An interview with Craig Roberts on his directorial debut, Just Jim

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So you were 23 years old when you made this, which is a remarkable achievement. Are you able to detach yourself at all, and think, I made a movie – at 23… That’s pretty impressive.

I don’t think I’ve had time to stop and actually think about it because it’s constant worry I suppose. I’ve been very lucky that people have trusted me with money I suppose. It feels weird to have directed a film, but I love film and it’s interesting because in interviews I get asked if I have a role model, and a couple of years ago I started seeing a transition where I would never answer actors, but always directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, for example – people that completely stick up for their vision. Like David Lynch too, they believe in what they believe in and they won’t let anybody compromise that, and that’s really cool. As an actor you’re for hire, essentially, and I love acting, I really do, but there’s more pressure in directing and pressure is good. You do your best work when under pressure. But yeah, it does feel weird to have directed a film. Xavier Dolan did it, and he’s pretty good.

When writing the screenplay was it always the intention to direct as well?

Yeah I’d directed a few music promos before that and I wanted to direct something, to tell a story, and I started writing Just Jim. It took me about five days, it was so quick and there were so many drafts after that, but it wasn’t ever the intention to act in it, that was because of budget reasons and I knew the story so well it was way quicker for me to be able to tell it.

How was it directing yourself? Did you always need an assistant on hand to give you their opinions – because it must be hard to detach yourself sometimes?

Yeah I had two producers and they were great, behind the monitor a lot of the time. The first act is just me essentially, and it’s almost like a cheat, because I’m in the scene so I know what I’ve done, so I don’t need to see it back; I could probably tell if it was fine or acceptable. It was never good… But I could move on, but I definitely watched a lot of the stuff between Emile and myself to see how we fed off each other, and to see what he was doing. It was interesting.

Not to take anything away from the screenplay at all, but were you quite surprised when Emile did sign on?

Yeah, I didn’t think he’d do it at all. Like, absolutely not. I just remember him liking the character and he comes across very cool, which was the point. He’s a badass in the movie and I think he connected to that. It’s interesting because he called me and asked what kind of camera I was shooting it on, because he was worried it’d be a flip camera or something, but I told him it was an actual camera. He knew it was low-budget, and he essentially got paid nothing. I mean, he got paid but the same as everyone else. It was amazing that he did it, and even better that he’s good in it.

I had this theory that Dean never existed, that he was a figment of Jim’s imagination. Could I be onto anything there?

Absolutely not [laughs]. There’s no answer to it I suppose, I don’t think there is an answer. It could be that Dean was in his head. He watches this movie over and over again about this killer called the Piper who smokes cigarettes, then this American turns up smoking a cigarette, telling people he’s killed people, and they’re both from Pennsylvania. It’s weird and unexplained why he turns up. He’s like a metaphor for your alter-ego in a way. He’s like the bad side – it’s Guilty Conscience again. Jim is the angel and he’s the devil.

You’ve starred in movies since Just Jim, have you found that you approach the industry now in a different way? Do you have a different outlook on a set?

It’s interesting. A couple of jobs after I directed I was watching the director do stuff more, but I had to completely cut that out of my mind because it’s none of my business, so I stepped away from it. I had to act, so decided to stop thinking about it.

When you watch the film back now, do you scrutinise over it more as an actor or a director? Are you looking at your performance, or more the camerawork? Or is it just both bombarding you with anxiety?

That’s a good question. The anxiety levels are through the roof when in the editing room watching it back. I remove myself from the acting on the basis that I know exactly what I do as an actor, and I’m not doing any weird shit, I’m just being myself and kind of depressed, which I’m happy to do. But it’s actually a better situation now, cos I can edit out all the bad stuff I do. I can make myself a better actor, essentially, than I am. It’s definitely an experience I’ve learnt a lot from. Directing yourself is strange. It’s like being outside of yourself, and then also inside yourself.

I read that your parents were on the set of Just Jim quite often…

Yep, quite a lot.

How was that? I couldn’t work in front of my parents, I’d just be put off.

We’re a strange family, in the respect that we don’t talk much. We talk without talking. But yeah, they were on set. I tried to get my mum in the movie, and there was originally a scene where Emile walks up to a lady to chat her up, and says ‘hello sugar tits’, and I cast my mum in that part, but we never had the time to shoot the scene which I was devastated about. But it was weird, but cool. They’ve not really seen me on sets and stuff. I always feel weird bringing my family to sets because I’m there to do a job, but I felt I was completely to blame for this one, so I can probably bring people along.

Finally, Kill Your Friends comes out quite soon after this – how do you fit into that story, and I’m assuming it’s one you’re pretty excited about?

I’ve seen it, and yeah it’s very exciting. It’s crazy, in a good way. Nick Hoult is awesome in it, he kills it – literally. He’s very Patrick Bateman. I play his assistant I suppose, and become corrupted by him slightly. But yeah it’s such a cool film, very different and unique. And Nick Hoult is great, and the nicest guy and a really great actor – and he’s blood J.D. Salinger man. That’s a bloody good part.

Yeah, it could be worse.

Yeah it could be worse. I’m sure he’s going to be great.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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