Craig Roberts: ‘I wanna get Welsh cinema out there as much as possible’

Submarine star Craig Roberts has turned director at 24 with the ‘coming-of-age noir’ Just Jim. Here Roberts recalls channelling the influence of Scorsese, Kubrick and Punch-Drunk Love in small-town Wales.

Just Jim (2015)Dean Rogers

Until recently Craig Roberts was best known as the star of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine (2010). In that beguiling tale of a lovesick Swansea teen, Roberts cut a likeable lead and held his own in a film which included typically memorable performances from Paddy Considine and Sally Hawkins. Now Just Jim sees Roberts make his directorial debut with a delightfully odd black comedy, shot in his hometown of Maesycwmmer in south Wales. Roberts also wrote the script and appears as the eponymous Jim – a multi-tasking that would be impressive for a filmmaker of any age but is particularly enviable in a 24-year-old.

Roberts plays a friendless loser teen whose life is transformed when slick American bad boy Dean (Emile Hirsch) moves in next door and schools him in the art of being cool. In real-life, Roberts is several steps removed from Jim. Enthusiastic and funny, he’s full of admiration for his pal Ayoade, who lent him Alexander Mackendrick’s book On Film-making and got him into Eric Rohmer. He says: “For me, [Ayoade] and Jonathan Glazer are people that are driving cinema forward here, they’re definitely making stuff that sounds alone in the crowd.” Over lunchtime coffee in central London, Roberts talks about his new film and the cinema that makes him tick.

What was it like directing your first film?

It’s frightening but also very exciting at the same time. It felt bad that I was trusted with people’s money. I spent most of the time convincing myself that I could do it as well as other people. But it was cool, very cool. And now it’s out.

Just Jim (2015)Dean Rogers

Did you receive advice from crew members who have made films for many years?

It was a pretty young crew. I had two producers [Adrian Bate and Pip Broughton] who had been in the industry for a while. They were awesome. I’d worked with directors in the past that I had a conversation with beforehand. It’s like film knowledge, essentially. If you’ve seen enough films, you’re able to put a film together. It’s kind of my chance to make a film that I would like to see. I love British film and we have a very unique grammar to our movies but I feel, especially with low-budget British films, social realism seems to play a huge part, maybe a little bit too much. So I wanted to make a movie that was total escapism and cinematic and not bleak and miserable and set on a council estate.

Your characters all have interesting eccentricities. When you’re writing do you think there is a ‘Craig Roberts’ type of character that includes specific traits you want them to have?

I’m really fascinated with psychosis. I grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic in my family. My favourite movies are Taxi Driver (1976), which is all in Travis Bickle’s head, and The King of Comedy (1983), which plays a lot on mental health problems. I feel like a lot of characters in Just Jim either talk to themselves or believe people are in the walls because there’s this underlying schizophrenia. That’s why the movie goes into an acid trip, essentially because we’re in Jim’s psyche. It’s very schizophrenic in how it operates.

Is it all in Jim’s head? There’s ambiguity when you watch the film.

I hope so. It’s like the Stanley Kubrick/Steven Spielberg conversation. You go to a Spielberg movie to have everything tied up. He’ll give you the answer and you feel very good leaving a Spielberg movie. Whereas, with a Kubrick movie you come out questioning. I mean look at all his movies. His movies got slated when they came out. People hated them but they took on a life of their own and we all realised he was the fucking master, like a scientist almost.

Just Jim (2015)Dean Rogers

I wanted to go more into the realms of ambiguity. That first act runs along on purpose. I know how movies work; I should bring the American in after 15 minutes to keep people entertained, but we’ve had enough of those movies. So I wanted to be in Jim’s head and be depressed. Yeah, it’s fabricated with comedy, hopefully people will laugh.

He’s had a few legal troubles of late but how did the casting of Emile Hirsch happen?

He’s a phenomenal actor. We were casting a bunch of British people and we had a a very low budget and I was working with director David Gordon Green. He had worked with Emile on Prince Avalanche (2013) and he said: “Yeah, you should get Emile to do it.” [Then] we had a conversation about it. Essentially Dean symbolises what teenagers think is cool. That’s why he smokes so much. Also, he’s Satan in a way. And the Pied Piper. That’s why there are rats surrounding Jim. His peers at school are evil towards him or poisonous in some way.

You describe Just Jim as a ‘coming-of-age noir’. Did either of these genres influence the making of the film?

Punch-Drunk Love (2002) was a massive influence. That’s weirdly like a coming-of-age movie. This coming-of-age thing, it’s usually pinpointed as teenagers but nobody comes of age. There Will Be Blood (2007) is a coming-of-age movie because [Daniel Day-Lewis’s character is] getting to know more about himself and develop. A big influence was The Conformist (1970) by Bertolucci. We took a lot of lighting from that movie. There’s always loads of bars over the protagonist so it imprisons him in his environment. Ghost World (2001) I really liked. Most of the early Tom Courtenay: Billy Liar (1963) and The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner (1962) – hence all the cross country in it. And 400 Blows (1959), that’s a masterpiece.

Just Jim (2015)Dean Rogers

What was it like shooting in your hometown?

I wanna get Welsh cinema out there as much as possible because it’s such a unique place. I spent so much time wanting to get out of my hometown and then once I was out I wanted to go back. I realised it’s like a Roy Andersson film. It’s so stilted and everybody moves very slowly. It’s very offbeat. But also I felt so comfortable in my hometown. I could be in my comfort zone while also being out of it.

Have you got any plans to direct or write again in the near future?

I’ve just written my next film, which we’re just attaching cast on. It’s based on a true story about a paranoid schizophrenic. My aunty.

Another highly personal story, after you’ve just made a film in your hometown.

It makes sense to write about what you know, I one hundred per cent agree with that.


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