ABOVE: CRAIG ROBERTS IN COMES A BRIGHT DAY. PHOTO COURTESY OF SIMON ABOUD
In 2010’s Submarine, Craig Roberts plays a teenage misfit in a small Welsh town struggling to protect his parents’ marriage, get a girlfriend and, of course, lose his virginity. The film, and Roberts’ character in particular, is rather reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, but please don’t let that description put you off!
Submarine is a lovely film—so much so that it has propelled Roberts from guest parts in children’s television to a role in the much-anticipated Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver film, Red Lights. That is not all Robert has scheduled for 2012; he also stars in writer-director Simon Aboud’s first film, Comes a Bright Day, premiering at the Berlin Film festival, and appears in The First Time with fellow children’s television graduate, Victoria Justice. We recently spoke to Roberts via telephone regarding his career Post-Submarine, what it means to be a “rising star,” and Cillian Murphy’s “crazy” eyes.
EMMA BROWN: I’ve just seen Submarine; I’m a bit behind the times. It’s great, congratulations!
CRAIG ROBERTS: Oh, thank you so much. I’m glad you liked it.
BROWN: Is that what every interviewer opens with?
ROBERTS: Usually, yeah, but it’s the only great thing that I’ve done, so that’s the only thing they can say. The rest is pretty . . . so that’s usually a good way to start it.
BROWN: Submarine was you’re first feature film.
ROBERTS: Yeah, it was. I’d done kids’ TV in the UK, but not great kids’ TV. So yes, Submarine was the first film and the first good thing that I have done.
BROWN: Did you always know that you wanted to be an actor?
ROBERTS: No, no. I wanted to be a [soccer] player, because they earn so much money over here, ridiculous amounts of money. It seemed like a good career choice. I was very bad at [soccer], I realized when I was about eight, so I went to this improvisation class and started acting. I did guest spots on UK shows, but it wasn’t until Submarine and learning to act on that film, which I believe I did, [that] I realized how much I loved it and was like, “This is what I want to do.” With kid’s TV, it’s just so over the top. Do you have Nickelodeon over there [in the US]? [I was on] our version of Nickelodeon, it’s not real at all. I did a lot of that and [director] Richard [Ayoade] just stripped it all away, “Say the lines, but don’t say them. Throw them away.” He sent me a few movies, The Graduate, Rushmore, Squid and the Whale, and I fell in love with that sort of acting. It’s brilliant; it’s all through the eyes. You don’t really have to say anything, which is how we are in real life; we aren’t like people on Nickelodeon. I realized that what I was doing before was not acting. I have no idea [what it was].
BROWN: How did Submarine change things for you?
ROBERTS: It changed quite a lot. I’ve done four other films since Submarine, so that’s quite cool. It’s just good to have people respect your work; I’ve never had that before. Yeah, my life has changed crazy, I’m a kid from a small town in south Wales, I play my Xbox usually and all that sort of stuff, and it’s a whole new world.
BROWN: Submarine begins with a little message to the audience from your character about Wales. Do you have to explain where you are from when you are working internationally, or are people aware of Wales?
ROBERTS: I have to explain quite a lot. Do you know where Wales is? Do you know about Wales?
BROWN: Yes, I’ve been there.
ROBERTS: You’ve been there? Cool!
BROWN: How do you explain it them?
ROBERTS: It’s a small place, quiet, pretty boring, a lot of fields… that’s the way to sum it up.BROWN: Did you identify with your character in Submarine, Oliver Tate?
ROBERTS: Yeah, definitely. I’m very much like him. I lock myself away in my room a lot of the time. But I think that the director, Richard Ayoade identified more with the character. That guy is Olivier, it’s so funny. He obviously knew what he wanted before the movie.
BROWN: Do you get offered a lot of Oliver-type roles now—quirky, coming-of-age roles?
ROBERTS: Not really, there’s been a few. But I think it’s good to do stuff that’s different, although I do love that sort of comedy, the dry deadpan. I don’t want to have a career of doing the same thing over and over again because it’s going to come to a point where [people will be] like, “Okay, he can only do that one thing.” I’m not going to do anything close to Submarine for a while.
BROWN: Well you seem to be succeeding. Can you tell me about your new film Red Lights?
ROBERTS: I was so surprised when I got that part, if I’m honest. It’s such a great cast, and the director [Rodrigo Cortes] is such a great guy. It’s basically about paranormal activity, I play a university student called Ben who’s studying it and Cillian Murphy is trying to work something out, and I become his assistant to help him out. It’s quite complicated, but I had such a great time. I went to Barcelona for a few weeks and got to work with Cillian and I had a few scenes with Sigourney Weaver. It was amazing, absolutely amazing. And I have a really good friendship with Cillian from it, so that’s awesome for me.
BROWN: Was Cillian intimidating to meet?
ROBERTS: Yeah, the guy’s eyes are crazy! He could be an angel or demon; he’s such an interesting lad. But I’m such a big fan of him, working with him was pretty nerve-wracking at first, I was pretty nervous, but he was a really cool guy, down-to-earth, very chilled out. I’m supposed to be doing another movie with him next year, a World War II movie.
BROWN: How did shooting Red Lights compare with your previous indie film experience?
ROBERTS: Rodrigo Cortes is a lot more… not intense, but more to-the-point with shots. It was going into a movie that I knew Robert De Niro was going to be in. I still had confidence from having done Submarine; if I hadn’t done Submarine I think it would have been a lot more nerve-wracking. It was a lot more intense on set. Submarine was very chilled out, Richard was very calm.
BROWN: I also wanted to ask you about Comes a Bright Day.
ROBERTS: It’s basically about a kid from London who’s very insecure, doesn’t take any chances. He meets this girl at a coffee shop and she works at a jewelry store and is like, “You should come in some time.” He finally works up the courage to go in, and when he does go into the jewelry store to see her guys burst in and try to rob the place, so it becomes a heist movie. For me, it’s my follow-up to Submarine, because I’m the lead and it’s such a beautiful script, it’s written and directed by Simon Aboud.
BROWN: Yeah, I actually just met Simon a few days ago. He’s lovely.
ROBERTS: He’s such a nice guy, isn’t he!
BROWN: And Imogen Poots is in it.
ROBERTS: Imogen Poots, she’s so great. And so beautiful as well.
BROWN: You were both in Jane Eyre, but you didn’t have any scenes together. Did you know Imogen at all from Jane Eyre?
ROBERTS: No. I did, like, one day on Jane Eyre. I’m not even in Jane Eyre. [laughs] I didn’t know her during that. What was so weird was that, Sally Hawkins, who played my mum in Submarine, she also played my mum in Jane Eyre, but we didn’t know until I got there on the day. She was like, “What part are you playing?” “John Reid.” “Oh, I’m playing your mum.” “There you go, let’s carry this on and you can play my mum in every movie.”
BROWN: What are your upcoming projects apart from working with Cillian again?
ROBERTS: I am writing a TV show over in the UK, I’m also writing a feature with a guy called Phil John, which is in the early stages. I have quite a few projects lined up for next year, which I’m really excited about, a few things in America. I think I’m going to be busy next year, which is good because I hate lazing about. Not very good with doing nothing.
BROWN: Have you ever written anything before?
ROBERTS: No, but I like improvising, so it’s a form of writing. The TV show is basically about the fall of an actor’s career.
BROWN: You’ve worked with a lot of writer-directors, did you ask them for advice?
ROBERTS: Yeah, I’ve asked for tips and stuff and they‘ve said “Never be happy with the draft, always look for where you can improve it.” It’s completely true. I wrote a first draft of the TV show and was like, “Oh, that’s fine.” Then I went back to it two weeks later and it was the worst and had to be redone.
BROWN: You’ve been in a lot of “20 under 20” and “rising star” lists over the past year.
ROBERTS: Yeah, what do they even mean? I don’t know what they mean. It’s pretty cool, but it’s cool until I do a bad movie and then I’m out the list. It’s cool some of the names I’m thrown in with, I’m a fan of a lot of upcoming actors, but I don’t really pay much attention to them because you’re only on that list ‘til you do a bad movie or make a wrong choice.
RED LIGHTS PREMIERES THIS FRIDAY AT SUNDANCE.