x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Double: twice as nice and nasty

Jessie Eisenberg plays himself - twice - in the dark doppelganager comedy The Double, screening as part of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

Jesse Eisenberg in The Double. Courtesy ADFF
Jesse Eisenberg in The Double. Courtesy ADFF

The Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg plays two characters in The Double. If that sentence sounds a bit familiar, it’s because doppelgängers are the subject of two films at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. (Enemy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is the other one.)

The Double, which just secured a 2014 release in the US through Magnolia Pictures, is directed by the rising British star Richard Ayoade. Ayoade, a familiar face as a comedian on British television, made his directing debut in 2010 with the deadpan comedy Submarine. Like Wes Anderson, a director with whom he is often compared, he finds humour by putting characters in awkward situations that undermine their morality.

Human foibles and moral meltdowns are central to the work of the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky and so it’s perhaps unsurprising that for his second film Ayoade has chosen to bring one of the Russian’s lesser-known works to the big screen, turning it into a dark comedy about a man who is driven to the brink of insanity when his doppelgänger shows up.

“It’s a really special project,” says Eisenberg. “It takes place in a strange dystopian world and the guy I play is a very meek businessman who no one seems to like. He is unmemorable. He is working next to this guy who does not even remember him. Then his doppelgänger comes in and everybody seems to like this guy for no reason. They dress the same, it’s the same person but everybody loves this guy and hates the first guy. The doppelgänger overtakes the guy and takes advantage of him and totally ruins his life.”

The strange world is like something out of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. The office is like a Futurist painting of the industrial world gone wrong. The machines in the building dominate humans, yet nothing works; rooms seem to lead nowhere. Nothing is quite what it seems.

Eisenberg plays Simon James, who works doing unspecified tasks for a boss known as “The Colonel” (James Fox). He has a crush on his co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who barely notices him. Even his mother (Phyllis Somerville) treats him with disdain. His life goes from bad to worse when his double James Simon turns up.

Whereas Simon James is uptight and timid, James Simon is super-confident and brash. It’s like the Eisenberg of Zombieland being in the same room as the Eisenberg of Now You See Me. Eisenberg says playing against himself was fun.

“Because I can kind of tailor what I am doing to the other person,” he explained. “You know when you are acting with another person you are kind of reacting to them and tailoring your part to them and in this part I had to tailor it to myself. One guy can be speaking in a way that annoys the other guy and I could create that even if it was not in the script. I had the luxury to do little things.”

The 30-year-old actor was given freedom to improvise by Ayoade and saw the film as “a great opportunity. I like characters that are really emotional; I find them easier to play. With characters that are really casual it is difficult to play because you don’t have anything to latch on to.”

• The Double screens tonight at 9.15pm in Marina Mall Vox 6 and on Saturday at 5.45pm at Vox 1. Visit www.adff.ae for details

artslife@thenational.ae