Talking to director Richard Linklater can be a lot like experiencing one of his movies: rangy, pop culture-savvy, often achingly personal, a highly entertaining ramble where the journey is a hell of a lot more important than the destination. Some of Linklater’s best-known stuff—Slacker, School of Rock, Boyhood, and the romantic trilogy that began in 1995 with Before Sunrise—can feel like hanging out with old friends, running into a lost love, coming across childhood photographs.
By now, you’ve probably heard him call his newest, Everybody Wants Some!! (with two exclamation points like the Van Halen anthem) a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, the stoner coming-of-age classic that put Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Parker Posey on the map. Like Dazed and Confused, which was set in 1976, Everybody Wants Some!!, which unfolds four years later, could lead to big things for its actors. Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell and Wyatt Russell, among others, play college baseball players out for glory, fun, drugs, hell-raising and women. The movie is loose, funny, nostalgic, plot-free—a rush of pure pleasure.
The director and I caught up soon after his film had debuted to big laughs, cheers and “Hell, yeah!” reviews at SXSW in Linklater’s beloved home turf Austin, Texas. While we were there, we also shot Linklater and his cast with Miss April 2010, Amy Leigh Andrews.
With its college jocks chasing coeds, pot smoking, nostalgia and spot-on Van Halen/Parliament/ZZ Top/Blondie soundtrack, Everybody Wants Some!! takes some by surprise, especially after your Oscar-winning Boyhood and the final installment in your romantic trilogy, Before Midnight.
I’ve wanted to make Everybody Wants Some!! for 10 years, and it’s the only movie I’ve made where the final product looks so much like what it felt like. It wouldn’t exist in this form without Boyhood. Even though it was made with a studio, there were all these financial issues. I had to fund the preproduction myself or it kind of wouldn’t have happened. But when I’d made my first or second film, I was dating a woman who had a successful Seattle surgeon as an uncle and he gave me some advice that always stuck with me: “People throw their money at other things. Always invest in you.” So with Everybody Wants Some!!, I thought, Here’s something I believe in and can throw money at, and I was lucky I had it. I don’t understand these rich actors who won’t invest in themselves and are waiting for others to pay for everything. If you want to make a film, invest in it. If you want to direct, go do it. You’ve got to risk everything and bet on yourself.
The movie is seen through the eyes of a freshman ballplayer [played by Blake Jenner], a quiet jock on the outside, and more sensitive than his teammates on the inside. You played college baseball. Is Jenner’s character a version of you?
[Jenner’s] character is sort of similar to where I found myself at the time when I was a freshman and outnumbered on this team of mostly intimidating upperclassmen. Although I’m not too far from a critique of young male behavior in this movie, I love all these characters. They’re kind of amalgams of old teammates, roommates and a little bit of myself. I was kind of revisiting that notion of being the new guy acclimating to a very new environment on so many levels. Making Dazed and Confused, I had more mixed feelings about high school and that era. That was a pretty tough time, sometimes, and there was pain and a lot of angst. But this movie is a depiction of freedom. The most painful stuff is actually kind of the most wonderful and beautiful. To be in college at that moment was about asserting yourself, figuring out who you are.
Who did you figure out you were?
I look at those years as really fun. You don’t have to go to class. You don’t even have to go to college. You don’t have to live where you’ve lived. You can define who you are by your choices. Who do you want to hang out with? What club do you want to go to? Do you want to drink every day? Do you have to be married? Blah, blah, blah. High school is regulated and there are all these restrictions around you. College is on you. For me, it was about all the people you met, the new ideas floating around, the new books you were reading, the new music you’re hearing when punk and new wave were something new. Politically, we were at the end of a certain era and at the beginning of all the things that made the ‘80s a lot less fun. I kind of went underground in the ‘80s and was much more underground in my tastes. That was the last time I was aligned with the pop culture. The "Just Say No” era? Nah.
I’m probably not different from anybody else. I’m out of it on the one hand and, on the other, I’m dialed into the same wavelength as anyone: “Ugh, Trump is terrible, Ted Cruz is a …” I have the same fatalistic disgust and concerns that so many have.
In the great tradition of college flicks–in the great tradition of college, period–your movie has some raunchy “sexual situations.” Were you concerned about how your female characters would be perceived?
Of course it crosses your mind, but it’s a depiction of a fucking guy’s world. The guys are just chasing tail. I don’t even know any other way to put it. The hero eventually hooks up with Beverly [played by Zoey Deutch] and actually does have a meaningful connection with her. But before that, there are party girls, too, who aren’t looking to get married. As I remember the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, these women were also kind of playing the field, experiencing their own freedom. There was the kind of woman who just liked the way guys looked in their baseball uniforms. Some of them just worked their way through the whole team. I always err on the side of the honest depiction of what it felt like at the time.
I wasn’t going to lean too far away from what I thought was the guys’ honest point of view toward women, just as I’m sort of critiquing the behavior of young males, too.
Did you feel pressure to cast actors from TV shows or actors with huge social media followings? Tyler Hoechlin was on Teen Wolf, Blake Jenner did Glee, and Glen Powell is on Scream Queens.
In Hollywood, they like to find metrics like, “Oh, this actor has this many Twitter followers,” but I don’t think anyone’s ever drawn a connection from Instagram and Twitter followers and box-office. For me, personally, I just missed that curve. If you’re so available to everyone, then should people pay to spend an evening with you at the movies? There’s so much talent with unique young actors, so much energy and so few challenging parts for all of them. Offer a part that offers some degree of who they are and what’s unique about them and you’re good.
Do you spot a McConaughey, Affleck or other breakout actor in the cast?
When we were making Dazed, the studio was like, “Ach, these are all people no one knows.” I said, “But they are stars. Isn’t that what the star-making machinery is for? Isn’t that what studios do?” I’m not kidding, all the actors in Everybody Wants Some!! brought more than I ever could have imagined. They all bonded as a team to bring out the best in each other. They lived together, played and rehearsed for several weeks and got to know each other and those characters so well that they’d come up with new lines and new stuff. Six of the guys had underwritten parts but I wanted to boost those smaller parts and they got bigger and more special and unique. That happened because of the dynamic among the guys who had the bigger parts. They were very generous.
When you made Dazed and Confused in 1993, one way you kept your cast in period was through mixtapes you made for them. How did you ‘80s-ize this cast?
It was full immersion. I gave them all iPods with, probably, 80 songs on them and every one of those songs I had a personal relationship with. Just like in Everybody Wants Some!!, I drove around with guys doing “Rapper’s Delight” and passing the mic when that was revolutionary. I shared a lot of pictures with the actors showing them what people were looking like. We watched movies from around ’79 and ’80 like Breaking Away, just to let them know what was in the air. I also showed them No No: A Dockumentary about [Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher] Dock Ellis that covers what the game looked like in that era of the irreverent athlete with a ‘tude, which, of course, is discouraged nowadays. I was adamant: “Nope–no fist bumps, no ‘bros,’ because people didn’t do that.” I had to ride them, and they needed a lot of specifics, but they really got with it. They got country dance and disco dance lessons. Disco dancing was very sexual and raunchy, like foreplay. It ain’t like that anymore, when people just dance alone. The actors kept saying, “This is so much fun.”
The movie is fun, too, but there’s a tug of nostalgia to it—the sense that, for some of these guys, it’s never going to be this good again. I kept thinking of the James Brown lyric, “Money won’t change you but time will take you on.”
That’s pretty dead on. That’s also pretty dead on of James Brown. Maybe a more accurate title for this movie is Everybody Wants Everything. When you’re young, not only do you want everything; you feel you’re entitled to it, that it’s yours to have and all your passions will be met by the world. To get older is to find out you only get a percentage of what you want.
All of the guys in this movie were the best athletes on the playground, the best at their high school, which is how they got where they are in college. You can be an average student, average in any area, but if you’re an athlete, you’re elevated in your immediate culture. That creates a swagger and entitlement. You get treated a certain way. Some of my friends continued to play ball, went pro, and kept going but that all ends anyway when you’re, say, 30. For others, it was over sooner. There’s a sadness in that adjustment, that realization that the world doesn’t really give a shit about what comes next for them. I don’t think most athletes are ready for that. It’s like, “What did all that add up to?” But your real life doesn’t start until your athletic life ends.
Have you seen that happen close up to people other than your college teammates?
My dad played college ball and he has friends who also played ball. One of them played for Bear Bryant. They still walk with swagger. They walk into a movie like, “Oh, hell no, we don’t pay,” or like, “Fuck you, I played for Bear Bryant.” I look at that and think, Well, you can kind of carry that to the grave. It can also destroy you, though, like feeling you will never being able to live up to that again. Everybody’s different.
The movie shows a great love of baseball. Do you feel about the game the way you did as a young player?
No, and it’s funny how things that were so important to you at one point in your life no longer are.
How are you experiencing growing older?
I’m in my fifties now. I’m more sensitive to life. It’s more poetic, more beautiful, a little more poignant. I’m uber aware of the time part of it. I get all thankful and touched-up about stuff. It gets deeper and more interesting, more mysterious. I’m lucky that I get to have a life in the arts. I’m not “struggling for the legal tender,” as Jackson Browne wrote. I’m in the lucky percentage of being a guy who got to do exactly what he wanted to do.