Craig Roberts, star of comedy web series Red Oaks, has been the coming-of-age genre’s poster boy ever since his appearance in 2010 film Submarine.
Morbidly wisecracking his way through Richard Ayoade’s quirky comedy-drama to the backdrop of a crooning Alex Turner, Roberts has gone on to notch up roles in such films as 22 Jump Street, Kill Your Friends and recent Netflix Original The Fundamentals of Caring.
Now, the 25-year-old Welshman is donning the white shorts once again for season two of nostalgic Amazon Prime series Red Oaks, playing David, a student working as a country club tennis pro during his college years in Eighties America.
We caught up with the actor-director about his Submarine experience, tennis and why the coming-of-age genre remains so accessible to audiences today.
Are you feeling optimistic about the future of Red Oaks?
Well, it's kept the quality. There's nothing worse than when a TV show has a bad season two and is cancelled but the writers have done an amazing job. Red Oaks is in a stronger place than in the first season. It's got a more mature tone to it.
How did you land the lead role?
I think it came from somebody that [director] David Gordon Green knew who recommended me. I got asked to audition for it so I taped in the UK, sent it off and then went to America to chemistry read with some actresses. Then, yeah, I got the part. It was weird because I'd never really done a TV show before – especially an American TV show – so it was one of the biggest jobs I'd ever done. It was nerve-wracking. Everyone on board is so fantastic, though – it’s a pleasure to do it.
Are chemistry readings as awkward as they sound?
It is weird to form chemistry with somebody in a room, but I suppose all you’re really doing is acting. You’re kind of filling in the blanks and pretending to really be into somebody. I'm sure it does go further in a lot of cases.
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Red Oaks is a coming-of-age tale. Why do you think people embrace that genre so readily?
I think it's because a lot of people have been through it – it’s the most relatable passage of your life because it’s your most confused. It’s the time when you wish you were older because you think life is going to be easier and then you realise the easier point was when you didn’t worry about anything. The problems when you’re 20 are nowhere near as tough as the problems when you’re 30, and the anxiety just comes into you; every little detail of something worries you as opposed to your biggest worry at 20 – being asked to a certain party or kissing a certain person. I think I do a lot of coming-of-age stuff probably because I look like I'm coming of age. I don’t think that will ever change. But I very much like the genre because it is so relatable – you don't want to do anything that’s not relatable, because otherwise people just aren't going to like it – unless it’s something really unrelatable like Under the Skin.
Between Red Oaks and one of 2016’s best films, Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!, nostalgic coming-of-age projects, above all else, just look like so much fun to film.
Yeah, it's great fun to film because of the material. We’re not making Narcos or something that’s going to make you really cry – or maybe it may make you cry, I don't know. Either way, it addresses real-life situations in a more positive way in the fact that you can overcome it instead of it being a depressing thing. It's just nice. And the Eighties is just fun because the music is cool and everything looks funky.
You and your fellow cast members get to wear some retro outfits.
And tight shorts – and denim.
Do you play tennis all the time when the cameras aren't rolling?
No, I can’t go anywhere near sport. I like watching tennis; there's less tennis in season two, which will tell you how good I was at tennis in season one.
You directed your debut film, Just Jim, in 2014. Did the experience fill you with aspirations to make any more?
It was an interesting experience. The most enjoyable part about [filmmaking] is making it and once you put it out there, it’s not really that enjoyable – it’s like losing something; you’re making something but then people are allowed to have a conversation about it afterward but you’re not really allowed to be in that conversation, if that makes sense. It's a very strange thing – like bringing up a kid and then sending them out there but people have loads of views on that kid but you're not allowed to go: “Yeah, this kid is doing that for this reason.” I’m directing another movie in March that I wrote. I really like [making films]. I don’t like either more really – acting and directing is both great. It’s like having a relationship (acting), then another girl comes along (directing) that’s not more attractive, but more excitable at the time because you've been having this relationship for so long. I just hope that I can have two relationships – in my career, not in real life.
I have to ask you about another coming-of-age film you starred in – Submarine. Is that the one you get asked about the most?
I don’t really get asked much about it at all but if I get asked about my acting, Submarine does come up a lot. I think it’s because Richard did such a great job with it. He's such a smart man and, genius gets batted around too much, but I think he is. It just has a certain feel to it – it’s relatable and there’s something about Alex Turner singing the soundtrack that’s very nice. It's kind of got that Graduate, Simon and Garfunkel feel. I'm very proud to be a part of it. It’s definitely pointed me in directions that I wanted to go. I owe Richard a lot.
Red Oaks season 2 is available to stream on Amazon Prime from 11 November
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