At the world premiere of “The Double,” British director Richard Ayoade’s second film, Toronto International Film Festival Artistic Director Cameron Bailey called Ayoade “one of the sharpest wits” in filmmaking, and the audience reacted with unbridled glee. New directors are rarely so well known, but Ayoade is also a comedic actor—most notably as “Moss” in the TV series “The IT Crowd”—who made his directorial debut three years ago at Toronto with the cult favorite (and critically admired) “Submarine,” a coming-of-age tale about an eccentric outsider.
In “The Double,” Ayoade and co-screenwriter Avi Korine have adapted Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s unsettling novella of the same name. Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) plays Simon James, a quiet and dedicated serf toiling away in a nameless, placeless, cubicle-filled bureaucracy. Constantly unrecognized, both literally (the security guard makes him sign in every day, though he’s worked there for seven years) and professionally, Simon silently pines for the office copy girl, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), on whom he also spies through a telescope each night. When Simon’s lonely world is rocked by the charismatic and opportunistic James Simon (who looks identical to Simon in every way, a fact that goes inexplicably unnoticed), Simon must define his own identity and prove his very existence.
Ayoade is an exhilarating young filmmaker, and his distinctive outlook and sharp humor shine through in the worlds he creates. “The Double” was well received at Toronto (read our near-glowing review), where we talked to him about the challenges of adapting classics, his eye for casting, and setting the right tone.