Modestly, in the relaxed posture of the college left fielder he once was, Richard Linklater tells us his theory of directing. “Working with the actors – the crew, too – there’s a little ‘head coach’ to it,” he says. “A good coach has a thing going with each player. Just like actors, they all have different needs. Sometimes you need to be motivating this guy all the time. But that person you leave alone. And that one, they can win the game, but they can’t tie it.”
Linklater, more than any other filmmaker working today, is comfortable playing the long game. He’s made 19 features, including his now-classic breakthrough Slacker (1991). And four of them have had a gestation that no other American moviemaker has ever attempted, let alone nailed. His ambitious romantic trilogy, Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), represents a periodic every-nine-years collaboration with actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, growing in subject matter from college-aged impulsiveness to middle-aged regrets to rekindled passion. And Boyhood (2014), famously, is the Oscar-nominated film Linklater shot over 12 years in dribs and drabs, resulting in a hard-earned masterpiece of intimate domesticity and gentle rebellion.
Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater’s latest – set in 1980 on a partycentric Texas college campus prowled by hyper-competitive athletes and self-possessed drama kids – may be his biggest stretch to date. It’s the first movie named after a Van Halen song. (“First and last,” the director jokes, though he’s insistent on keeping David Lee Roth’s double exclamation points.) It’s suffused with the best pop music ever made: bouncy hits from 35 years ago that turn the experience of watching the film into an ear-to-ear grin. And improbably, after so many triumphs, it’s the warmest effort of his career. “It’s a memory film, as personal as anything else I’ve done – which is, you know, quite a bit.”
Drawn closely from his time playing ball at Sam Houston State University in the late ’70s – Linklater dropped out, worked on an oil rig and then moved to Austin to become an indie filmmaker – and an encyclopedic library of hundreds of songs, Everybody Wants Some!! is the director’s first full plunge into open-hearted nostalgia. Fans will point to Linklater’s euphoric Dazed and Confused (1993), set during the bicentennial summer of 1976, as a younger cousin, but the filmmaker sees a difference. “I used to say Dazed was anti-nostalgia,” he explains. “You can’t watch that movie and possibly want to go back to that time. It sucked, you know? I’m talking about high school. But college? It was a great time to be a young person. It was a fun moment, culturally. And it was cheap. Kids are under so much pressure now. My daughter [Boyhood’s Lorelei Linklater] just got out of college. It’s so expensive; there’s so much expectation, and the job market sucks.”
The problems that the characters of Everybody Wants Some!! encounter are much different. Will the team gel in time to take State? And most importantly: Is there more to life than the baseball diamond? It’s a deceptively simple story, but as Jake and his new friend tube-raft on an August afternoon, dreaming out loud, it’s impossible not to think about Boyhood and its free-floating optimism.
Moments like this are a Linklater speciality. “This is not the kind of comedy that studios want to do,” he says. “You know, no stars, ensemble, no plot. It’s just not in their wheelhouse at all. They don’t know what it is.” The director admits he got lucky between keeping the budget low and having more political capital to spend after the success of Boyhood.
But in a deeper sense, that’s what Linklater has always done. He’s a smuggler of authentic experience into the mainstream. He’s seen the indie world that he largely inspired with Slacker become an industry, and he smiles at the irony of Everybody Wants Some!! having its premiere in his longtime hometown of Austin at the South by South West festival. “In the ’80s, when there were these indie movies that were really speaking to you – that was special,” he recalls. “You supported it... That was your first choice.”
Unapologetically, Linklater is still that guy, still getting away with it, like the characters in his latest movie. There’s a sense of duty to it. His gift, as with all the great athletes, is stamina.
Everybody Wants Some!! is in cinemas from Thursday May 12.
Three top Linklater films
This Oscar-nominated coming-of-age tale was shot over more than a decade. The intimate portrayal of Mason’s growth from cute seven-year-old to rebellious young adult is an incredible feat of filmmaking – tender and funny, and with a powerful message.
Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and a whole lot of chat. A chance meeting on a train leads to the pair embarking on a one-night-only relationship in which their deep-rooted connection is developed through intense and intriguing dialogue. It spawned two follow-up films.
School of rock
Initially snootily dismissed, the 2003 comedy has become something of a cult-classic. Jack Black is thrust into a classroom at a posh private school and duly tears up the manual, using his love for music to teach lessons even the brainiest professor would struggle to deliver to kids.