Richard Linklater is fresh off the plane from his hometown of Austin, Texas, a city that the acclaimed writer/director – through films including the 1993 cult classic Dazed & Confused – helped to put on the map. “I’ve done my part to ‘ruin’ Austin,” he jokes, referencing the school of thought that Austin’s growing profile has chipped away at its celebrated “weirdness”.
Before his flight departed, Linklater, 55, took a phone call from Glenn Wilson, ’80s and ’90s pro-baseball player and wearer of a quite exquisite moustache. Linklater put a thinly veiled version of Wilson, renamed Glen McReynolds, in his latest film Everybody Wants Some!!, which Wilson had just seen for the first time. McReynolds is the de facto leader of the film’s ensemble cast of college baseball players, and an incredibly sore loser. Which makes it slightly surprising when Linklater reports that Wilson “thanked me”, adding: “He said, ‘You showed me as a leader; I really just cared about myself.’”
Linklater’s film does a service to jocks the world over. Instead of portraying them as musclebound lunkheads, he shows a more nuanced view that feels a bit more real. His athletes are ultra-competitive, but aware of the fleeting nature of their success (“We came for a good time, not a long time,” says one of the college experience). “With jocks, you gotta get to know them,” he says. “Whenever you paint any group with a broad brush you cast negativity on them. Truth is they can’t help being good at a sport and wanting to do well.”
He has reason to be defensive, because Everybody Wants Some!! is unapologetically autobiographical. In Dazed & Confused, Linklater himself could be found in the wide-eyed Mitch Kramer, the high-school junior who takes a paddling from the seniors but then gets to hang out with them for the night, sinking beer, playing pool and getting stoned in the woods.
In Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater is Jake (played by Glee’s Blake Jenner), a mild-mannered college freshman moving into the team house at a Texan university. Everybody Wants Some!! is described as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed & Confused in its retro setting (1980, to Dazed’s 1976), kick-arse soundtrack and time frame (it’s set over three days). It’s set at the dawn of a new decade and revels in the fashion and music of the time.
Read More: Everybody Wants Some!! – Film Review
“I really dialled in on that,” says Linklater. “You had new wave, punk, country was kind of hip, and disco hadn’t officially died. I explained to the cast: even though you might wear a “Disco Sucks” T-shirt at home, you will go to the disco and you’ll dance because you’re just trying to get laid. It’s all a mating ritual.”
It’s also a time before political correctness. With a largely male cast and a big sense of “bros-together” bonhomie, those mating rituals feature heavily in the film – notably in acceptable-in-the-’80s activities like the female mud-wrestling that happens at one party. In a year when Ghostbusters is being rebooted with a largely female cast and when gender and racial diversity is a hot-button issue, Linklater is aware of the implications.
“People go, ‘You don’t explore the women the way… [he trails off]’, but I’m a believer in the point of view of the movie, and this is the point of view of a young man with a bunch of other young men. I tried not to worry about it because I knew that basically these aren’t bad guys.”
It’s easy to spot something of the easy, breezy Mitch and Jake in Linklater today, but his affable exterior belies a fierce talent. His last film, Boyhood, was an audacious project made over the course of 12 years, in which his actors aged as the film progressed. Picking up an Oscar, three Golden Globes and three BAFTAs, it meant he was in a position to do almost whatever he wanted next. And what he wanted was to make his answer to National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). “When you have a film that’s acclaimed, there’s a tendency to go big or get serious or something, but I had an impulse to do the opposite,’ he says. ‘After the intimacy of Boyhood I wanted to make a sprawling ensemble comedy, the kind of thing I hadn’t done in a while, to see if I still could.”
Linklater’s skills in casting an ensemble film are well proven: Dazed & Confused was a launch pad for some of today’s biggest stars, including Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich; a decade later, School Of Rock (2003) proved a springboard for child actors such as Miranda Cosgrove. The secret to his talent-spotting? “I think I’m just good at it,” he says. “I’ve gotten better at it too. I’m a good head coach picking a team that will work together as a team. Of course you’re looking for the best people but it’s also: how will they look together, how will they play?”
Can he tell which of his cast will go on to great success? “You can tell who’s got a lot of talent and who’s really special, but I don’t think anyone can totally say who’s gonna break through because it’s the opportunity, that good card, that makes you a star. And people choose their own destiny. Not everybody wants to be Batman.”
Batman or, indeed, pitcher, as was Linklater’s original plan – to be a baseball professional and novelist. Acclaimed director, you suspect, will do just fine instead.
Everybody Wants Some!! is in cinemas now