The child star turned screen sensation on stepping behind the camera.
Chances are you’re familiar with Craig Roberts on your screen. Landing his first role when he was 10 years old – in the 2000 drama Care – he subsequently became every tween girl’s number one crush as Rio on The Story of Tracy Beaker, before landing the role as the unlucky-in-love Oliver Tate in Richard Ayoade’s 2010 big screen comedy Submarine; based on the novel by Joe Dunthorpe, it would quickly catapult him into the spotlight.
Much like the latter character, when I meet Roberts he’s filled with the same dry humour and self-deprecating jokes that made his Tate such a lovable underdog. I ask him if it’s been his favourite role so far and he agrees, before clarifying that it only narrowly beats “voiceover stuff, you know, things you can’t see my face in.”
Roberts has gone on to appear in numerous cinematic smashes since Submarine, as well as excelling in the TV world; currently getting ready to reprise his role as the lead character in the third season of Amazon’s web series Red Oaks (available to watch now), elsewhere he is gearing up for his second stint behind the camera with the release of new film, Eternal Beauty, which he both wrote and directed.
Eager to find out more, we sat down to chat directorial influences, why Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper around, and whether or not Mother! is just a load of pretentious bullshit (because it’s what we’re all wondering, right?).
Jumper SAINT LAURENT,trousers STELLA MCCARTNEY
How did you first get into acting?
By luck. My parents were worried I was playing too many video games, so they put me in this stagecoach thing where it was an hour of singing, dancing and acting and I had a sick note for both singing and dancing. And then I followed a girl to an audition – not with any vicious intent – and I got the part and it kind of just snowballed into something I couldn’t remove myself from. I didn’t think I would do it, I’m not one of these people like “oh yeah, from one I knew what I wanted to be [an actor].” I had no idea, I still don’t. So it was very much luck, and it just came from my parents’ worry pretty much.
Was there ever a moment when you were like “oh, I’m actually really good at this”?
Not to this day, not to this day. It’s hard to look at something and think it’s good. So no, not at this point.
Even after the critical acclaim Submarine received? Do you not look back and think it was really good?
I look back on it and think Richard [Ayoade] was really good. And Alex Turner’s really good. It was a big part of my life and it helped me get work, I suppose, and I learnt a lot from Richard.
How did it all come about?
I hadn’t acted for a while and I started rapping. Yeah, I started rapping and was not acting and then there was an audition for Submarine and my old agent was like “you could be right for this.” So I auditioned and then nothing happened for like three months. Then I got a recall to go in with Richard and improvise, and he’s a very funny guy so it’s hard to not be in any kind of way funny next to him, so that luckily went my way. And then it happened. It was very strange, very quick. Yeah, he sent me a bunch of DVDs to study for the film and it was very good. I had no idea what it was going to be like, because it was shot on film so we didn’t really see any of it at any point. It was only until Toronto where he premiered it, that was the first time that I saw it. I didn’t know that Alex Turner was doing the soundtrack so I was just like “oh wow”.
And that led to huge, blockbuster type films – like 21 Jump Street and Bad Neighbours – opposite names including Zac Efron and Channing Tatum. What’s it like performing alongside these Hollywood megastars?
I think it makes me look like I’ve won a competition, it just looks slightly silly I think. It’s good, I mean you learn a lot from it. You learn that America has too much money when it comes to doing stuff, compared to us – we have so little and they have so much. And yeah, you do learn a lot. It’s different. It’s a different etiquette I suppose for set, the humour’s different – I prefer our humour as opposed to theirs – but they’re both good in their way.
T-shirt WALES BONNER, trousers STELLA MCCARTNEY
And when did you realise you wanted to have a go at directing?
I think it was when I was doing interviews and people kept asking me who I looked up to and I wasn’t really saying actors, I realised I was saying directors or auteurs, like [David] Lynch, people who were doing stuff that they just believed in and following ideas and the root of the idea. I think that was it. And I had a big Criterion Collection, I’m obsessed with collecting DVDs, and I kind of wanted to not be a writer/director [but] just to kind of tell stories and give that a go. And the first time I did it, I had to act in it, just to get the small amount of money that we had for it. So that was a nightmare. It just makes you look like you have the ego of Kanye West when you do everything. It’s like you direct it, and then you’re like “who do I employ as an actor? Oh, myself! He’s very good.” It just seems very weird, but I had to for that job just to get the money for it. So, yeah, I think also there’s a lot of bad movies, like there’s a lot of bad movies that get released, and I don’t know why they’re bad. I mean, I don’t think anyone sets off with the intention to make a bad movie. I don’t think they go “oh, this is gonna be really bad, I can’t wait” but I don’t know why. I think people maybe don’t put enough energy or time into it. Like some people do.
Your second film Eternal Beauty is about to come out. Am I right in saying you wrote that as well?
Yeah I did, yeah. I wrote it like three years ago and I’m still writing it. It was finished three years ago but now it just keeps evolving. It’s been pushed back for so many reasons and a big reason is because we’re shooting it on film and not digital, I really want to try and do that hopefully. I weirdly can’t say too much about it.
What can you tell me about it without giving too much away?
Nothing really [laughs]. I wish I had an anecdote to fill the gap. But it’s basically about a lady who creates her own reality. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind-esque, a psychological drama with comedy… Which doesn’t sound right.
And who are your influences in terms of your directing style?
I suppose influences in the respect of people who have followed what they wanted to do. I think work will always probably come out and be compared to something no matter who you say you’re inspired by, people for some reason can’t let something be itself it has to be related to something else. But I think obvious people like Stanley Kubrick for just having so much confidence; I don’t understand how somebody like that can work on something for six years and not have a panic attack five years in and be like “have I wasted five years?” To know that something’s going to be that good, I don’t know how somebody does that. I’d like to know how confident he was during that whole process. David Lynch is obviously somebody that should be applauded because to do what he does is amazing. In a world where everyone wants everything so quickly and so much information, he gives you nothing and you have to make it up yourself. I think that’s really good. He gives you everything and anything and also nothing at the same time.
(LEFT & RIGHT) Jumper ARIES, trousers STELLA MCCARTNEY, shoes CRAIG’S OWN
(CENTRE) Coat DANIEL w. FLETCHER, T-shirt WALES BONNER, trousers STELLA MCCARTNEY
You’re also in the new series of Red Oaks. Can you tell me a bit about your role this season?
Sure! Well it was set in the country club for two seasons, so the title of Red Oaks kind of doesn’t make sense anymore because we’re in New York. Yeah, it’s kind of still in the country club but my character’s now moved to the city to become a filmmaker. So he lives with his best friend and works at this commercial company which do music videos for MTV. So yeah, he’s trying to work his way up and good luck to him.
Do you find you prefer TV or film?
I think there should be a line between both. TV is big now, very big, and I think film should always be bigger than TV, so if it’s not, film is not being as good as it probably should be. Obviously with platforms it’s all become blurred, but I still think there should be a line between going to the pictures and watching TV. But it’s so hard, because everyone just wants to sit down and binge stuff. Also platforms like Netflix and Amazon have opened people’s eyes to small independent movies that you couldn’t see at the cinema so I think that’s also good. In terms of preference, there’s good examples like The Sopranos where you can really develop something for a long period of time and that works. Then there’s also the privilege to escape into a movie for 90 minutes and that be it and it leaves you wanting more. I don’t know what is better, what do you think is better?
Well I got really into just watching films on the computer when I was at uni, but now I’m more inclined to want to go to the cinema and see something how it’s supposed to be.
Yeah. Have you seen Mother!?
No, have you?
Yeah, it’s really good.
I’ve heard mixed opinions. I saw this review saying it was pretentious bullshit.
Well whoever wrote that is a fucking idiot. It’s really good. It’s definitely gonna split people because I suppose it can be pretentious and in a way it’s kind of like a student film because it doesn’t explain anything and it’s experimental. But yeah, it’s really interesting. The fact that [Darren Aronofsky] got boos and cheers at the same time at the premiere, that’s amazing. That’s really cool I think. I wasn’t around when Kubrick released his movies, but I reckon that’s the kind of reaction Kubrick would’ve got. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in it, she’s phenomenal. It’s like 60% close-ups of her and then there’s three shots: the close-ups of her, her POV and over her shoulder. Darren Aronofsky is amazing, he’s a great filmmaker. I don’t know if I loved the film, I’m still kind of processing it.
My friend said the exact same thing. Her and her friend just didn’t talk for like 10 minutes after watching it.
Yeah, I stupidly took my mother to Mother! and she was distraught. It goes so far to the point where you’re like “I can’t believe you’ve done that”.
Yeah, I read the baby spoiler.
It’s pretty fucked up.
Back to your own directing, you’ve done music videos as well. Is there any artist you’d really like to shoot?
Eminem probably. Because he’s lost his way and he needs to do something good again I feel.
Yeah, I saw him at Reading and it was weird.
It was very strange. I felt like the audience didn’t know who he was. It was such a young crowd Eminem felt like a dad. Well he is a dad. But you know, when he’s saying he’s gonna cut somebody up it just doesn’t sit right when he has a daughter. I think he needs to lighten up a bit, crack a joke like he used to. But band-wise, probably Last Shadow Puppets.
Couldn’t you give Alex a call?
He probably wouldn’t answer! But yeah, I like Shadow Puppets a lot. Second album’s great. I don’t know who else. I don’t really listen to music anymore. I listen to mostly rap and rap is terrible apart from Kendrick Lamar.
I mean, it’s just once Kendrick Lamar releases stuff he makes everyone else look like they’re not really putting any effort in. He’s so good. He’s a freak. He’s very, very good. So smart. He seems to be the only one that wants to tell a story. Everyone else is in the club drinking stuff.
True. And finally, your first acting role was 16 years ago. If you had any advice for your younger self, what would it be?
Um… Don’t do it? No, I’m joking. Probably to be careful with advice. My advice would be to be careful with advice. Because if you constantly listen to advice, it’s not you doing it. If you’re taking other peoples opinions in what they would do then you’re not discovering stuff for yourself or its not your path, I suppose. And probably to explore ideas, don’t shut yourself off to ideas, because they’re the most important thing in the world.