 2009's Trash Humpers came about because, as Fox has it, "we hunted him down and told him that whatever film he wanted to make, we'd do it!"
In 2007, Fox and Dasmal met Hamony's brother, Avi Korine, who was working on a script adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella The Double. It struck the producers that this story of a solitary, troubled man whose life is upended by his over-confident alter-ego might appeal to another name on their creative wish-list - the British writer, director and performer Richard Ayoade, then yet to make his debut as a feature director.
"We'd been stalking Richard", Fox ruefully recalls, "using every method we could think of to get him interested in something. but it was difficult, because he's got taste! With this script, we thought at last we might have something on which he might not go so cold and quiet. We saw that it would suit his sensibility - both his sense of humour and his understanding of the subject matter". They also saw, however, that the project would need time to evolve: "Richard wasn't just going to come in and shoot someone else's script". But, says Dasmal, "if we feel excited, we go at the pace the talent needs. It's about supporting the process, if you want the best. Of course there are days when you want to be shooting rather than waiting - but it's incredibly fulfilling when you do read that next draft". It helped that co-producers Film4 also "believed in Richard's ability to deliver what was in his imagination", Dasmal says. "They're in a different category and rightly so. They were genuinely brilliant to work with".
The result of letting Ayoade pursue his vision to the hilt is a film that resists obvious commercialism and genre categorisation. Fox points out that concern for the supposed demands of the market is reduced by "spending time around people who talk about market conditions and seeing the abject failures that spawn from that!" Dasmal notes that the producers use themselves as a guide: "This is a film we want to watch, so there's an audience out there". If the world in which The Double takes place is an unfamiliar one - claustrophobic; jittery; at once futuristic and redolent of a non-specific, dusty past - its emotions are accessible. "Loneliness and feeling undervalued are universal", says Fox "as is romance". "The love story is very beautiful", Dasmal adds. "Richard really surprised us with how he captured it". Ayoade also impressed with his confidence in making his imagined environment into a real space. "He can go into a room", says Fox, "and completely capture what he's trying to create".
Australian rising star Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre; Stoker; The Kids are All Right), who plays Hannah, was interested in Ayoade having seen his feature debut Submarine, which she describes as "brilliant". Her interest in his second directorial outing was further stimulated by her friendship with Harmony Korine, who encouraged her to look out for his brother's script when it came her way. Working with Ayoade was, she says, "really amazing. I haven't had an experience that's been this fulfilling in all areas. His direction is so clear and he has a really sensitive way of dealing with actors and getting the best out of us". Moreover, Ayoade's treatment of the material and the clarity of his vision of the atmosphere of the piece, surprised her. "He's elevated the material in a way that I didn't really expect - he had a really unique way of seeing things", she says. "It's not completely specified what kind of world we live in here and Richard's brought such a strong vision to it". The ambiguity of the story's time and place, she feels, reflects a story that says different things to different people. "There are so many ways of seeing the idea of someone who's exactly the same as you. It's subjective - so everyone who sees the film will have a different view of what it means".
That's a sentiment echoed by Ayoade's lead actor: Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg. Working on The Double was "the most interesting experience I've ever had", says the star of Zombieland, The Social Network and Now You See Me. "The stuff Richard was doing was amazing. Every room, every scene was located in this ambiguous place and time. And he never wanted anything to be standard. Often, an actor comes with his own strange ideas and the director takes them and shapes them into a normal movie scene. Richard takes actors' strange inclinations. and pushes them farther. It's an approach that brings rewards. Something about the way he works makes it impossible not to engage completely. That applied to all of the actors, even those who came in for one day".
The actor's own interest in working with Ayoade stemmed from his own uncharacteristic response to Submarine, which was sent to him as background before the Double had a completed script. "I don't watch movies", Eisenberg laughs, "so I just put it in to watch the first five minutes. Not only did I watch the whole thing - I watched it two times in a row. I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen. Every moment was full of emotional richness and funny and real - it was just unique. Then I met him and realised why. He has this unique sensibility, this aesthetic that is totally his own".
The Double also presented Eisenberg with a challenge: that of playing two characters in one film. "I thought it was a really interesting acting opportunity", he says. "Richard's goal was not to create a traditional comic dichotomy between 'good' and 'bad' characters, but something much more psychologically complicated". Shy, dysfunctional, resentful Simon and his cocksure mirror image James are, says Eisenberg, "not so much different people as different manifestations of the same psyche. So for me it was about coming up with different gestures and voices to convey the visceral experience of each character. Once I figured out the emotional tone of Simon, James came more quickly. Simon isn't traditionally hapless and well-meaning, he's emotionally fraught and inept; and James isn't evil and malicious, he's charming and capable. Simon's emotional response is histrionic, so he lives in a dystopian world. James lives in the same world, but for him it's utopian".
An actor who lives his parts vividly, Eisenberg noted his own variable feelings embodying each character. "If my day ended with playing Simon, I would go home miserable", he recalls. "It was a relief to play James, because Simon was so self-hating and miserable. I definitely took on their traits. I was full of ideas playing James, but playing Simon, I was so shut down; and I would want to do the scene over and over again."
An additional trauma for Eisenberg, who never sees his own films, was having to watch parts of his own performance in order to piece together scenes in which both characters appeared. Despite his Richard Ayoade fandom, he says this is as close as he will come to watching The Double. "I was in a Woody Allen movie [To Rome With Love]", he points out, "and it's the only one out of his forty-plus movies that I'll never see!" Experience doesn't help with his aversion to seeing himself on screen ("it becomes worse") and nor is it assuaged by acclaim or awards ("I just think I'm being tricked").
Richard Ayoade is happy to be among the tricksters. "He was great", the director says of Eisenberg, "and just sort of perfect - there was no-one else we offered it to. There aren't many actors who could play both parts and have that precision. He's technically brilliant, but also spontaneous and instinctive - great actors can do both". And great stories, Ayoade believes, can easily support the co-existence of humour and melancholy. "I'm not sure there's such a strong division between what's uncomfortable and what's funny", he says. "The novella is about someone who's going mad, but at the same time it's funny; it's pompous; it's silly. A lot of things I like have that tone".
Producer Robin C Fox says Ayoade is "incredibly good at referencing" and sure enough the director name checks a vast number of film texts that helped to inspire The Double's extraordinary visual and emotional tone, among them Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, David Lynch's Eraserhead (both of which he describes as "very funny), Orson Welles' The Trial and Federico Fellini's Toby Dammit. He further notes a sense of Scandanavian kinship (he is half-Norwegian) with the melancholy, deadpan-comic worlds created by Sweden's Roy Andersson and Finland's Aki Kaurismaki. Within British cinema, he notes, The Double has fewer clear antecedents. "There are so few British films that aren't in a realist tradition. British films have tended to be more about social problems than existential ones. The best ones are parochial, specific - and made on low budgets. Fantasy has sets that require building!"
The Double's environments are cramped, intense evocations of Simon's inner reality, rather than the elaborate stuff of the sci-fi spectacular; but the film's physical world was nonetheless a challenge to construct. "To not locate things geographically or temporally", Ayoade says, "is infuriatingly difficult. We spent five months just on the sound. For most films, it's a simple process of recording things with fidelity to the realistic. For this, it was the opposite: everything had to happen in a not-real space".
Cinematographer Erik Wilson, who previously worked on Submarine, also had to shelve concerns about naturalism. "Submarine was all natural light, but this was lit so differently", explains Ayoade. "It just shows you how good Erik is". Direction, too, had to be "more controlled", because of the use of special effects and motion capture.
Ayoade's air of mild bafflement about what he's made extends to the willing participation of his varied and eminent supporting cast, the international mix includes British veteran James Fox and Hollywood stars Cathy Moriarty and Wallace Shawn. "It seemed unbelievable they might do it", Ayoade marvels. "I don't really understand it myself. London is attractive to Americans..." Submarine provided Ayoade with almost a complete set of returning case members - Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor have substantial roles in The Double, while Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine all appear in cameos - but, he claims, not much ballast. "It's surprising how little you learn!" Perhaps channelling his inner Simon just a little - or relying on his very British realism - he notes that "You never feel like you're doing it right. You're just slowly trying to work it out".
Simon / James - Jesse Eisenberg is a playwright and actor, currently starring alongside Vanessa Redgrave in his play, "The Revisionist". Last year, he wrote and starred in the play "Asuncion" at the Cherry Lane Theatre, for which he was nominated for a Drama League Award.
Films include The Social Network for which he received an Academy Award nomination, Zombieland, Adventureland for which he received a BAFTA nomination, The Squid and the Whale for which he received and Independent Spirit Nomination and Roger Dodger. Recent films include Now You See Me, The Double and Night Moves.
He is a frequent contributor to McSweeney's, where he writes the column Bream Gives Me Hiccups and his humour essays have appeared in The New York Times, Harper's and The New Yorker.
Hannah - Mia Wasikowska. In a short time Mia Wasikowska has established herself as a rising star of the big screen. A trained ballerina turned actress, Wasikowska has been challenging herself as a performer since the age of 9. She made her debut in the US in Rodrigo Garcia's HBO series In Treatment which received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Drama Series in 2009.
In 2009, Wasikowska starred in Edward Zwick's Defiance alongside Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber and Jamie Bell and in Mira Nair's Amelia starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere. Wasikowska also appeared in Scott Teems' independent picture That Evening Sun which earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. In 2010 she played Alice in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland co-starring Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Michael Sheen and Alan Rickman. She also co-starred in Lisa Cholodenko's Academy Award nominated film The Kids Are All Right.
In 2011, Wasikowska secured the lead role in Cary Fukunaga's critically acclaimed film Jane Eyre, sharing the screen with Michael Fassbender and also appeared in Gus Van Sant's film Restless which made the official selection of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. In 2012, Wasikowska starred in the Weinstein feature, Lawless alongside Shea LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain and appeared in Chan-wook Park's Stoker. In 2013 Wasikowska will star opposite Jesse Eisenberg in Richard Ayoade's The Double and she will also make her directorial debut an adaptation of Tim Winton's best-selling short story collection The Turning.
Mr Papadopoulos - Wallace Shawn is an actor and playwright and has appeared in over 50 films. His playwriting credits include Aunt Dan and Lemon, The Fever, Grasses of a Thousand Colors and The Designated Mourner.
Acting credits include: Film: Woody Allen's Manhattan, Radio Days, Shadows and Fog, Melinda & Melinda, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Also,Vanya on 42nd Street, My Dinner With André, Clueless, Admission, A Late Quartet, The Princess Bride, The Bostonians, Personal Velocity, The Haunted Mansion, My Favorite Martian, The Hotel New Hampshire. Shawn voiced the character of 'Rex' in the Toy Story animated feature films. Television: Gossip Girl, The Good Wife, Eureka, The L Word, Murphy Brown, The Cosby Show and Taxi. Special appearances on Clueless, Civil Wars, Crossing Jordan, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and PBS's How To Be a Perfect Person in Three Days.
Melanie - Yasmin Paige. Yasmin is well known for her role as Jordana in Submarine; she won critical acclaim for her performance and was nominated for a number of awards. Other film roles include Tooth for (which she won the Best Actress Award at The Annual Children's Entertainment Awards 2004), Wondrous Oblivion, True True Lie and I Could Never Be Your Woman. She is known to TV audiences for the BBC series Pramface (series 3 is shooting at the moment).
As a child Yasmin was well known for her role as Maria in The Sarah Jane Adventures and as Michaela in Secret Life which gained her a nomination at the Monte Carlo Television Festival 2008. Yasmin was chosen by Screen International as one of their 2010 'Stars of Tomorrow'.
Harris - Noah Taylor is one of Australia's most accomplished film actors and has worked with some of the world's finest directors and actors. His credits include The Year my Voice Broke, Flirting (both directed by John Duigan), Nostradamus Kid (director Bob Ellis), Almost Famous (director Cameron Crowe), Tomb Raider, Shine, Max, The Life Aquatic (director Wes Anderson), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (director Tim Burton), New World (director Terrence Malick) and Lecture 21 (director Alessandro Baricco). Other feature credits include Submarine, Red Dog and Red, White and Blue.
Noah was most recently seen in Game of Thrones playing the nasty Locke. He will soon be seen in Mindscape. Noah has been nominated for many awards and is a four-time winner of the Film Critic's Circle of Australia Best Actor Award. Noah is very active musically, both on his own and in numerous collaborations. He also regularly paints and enjoys drawing.
The Colonel - James Fox's extensive film career includes: A Long Way from Home, EFFIE, W.E, Clean Skin, The Kid, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Mystic Masseur, Up at the Villa, Sexy Beast, Mickey Blue Eyes, Anna Karenina, Remains of the Day, Patriot Games, The Russia House, Absolute Beginners, A Passage to India, Greystoke, Performance, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner.
Television credits include: Unknown Heart, 1864, The Great Train Robbery - A Coppers Tale, Utopia, Merlin, Law & Order, Midsummer Murders, Red Riding, Margaret, Lewis, New Tricks, Harley Street, Waking The Dead, Freezing, Absolute Power, Miss Marple, Colditz, Poirot, Trial and Retribution, The Lost World, Private View, The Old Curiosity Shop, Guillvers Travels and many, many more.
Kiki - Cathy Moriarty's first film credit was Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull in 1980; she played Vikki LaMotta, the wife of Robert De Niro's lead character. Her performance earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
In the 1980's she starred in the cult movie Neighbors and had a huge number of supporting roles in films including Kindergarten Cop and Soapdish. In the 1990's roles included an appearance as the villain Carrigan Crittenden in film Casper and as Rose Donlan, wife of Harvey Keitel's corrupt cop in 1997's Cop Land. Moriarty reunited with De Niro for 2002's Analyze That, in which she played female Mafia boss Patti LoPresti.
Recent work includes Sebastien with Eric Roberts, Rob the Mob with Andy Garcia and Michael Pitt and a number of appearances in 'Law and Order'.