One of the more impressive screen debuts of last year came from 21-year-old Welsh actor Craig Roberts. A British children’s TV veteran (he was the star of “The Story Of Tracy Beaker” and “Young Dracula” among others), Roberts broke out as the pretentious, deluded hero of Richard Ayoade‘s charming “Submarine,” coming across as equal parts Dustin Hoffman, Bud Cort and John Gordon Sinclair (from “Gregory’s Girl“), and it seemed to mark the birth of a star.
Indeed, Roberts has found himself in demand since the film debuted at Toronto back in 2010, with new films on the way including Sundance entries “Red Lights” with Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy and Elizabeth Olsen, and teen rom-com “The First Time,” and he went back to his home turf to make the heist comedy “Comes A Bright Day,” from first-time director Simon Aboud, where Roberts plays a man taken hostage during a bank robbery, who falls for a fellow captive (Imogen Poots). The film also stars Timothy Spall and Kevin McKidd, and premiered at the Berlin Film Festival last week, where we caught up with Roberts to talk about projects past, present and future.
What did you think of the reception the film got last night?
Really good. It did get a really good response. I mean the first time I saw the movie was at a cast and crew screening which I will never do again. It’s a pretty weird experience. But seeing it last night with a live audience was pretty cool. I’m really happy with it and I think Simon [Aboud, the director] should be proud, it’s a really good movie and they seemed to really like it. We didn’t die a death on stage in the Q&A so that’s good.
So how comfortable are you watching yourself on screen?
I hate watching myself. I hate most people and most actors, I hate myself even more.
You’re an equal opportunity hater?
I do like some actors, but I don’t like watching myself at all, I didn’t watch the whole movie last night. I just came for the last ten minutes, there was enough laughs in that last ten minutes to boost my ego so that was fine. But yeah, I don’t think you should like watching yourself.
So your two most recent leads have been with first time directors. I’m wondering is there something that you respond to in their lack of experience? Are you like the old hand on set?
What’s really great is if you do their first movie, they’ll stick with you. Especially with “Submarine,” because that was my first movie, I didn’t really know what to do. I really just took Richard’s advice a lot of the time. And coming into “Comes A Bright Day,” I felt comfortable on set.
Do you notice a marked difference in the atmosphere on set? Do you feel that they allow you more freedom?
I suppose. But it all comes down to how much time you have. I did a film called “Red Lights” which was directed by Rodrigo Cortes [“Buried“], who wasn’t a first time director, and that was the first time I worked with…no, actually, “Jane Eyre” as well, with Cary Fukunaga. But especially with Rodrigo, he was a little bit more intense. but I quite like that. Compared to Richard [Ayoade] who was very laid back. You’d probably never hear Richard raise his voice, ever.
So has your life changed in particular since “Submarine?”
Yeah, yeah. pretty much I mean I don’t play as much X-Box which is the most depressing thing for me.
So this acting career thing is totally getting in the way of your gaming?
Big time. I’m from a kids TV background, and not a lot of people make that jump, so I’m very grateful for “Submarine” and for that to be my first movie and to play such a cool character, such a cool guy.
While also being a complete dork.
Yeah, exactly. But yeah, my life has changed. Like I get free clothes and stuff. Like Giorgio Armani gave me clothes to come to the festival.
Do you get to keep those?
I don’t know. I think if I stain them, probably so. It’s just mad, and I now get to look at scripts, and I now have the chance to choose what I do
Have you got something lined up?
Yeah I have quite a lot lined up this year, which is probably going to be a busy year for me. There’s a few things in America and a few things in the UK. I’m also writing a TV show.
Are you? That’s exciting.
Yeah it’s about the fall of an actor’s career. I’m just planning my own career basically.
The U.S./U.K. thing was something I wanted to ask you about. How different do you find it acting in U.S. productions. Is it just a factor of money?
It is a factor of money and like food. They have a lot of food, Americans, on set. That craft table thing, that’s pretty incredible. We just have tea and coffee. That’s pretty cool. I didn’t know how the Americans would sort of react to me when I went over there. I’m very self deprecating , and I’m not “I’m great, you should employ me,” so it was a bit weird, but I think they sort of got it and I want to work over there. I’ve got some work over there.
“Red Lights” was your first U.S. gig?
I think it was “Red Lights” and then “The First Time.”
Are you playing an American?
In “Red Lights” I am, in “The First Time,” no I’m not. I really liked “The First Time,” I saw it when I was in America recently and I’m pretty happy with it, it’s pretty funny. [Director] Jon Kasdan, he’s great, he’s really great. He needs to sleep though, he doesn’t sleep much.
So on “Red Lights” specifically, that’s a pretty stellar cast you were working with, was that intimidating at all?
Oh no, no. De Niro? Please. No, yes, it was, actually and the most surprising one for me was Elizabeth Olsen, she’s really good, she’s incredible.
Have you seen “Martha Marcy May Marlene”?
Yeah I did, she’s really good in that. I think she’s going to have a big career. But I made really good friends with Cillian [Murphy] on it, I think we’re going to do another movie together, a World War II movie. I mean I can never take anything seriously so it will probably be like “Tropic Thunder.”
That in itself would be fantastic. So a war film with Cillian Murphy?
Yeah I think that may go this year which will be pretty cool. It was supposed to go last year, in summertime, but it went through with funding, you know how independent movies are, so it’s going this year.
Has the film got a title?
“Wayfaring Strangers.” And I’ve got some stuff coming out with, you know Funny or Die? The TV show I’m writing, they liked the stuff, so that should come out pretty soon.
And you’re doing something with Derick Martini?
Yeah, the director of “Lymelife.” It’s called “I Am My Family’s Secret.” It’s an American thing, and I think it’s at Paramount right now which is pretty cool. I don’t know what’s happening with it but I think it may go this year. That’s with Emma Roberts.
Can you tell us about your character?
Yeah it’s about two brothers. The guy’s about to leave for university and his parents tell him something interesting and basically it changes his life. It’s about two brothers who are pretty much on opposite scales.
Now that you’ve acted in things with Elizabeth Olsen for example, do you feel that you’re a part of the vanguard of this new generation?
I suppose, there’s a new wave of a sort. Like I am good friends with John Boyega [“Attack the Block“], for example. But then again, these lists of like 20 faces to watch, what do they mean? I’m a face to watch until I’ve done something bad, and then you no longer want to watch my face.
Pretty much, we’re all waiting for you to slip up. So tell me what was the challenge for you in this role?
Mainly the studio, being in such a tight space, that was quite intense. Especially because I had to sit on my arse for a long time with my hands tied up. I know it’s weird to say but I genuinely enjoyed it. There wasn’t a point where I was like “Fuck, this is really hard.” I really enjoyed it. Simon was a great director, Imogen [Poots] and Timothy [Spall] and Anthony Welsh plays my best friend in it and is fantastic, Kevin McKidd, the cast is a great cast.
I think I was looking for similarities between the character that you played here, and Oliver Tate from “Submarine”. I think what I came to was that you seem to be drawn to characters who…
Mumble a lot?
Ha, yes. They seem to have this need to represent themselves as something other then they are. And I’m wondering if that’s a desire…as an actor who does that for a living, is that something that you sympathize with?
I’m just playing myself mainly. I just mumble a lot anyway. And misrepresent myself. In a way yes, I just thought that this character was a lot cooler in a way, on the outside, but he’s still very much insecure, not up for taking chances. But they’re different, I mean, no one’s in Oliver’s world, I mean he’s in a world of his own.
A world of Richard Ayoade’s own? Yes, exactly. Richard is Oliver.
“Comes A Bright Day,” “Red Lights” and “The First Time” will all be released later in 2012.