thedouble-posterSimon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a timid man, scratching out an isolated existence in an indifferent world. He is overlooked by his boss (Wallace Shawn), scorned by his mother (Phyllis Somerville), and ignored by the woman of his dreams (Mia Wasikowska). He feels powerless to change any of these things. The arrival of a new co-worker, James Simon (also Jesse Eisenberg), serves to upset the balance of his predicable life. James is Simon’s exact physical double but his opposite in every other way — confident, charismatic and good with women. To Simon’s horror, James slowly starts to take over his life.

Loosely based on Dostoyevsky’s existential novella by the same name, Richard Ayoade’s The Double features a dazzling dual performance by Jesse Eisenberg. With a screenplay by Ayoade (Submarine) and Avi Korine (Mister Lonely), The Double also stars James Fox, Noah Taylor, Cathy Moriarty and Sally Hawkins. I spoke to Richard Ayoade in Los Angeles.

Danny Miller: I was mesmerized by the amazing production design of this film. It’s very unique and yet I notice people keep comparing the movie to other films. I guess for me it evoked the dystopian world of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil which is one of my favorite movies.

Richard Ayoade talking about The DoubleRichard Ayoade: I’ve heard that. My thoughts were more along the lines of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. You know, there are no establishing shots in that film — it’s just focused on the characters. That’s how we wanted to approach this film. It’s kind of immersive. We never went “Here’s Gotham City,” you’re just kind of dropped into this world.

Was the film’s stark and unusual look something you started out with when you were writing the script?

I think initially we were going to have the story take place in some kind of big metropolis but then we got the idea to make this place feel very underpopulated and lonely. As Avi and I got into it, we thought it would be funny if no one even notices that Simon has a double even though there are only about ten people around. We thought a sparse approach would be more interesting than some kind of supercharged corporate world. I remember thinking of those Edward Hopper paintings where you never see a lot of people and nobody seems to care whether you’re there or not.

I’ve seen lots of interpretations of this film. Some people say that Simon and James are not actually two different people, just two sides of the same character.

I’m happy that people have different reactions to the film — as a filmmaker and writer, you never want there to be just one interpretation. I think when you start watching a movie, you often get an idea of how things are going to go but for me it’s way more exciting when it goes down a different path. I remember that Douglas Sirk quote that if you’ve made a film about one thing, you’ve made a bad film!

Double exlusive trailer

I think the characters of Simon and James tend to elicit visceral reactions. I definitely related more to Simon, but it’s not like he was “good” and James was “bad.”

No, not at all. We didn’t want to present Simon as a blameless character that suddenly has all these bad things happen to him. This is the kind of story where you don’t want any kind of simple moral resolution.

Jesse Eisenberg gives such a great performance. Is it true that he’s a bit phobic about seeing himself on the screen?

Yes, he never watches anything that he’s in. I can sympathize with that. He says that if he watches himself he’ll get so self-conscious that he won’t be able to go on. For this film, though, he had no choice — because he was playing against himself in certain scenes, he had to watch bits of his performance. I think that’s as close as he’ll ever get to seeing himself on the screen. To be honest, I never watch my own performances either. It’s like seeing yourself trapped in glass. All you can think is, “Oh my God, what is that idiot doing?”

Did you ever consider putting yourself in either of your films?

No, not so far. When I think about hiring actors, I can always think of about a thousand people better than me for any part! I really enjoy working with actors — why on earth would I ever cast myself?

You’ve now directed two very unique films. I’ve also noticed that people like to compare you to other filmmakers. I’ve recently heard you called “the next David Cronenberg” or “the next David Lynch.”

Oh, God, I’m pretty sure that I’m not the “next” either one of those guys, they’re pretty singular people! I just feel very lucky that I got to make these films. Believe me, after you make a movie, you never know if you’re going to get another shot!

The Double is currently in theaters and available On Demand and on iTunes.