Life & Culture

Craig Roberts: the Submarine Actor Turned Director

The Welshman discusses his love for film and his dreams of directing – plus, he reveals the plot of his new title, Eternal Beauty

  • TextDouglas Greenwood

“It really worries me that I’ll never see all of the greatest movies,” confesses Craig Roberts. It’s a Tuesday morning in London and the actor and director is trying to express his feelings towards film. He pauses and repeats himself a couple of times. Cinema is clearly one of, if not the most important thing to him.

Most of us met Roberts for the first time as Oliver Tate, the awkward Welsh teen in Richard Ayoade’s 2010 coming-of-age film Submarine or later as David Myers, the American high-school graduate in David Gordon Green’s 80s-set Amazon series Red Oaks. And yet it was his directorial debut that has helped critics see this multi-talented 20-something as more than just another young Brit with his sights set on Hollywood.

In 2015, Roberts wrote and directed a high-school drama called Just Jim, which is about another Welsh teen trying to become cool by befriending his new neighbour from America. Co-starring Into the Wild actor (and Another Man cover star) Emile Hirsch, the film made Roberts realise that he’s just as comfortable behind the lens as he is in front of it.

While many people find it hard to pinpoint the moment they realised their true passion in life, Craig remembers it clearly – during interviews, when he was asked about his idols. “I realised I was saying people like Paul Thomas Anderson,” he explains. “I wasn’t saying actors. I was saying directors or people who have created worlds. Auteurs, I suppose.”

Roberts’ knowledge of these auteurs – as it immediately becomes clear – runs much deeper than name checks. Many of cinema’s most-respected arthouse directors have played a part in shaping the work he intends to make. He practically gushes, for example, over Charlie Kaufman’s movies Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Anomalisa. “I like films that play with the mind,” he enthuses, “because I feel like we’re all on the verge of a breakdown.”

“There’s so much that it consumes me, but I’m not worried because I love it so much,” he remarks later in the interview, speaking like a fanboy. (For evidence of his obsession, you only have to look as far as his Twitter feed.) Around the time of the Twin Peaks finale, he was immersed in the world of David Lynch world: “In a world where everybody wants something so quickly, where everybody wants all of the information, he gives you nothing. I love [that]... In one way it’s hip and stylish and on the other, it’s deep, meaningful and disturbing. [Lynch’s work is] everything, anything and nothing all at the same time.”

Roberts hints that his transition into directing is, at least in part, a response to the character he’s often been cast in as an actor – typically, young men who suffer from being awkward or misunderstood. While he doesn’t begrudge these roles, he does suggest that they are limiting. “The audiences and people decide who you are as an actor. I can’t do that,” he says. “So because of the way I look, I’m always a ‘coming-of-age’ character. Writing and directing gives me an outlet to explore something else.”

Eternal Beauty, Craig’s second film, is slated to start shooting in early 2018. He’s hesitant to reveal any details about it besides the title, though he does tell us that it’s about “a woman who creates her own reality, and deals with her own nightmare”. He also tells us that halfway through writing the screenplay, he began building his protagonist with a specific actress in mind. “Luckily, we got [her], which is good,” he says. But that’s all we’re allowed to know for now.

Does he ever consider throwing in the acting towel to become a director full-time? “It depends how well [Eternal Beauty] goes! I hope I can pursue it,” he says, quite optimistically. “As long as people are happy [with my work], that’s fine!” he laughs. “I just don’t want to piss people off!”

You can watch Craig Roberts in the third and final season of Red Oaks on Amazon Prime now.