Craig Roberts: ‘I directed a film in five days’

The rising star talks Britpop, hangovers and convincing Emile Hirsch to act in his directorial debut.

Kill Your Friends actor Craig Roberts in Loaded
Looking bookish Roberts admits he hadn’t read John Niven’s Kill Your Friends. Image Pictures Getty Images

Craig Roberts is hungover to hell.

The puppydog-faced actor, who barely looks old enough to sink a lager top, is being swallowed up by a giant sofa in his suite at The Soho Hotel, baffled why anyone would organise film promo the day after it premiered.

Kill Your Friends is the film in question and Roberts was out the night before with co-star Nicholas Hoult, writer John Niven and director Owen Harris.

“I’ve felt better,” he shrugs, “I don’t know who plans a day of press for the day after the opening night but here we are.”

It’s been nearly a year since Roberts wrapped playing the role of record company A&R newbie Darren in KYF and he’s finding the idea of a promo day “especially weird”.

“It’s strange promoting something a year later because you did this film ages ago and you can’t really remember what you’re talking about for a bit,” he says.

Well, start with the book – the debut novel by John Niven that garnered a cult following after its 2008 release. Had he read it?

“Erm…no,” Roberts shrugs sheepishly. “I am bad and I just don’t read enough books so I hadn’t gotten around to it. I read the script and absolutely loved it then decided, ‘I want to hear more of this crazy world’. So then I read the book after that and liked it even more – it’s just insane.”

Craig Roberts Loaded interview
Coming of age The Submarine actor is seeing things differently as a director.

Roberts’ character Darren is a wide-eyed muso and friend of the psychotic Steven Stelfox (Hoult). There’s no doubt he puts in an arguably show-stealing performance. Harris told Loaded Roberts was his first choice for the role. Roberts himself insists he just went with the flow.

“I should say that I met with some A&R people in London to research the role, but the truth is that I didn’t,” he says. “I just turned up and portrayed a considerable amount more energy than I am doing right now. Darren is one of the only characters who has a full-on arc in the story. Most people in this film just start as bastards and end as bastards but Darren goes on a journey. I feel so sorry for him because he’s really passionate about the music industry in the beginning and probably one of the only people in it that likes music. He genuinely wants to find the next great artist and he just doesn’t survive the bloody snake pit – those shark infested waters.” 

He’s not wrong. The story is full of absolute bastards. Bastard-in-chief being Hoult’s unhinged Steven Stelfox – an A&R man at the peak of Britpop who snorts, shags, sneers and finally slaughters his way to the top of the shallow money trench that is the music industry world portrayed in the novel.

Although they hadn’t met until making the film, Roberts and Hoult are now firm friends, hence his sore head. Such is the burgeoning bromance, the pair introduced each other to their respective parents at the previous night’s premiere.

“Seeing your mother gasp at a screening is just amazing,” Roberts chuckles. “The audience reaction to the film is so fascinating when one minute they are laughing and the next they look horrified.  

A shower of bastards Watch Craig Roberts in the Kill Your Friends trailer. Image Video Via StudioCanal

“It’s intense and Nick does such a phenomenal job. He’s a scene stealer. He was so nice and I had never met him before. I was just constantly intrigued to know what he was going to do.”

Considering he was aged about six in 1997 when the film is set, it’s hardly surprising Roberts isn’t too familiar with the Britpop era, although he does admit, “Obviously do I remember it, because it was everywhere.”

“Eminem, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar – just rap and weird shit to be honest. I don’t know where I get my taste from, it’s as messed up as everything else”

The film’s soundtrack, which features Blur’s Beetlebum, Oasis’ Cigarettes & Alcohol and The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up as well as Encore Une Fois and Return Of The Mack serves to illustrate the fucked-up state of the era’s music nicely. Roberts, though, has his own preferences.

“I am very passionate about music,” he says. “I love it and I don’t understand people that don’t like music. Britpop was everywhere but it’s not on my playlist.”

What is then?

“Eminem, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar – just rap and weird shit to be honest. I don’t know where I get my taste from, it’s as messed up as everything else.”

Endearing as it is, we aren’t fooled by Roberts’ frequent bouts of self deprecation. He’s by no means someone who rests on his laurels or sticks in his comfort zone. Having made a name for himself in Richard Ayoade’s charming 2010 coming-of-age film Submarine, Roberts went on to land roles in Skins and Being Human as well as music videos for The Killers’ Here With Me and Manic Street Preachers’ Show Me The Wonder.

Actors Craig Roberts and Nicholas Hoult in Kill Your Friends Loaded interview
Watch your back Roberts’ eyes were opened to the wayward ways of the music industry during the 1990s.

His music video experiences opened up the world of directing and the young Caerphilly actor found himself writing, directing and starring in his own film Just Jim which has also just been released.

Roberts wrote the movie in just five days and managed to land Emile Hirsch for the leading role. The film had a “miniscule” budget of just £300,000 and was made in his hometown of Maesycwmmer.

“I wrote to direct and I’m by no means saying I was Charlie Kaufman. I just wanted to direct a film and to be honest, I wouldn’t put myself in one that I am directing again”

Roberts penned the script late at night while on breaks from filming Bad Neighbours with Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in LA late last year.

“It was amazing to make it at home,” he reflects, looking instantly more comfortable talking about his own project. “I wrote to direct and I’m by no means saying I was Charlie Kaufman. I just wanted to direct a film and to be honest, I wouldn’t put myself in one that I am directing again.

“There are just better actors out there than me.”

For someone who has achieved a hell of a lot before even reaching his mid-twenties, Roberts is about as un-Hollywood as they come. He puts that down to just being “a lad from Wales”.

“It was cool to go back to my home town and just make a movie,” he says. “I love movies and I just can’t believe that people trusted me with their money when I just feel like I have been wasting it.”

One person who certainly appreciates his talents was Hirsch, who signed up to act in Just Jim immediately after reading the script. Well, almost immediately.

“He called me up and he was like, Hey, it’s Emile, I read the script but I need to go to the bathroom and I’ll call you back’,” Roberts recalls. “He didn’t call me back and I had to call him back. In my mind, I always wanted an American to play the part but budgetwise, we had no money, we had £300,000.

“I was looking at some British actors to play the part of an American and then David Gordon who directed Pineapple Express got the script to Emile and said he really liked it and wanted to do it. I just thought ‘Holy fuck’.”

More bad neighbours Roberts managed to convince Emile Hirsch to star in Just Jim. Image Video Via SodaPictures

Roberts seems genuinely astounded he got Hirsch on board, shaking his head.

“Emile got paid hardly anything to do it,” he says. “He’s an amazing actor and I honestly don’t know how I got him to do it.”

That’s Roberts’ way. He simply doesn’t seem to know how anything happens for him, but thankfully, there’s plenty more where it came from.

“Just Jim took me five days to write it and it made no sense, it still doesn’t,” he says. “After five days, I made several drafts of it, settled on one and that was it.”

Next up, Roberts will star in Red Oaks on Amazon Prime, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still working like a man possessed.

“I’ve already written another film too, so that’s good I guess.”

Knowing him, yes, it probably is.

Kill Your Friends is out in cinemas nationwide now.

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