“That awkward kid from Submarine!” Yup Craig Roberts was, or rather, still is that guy even after breaking out in that particular, dark comedy coming-of-age film. From there, we saw him starring in Being Human, Skins, and presently, Amazon original Red Oaks. Speaking to Craig opens several doors for me to pick his brain, namely, “Are you this weird in real life?” To relate to his characters while watching his movies, is like watching a car crash bound to happen. His awkwardness transcends the screen and into my bones. It’s that unsettling. However, as much as we would like to deny it, we can all relate to him. Heck, you could have been one of the most popular kids on the block, but at the end of the day, how well can you conceal your true nature from others, better yet, yourself?
Red Oaks is back for its second season. How do you feel about it?
Very, very good! It’s good to be back and the whole show has matured from season one. I feel very proud to be a part of it.
What appealed to you the most about Red Oaks? What made you want to be a part of it in the first place?
Firstly, getting a job as an actor is always good! The show has so many appealing qualities; the fact that it’s set in the '80s is pretty cool and I think we were one of the first '80s shows, before Stranger Things and stuff like that, so that’s definitely cool. The '80s seem to be a pretty big thing for TV now. That and the creators are so fantastic; the directors, the cast. Everything was just amazing. It’s just a really great job and so much fun to shoot.
You watched several '80s films to prepare yourself for the series. For someone who is unfamiliar, which is the best introductory film that you would recommend and why?
Ferris Bueller's Day Off is probably the best, because of the tone of John Hughes. He has a great tone when it comes to telling movies. It’s very accessible and light, but never patronizing to the audience. I think the show really embodies that and feels like the continuation of a John Hughes film. Or maybe Sixteen Candles… Any John Hughes film really. Or the later Rocky movies, they really inspired me, you know, when I walk down the street, going about everyday life or when I spend 24 hours a day in the gym.
That being said, what do you like and dislike about present films?
I dislike the fact that there is no innocence left within the audience. Not so much the films per say, but because as an audience, we’re now more critical of stuff. We can’t just let it be because that’s what the creators want to do. We always want to give our opinion on it. Not that that’s a bad thing. People should have opinions. But we are a lot more cynical when it comes to movies now. That’s why I think movies in the '80s are so great! Ferris Bueller was a badass, without really doing anything badass. Nowadays we need to blow things up or have impressive house parties, stuff like that. But also, the fact that movies are shot on digital now and stuff. I mean, this question leads to a big conversation. I like movies now. I do. And there is a new generation of filmmakers that are definitely stepping it up. After the De Palma, Scorsese, Spielberg era — they all did it so right, there is kind of nowhere to go after it. Everyone was trying to re-invent. But I don’t understand why we need to re-invent. If it’s good, why change it really? You don’t need to change anything, sometimes change is bad. Films work! But we have a new set, I mean, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tarantino and others carried that on and they are great, but I am excited to see who the new generation of those calibre of people are.
For Red Oaks Season 2, what can we expect from your character David? Especially since Skye made quite the proposition to David during the last season finale.
Season one seems to be a lot of David thinking about stuff. Season two is David actually doing the stuff; a coming of age I suppose, really fleshing out who he is as a human being. David and Skye are in a relationship now. And the series does a great job at showing how relationships, whether good or bad, you become bouncing boards for each other. You can form who you are as a person via another person. And that’s why relationships are good. So I think that’s what this season does and I think it’s done very well.
Since 2010, you have numerously credited Submarine as the one film that helped find your acting voice. So, as an actor today, where are you positioned at?
I ended up learning a lot from that movie but I have no idea where I’m positioned. I don’t find that really happens to me, it’s down to whoever casts me. I’m more focused on writing and directing now, not that I am abusing acting in any sort of way. I do love acting still. I think I know what sort of ilk of actor I am, I’m never going to save the world in any movie, and that’s great because I don’t want to. I suppose as an actor, I am just in a position of wanting to work.
Also, the public has taken a liking to seeing you as a coming-of-age actor. Are you looking to pull yourself out of that frame; perhaps to set a new light to your career path?
Unless I do a Benjamin Button, I don’t see how I can. I am stuck at this age for the time being, so I can probably only play those characters. Unless I kill Jack O’Connell or John Boyega, take one of them down. No, I am happy playing that part. I find I relate more to those characters. I don’t understand confident people and I am not the person to command a room, I am not that sort of person, I just don’t want to, I would rather just not go into the room. I am very comfortable being the guy that’s coming of age, and nobody really ever does come of age. Nobody is ever a fully rounded human being and looks back at their life and goes “Yeah, no worries, I had a good life”, especially relationship movies. I am sure everyone wished that life was like 10 Things I Hate About You but it’s not really. It just gets more complicated and you just try to figure out more details within the detail. So yes, definitely comfortable being the coming of age person until I get older I suppose.
In the past, you mentioned that David Gordon Green put the weird side in you. How is that and what kind of weird are we talking about?
He’s just a very strange director and I love him for it! He can kind of torture you and challenge you do stuff that you don’t really think you would be able to do. He can push you, and make you do a line 50 times and then he will probably get the reaction between the 49-50th take and in the moment you are just kind of confused as to why you are saying the line 40-50 times. It’s a good process. It works and it’s refreshing. He comes and does 1-2 episodes every season and it’s good for the energy of the piece.
Which do you enjoy more? Acting or directing, and why?
I like both. It would be terrible to say I didn’t like acting. That almost feels like cheating on somebody, because it’s of the moment. If you are in a relationship, and somebody seems more interesting, you may forget about the good things in your relationship, and zone into the exciting things of the moment, and you go with that and you probably make a mistake. Hopefully directing is not the mistake. Hopefully, I just have two relationships. Which is good. I love both, I really do love both. At the moment directing is something that I am really passionate about as I am enjoying writing. And I am only writing to direct really. But acting, it will always be the thing that makes me anxious, and I like being anxious, as it means I am not comfortable in what I am doing, which is good because then I am testing myself.
We’ve read that you enjoyed writing too. How did that habit begin?
I think from watching films. I think it was The Shining that influenced me to write a little bit because I was so in awe of the number of levels that the movie worked on. How many interpretations of it existed. How they could make a movie which on the surface seemed so simple but would live on forever and be like this crazy piece. And then I just really enjoyed writing. It feels good to write stuff down on a page, and it not be in your head, and not have to think about it all the time. Because writing is purely how you see the world, and your view on stuff. And that’s why it’s so hard when it’s not good. Purely to get stuff out of my head I suppose and to get stuff down. I have started watching loads of movies, and figure out the structure of movies and realizing if I fast-forwarded 12 to 18 minutes into a movie I could find the first plotline, and then if I went to page 45 or 60 of the script I could find the reversal of that plot point, I could see what was going to go wrong. Eventually it became a system of figuring out if a movie was going to be good or not without watching the whole thing. So, after that I started writing more, and developed a voice of some sort.
If given the opportunity to work with a director again, who would it be, for what reason and why?
Probably myself…. No, Richard Ayoade — for the simple reason that he is a genius.
Who do you look up to for inspirations?
Paul Thomas Anderson, I look up to him a lot. He is as close to Kubrick as it gets, pushing the boundaries. You go into a pitch and you go “I want to make a Paul Thomas Anderson Movie” and I don’t actually want to make a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, I just want to make a movie that has the depth to it and the amount of energy that is put into his films. You can tell that he spends so much time; a real process developing this world and putting so much into it. It is what it deserves, and maybe that is why his movies are so good. It’s the same as Kubrick — his movies stand the test of time. I can’t think of any that I can compare them to, he just stands alone. He is clearly somebody who is doing what he wants to do, and it's right and he is one of few that is still doing it.
As someone new in the filmmaking scene, how would you describe your creative direction?
I just really want to tell stories that I am familiar and can connect with. Directing has a lot of influences. It’s hard to definitively say what your creative direction is. My creative direction would be — act well, I suppose. I want to explore ideas and areas that I am familiar with. If I wrote a film about gangs in New York, it would make no bloody sense, I just don’t know anything about it. So my work will be about small town life and exploring human behavior. I guess I don’t know what my creative direction is. Try and do something well I suppose.
You’re currently working on your second directorial feature, Calamity Jane, and will be set and filmed in Wales. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
I can tell you that it’s not called Calamity Jane. It’s called Eternal Beauty. It’s going to be a film. I can’t really say anything about, apart from that it’s a drama and I hope my creative direction is good!
Where do you see yourself 10 years down the road?
Still making films I’d hope. Whilst sane and happy, not living in some kind of Black Mirror world.