Hanging Out with Richard Linklater: On Directing, subUrbia and Ensemble Casts

Prev2 of 2Next
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

MM: You’re getting to a point where you’re able to make the types of movies that you’ve always wanted to make.

RL: I’m lucky in that way. I want to keep doing that. The “hanging out” movies, they’re very personal, autobiographical. subUrbia represents a bridge into something else, although I felt very close to it and I consider it autobiographical, in that way. I didn’t originate the characters or the story, although I kind of lived it. I’m kind of finding my way into other stories too that I feel really close to. I’m doing one about these brothers from West Texas. It’s a true story.

MM: Did you write it?

RL: Yeah, I’m a co-writer of the script. I’ve been shaping the material and working on that for a while. But I’m not Woody Allen or Bergman or one of those directors where their own psyche is the end-all. I’m really interested in a lot of things, so stories kind of find me.

MM: Is this your first film that’s not strictly autobiographical?

RL: Yeah, and that’s not pointedly generational. Obviously I didn’t live in the ’20s and I didn’t rob banks, yet there’s something in those characters that males me feel like I’m one of them. Like, had I been alive then… but that’s what’s fun about the movies, you have to imagine what it was like. So it’s a very different creative process. A lot of our favorite movies of all time, you know, Scorsese didn’t write Taxi Driver, he didn’t originate that character, but obviously it’s what he and Schrader were thinking together. You find your way into stuff. I’m open to that.

MM: How closely did you work with Eric Bogosian on subUrbia?

RL: Very closely, actually. We adapted it together. I felt an incredible responsibility to the characters and to Eric’s intentions, because I knew they were my intentions, too. I knew we were on the same page. I think it gets problematic when you’re taking something and you’re trying to make it something else. In the case of subUrbia I wanted to stay true to that. It still necessitated change, but it was a good collaboration as far as the writer-director thing goes. Neither of us wanted to let the other one down.

MM: Getting back to themes, all your movies are also about the alienation or angst of young people, right? And you said all your films to date are autobiographical. Without getting overly personal, while you were growing up in those tough junior high days, being a film nerd, did you feel alienated or angst-ridden growing up?

RL: Well, at that age I wasn’t a film nerd. That was later. No, it seems like a lifetime ago, but in high school I actually played sports. I had it together. You could look at me and say, “What’s he pissed off about? He’s got it made.” But that left an impression on me. People looked up to me like I’m this cool guy or something, but I feel like shit. So if I feel alienated, how does everybody else feel? I knew it was universal. I have profound mixed feelings about the whole structure. I just hated being trapped in. I just couldn’t wait to be older and be on my own so I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone and all that.

MM: So were you the quarterback in Dazed and Confused?

RL: Yeah, I was him. But I was also the newspaper writer. You’re a little bit of everything, a bit of all your characters. Same in subUrbia. I’m all the characters. I feel like I’m Jeff, but I’m Tim, I’m Pony, and in a strange way I’m Sooz. You end up as all your characters. They’re all a reflection of you.

MM: I know you’ve heard this before, but you’re right-on in your casting. It seems like there’s never a question—it’s a home run every time. What do you look for in a casting session?

RL: That’s the big decision. You have to be honest with yourself. Slacker was my best initiation into that because I cast over a hundred people.

Dazed and Confused (1993) featured a large ensemble cast

Dazed and Confused (1993) features a large ensemble cast

MM: Did you go through thousands of people?

RL: Yeah, I interviewed a lot of people. You meet them and judge who you click with. And the few times I went against my first instinct, let someone talk me into it, I just had to work that much harder. My percentage has gone up every film. In Dazed, that was a great cast. It’s love at first sight. You pretty much know the moment they walk in the room.

MM: Do you have an image in mind? Do you study headshots first, or does that not mean so much?

RL: The important thing is talking to them. Even the first minute, you get a sense of whether they’re kinda what you had in mind. I never have anything exactly in mind. It’s like casting Jeff. He has to be really smart, he can’t fake that. You can’t just act intelligent. You either are, and you have verbal skills and that passion, or you don’t. Casting is brutally honest about that. Who they are is the big deal.

MM: As you can imagine, we talk film a whole lot in the shop when we’re doing this magazine. And it’s been said several times that of the recent crop of young directors who have made some kind of impact on the indie film scene, the Smiths and the Tarantinos and the Burnses and such, that you’re the one who has legs—you’re the one whose career will be the longest and most influential. Do you have any long-range directorial career plans? Whose career inspires you? I know you don’t like to talk about genres so much. I think of Howard Hawks, who wasn’t identified so much with a particular genre—

RL: Like a John Huston?

MM: Yeah, say John Huston. Have you ever thought about that?

RL: That’s a tough question because it’s hard to envision the future too much. You need to do one film at a time. I think if you’re passionate enough, at the end you’ll look back on all these different types of films, and see there’s something about them. I want to do two I’ll call my “Texas epics.” One is a gangster-outlaw kind of movie, and then I want to do one about Texas high school football. So it’s just about what I feel close to.

MM: You don’t want to do a middle-age angst movie?

RL: (laughs) I’m sure I’ll get there. I’m approaching that.

MM: I don’t know if it’s been done purposely, but you’ve avoided going high-tech in your films. There was an article in Esquire recently that said the great age of moviemaking was founded in the delicate faith that photography kept with reality. In other words, the narrative movie required the appearance of people together, not too different from the stage. Do you think technology can impede narrative structure?

RL: I think if you get carried away with it. Some of it interests me, like the next movie I’m doing, I’m trying to recreate the ’20s, so we’re using digital mattes where you can actually do a crane shot. It’s not like the mattes of the ’70s, where you have a painting and you can’t move the camera. But it’s just a tool. Technology, on one level, is meant to be used. But outside of the very basics, I can’t say I’m that interested in it.

MM: So if it doesn’t get in the way…

RL: Yeah, I think there are two kinds of filmmakers-ones that had their little 8mm cameras and their trains and were setting fires and blowing them up and crashing into each other, and then there’re the ones who read a lot and were going to the theater and maybe reading philosophy. There’s some crossover there. But I definitely came into it from a different, more of a literary/theater background.

MM: I wanted to ask you about that. You’re not big on television, but do you still go to the movies a lot?

RL: Oh, yeah, I like everything. I liked Independence Day, I had a good time. But they’re not the kind of movies I’ve made or would spend a year of my life doing. But I enjoy the spectacle like everybody else.

MM: You’re not pessimistic about the state of movies in the late 20th century?

RL: No, because if you go back and read about any other time, everyone’s always pessimistic. From the early ’70s, which we now look at as this last great American movie era, you go back and look at reviews and read what Paul Kael said in 1972: “It’s all commercial crap. The good stuff was back then, and now it’s all deal-making.” You could just take it and put ’96 instead of ’69. There’s no difference in what people were saying. So the bottom line is that it’s always a commercial medium, and it’s always about box office and all that stuff that we have to deal with. But every year there are 10 or 20 films that really mean something to someone. Films that will endure.

MM: Just to play devil’s advocate for a second. That same article was talking about what you just mentioned—the early ’70s was the last great period of American moviemaking. But it also said the best directors then were identifiable by their own sense of language and a deep sense of personal style. Not necessarily the technical flourishes that a De Palma has, where you always notice that’s a De Palma film. But they had this sensibility or style that you could recognize, like Hitchcock or Welles or Rossellini or Michael Powell had. Do you see that today? How important do you think that is?

RL: Well, it’s too early to tell. Look who’s still working. I mean, how you can say guys like Lynch or Scorsese don’t have personal styles? I think all the best filmmakers fall into that category. It’s kinda tough for me to judge my contemporaries and friends. But I think you’d be surprised. I mean, like Soderbergh, or Araki—there are those who are doing their own movies and those who aren’t. And I think those who are doing their own movies inevitably have a certain feel or spirit that you see in picture after picture. I always trust that the spirit of the artist will endure somehow. It’s so much of a need in the medium that some will always somehow get made, at whatever level. Look at Ken Loach, Mike Leigh—they’ve been doing it a while, and they still make it happen. MM

Prev2 of 2Next
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.