Richard Linklater came to film relatively late in life. He didn’t start watching movies seriously until he was a teenager—he says the first film that really meant anything to him was Raging Bull, which came out when he was 18.
Maybe that’s why his films, unlike those of fellow Texan Robert Rodriguez and many other young filmmakers, are slice-of-life pieces without much cinematic reference.
But then, it’s part of Linklater’s nature to refuse to be put in a category. It’s this aversion to being labeled that keeps Linklater from directly answering any question that could pigeonhole him in the least. Or he might just be a nice guy, eager not to offend anyone. Needless to say, acerbic quips about show business personalities don’t flow from this guy.
Linklater is not short on words, however, about his favorite subject-movies. Hollywood, Linklater says, “kills the spirit of filmmaking.” Not surprisingly, Linklater still lives in his adopted home of Austin, despite the success of his first two features, Slacker and Dazed and Confused. He’s still Rick Linklater from Huntsville, Texas—not too far removed from his days of being put through barbarian freshman initiation acts like Mitch in Dazed and Confused.
Past experience seems to be fertile ground for Linklater’s storylines. The setting for his new movie is partially inspired by his real-life adventures in Europe. I spoke to Linklater about his new movie, and also a little about his old ones, while he was preparing to speak to a large crowd of students at the University of Massachusetts.
Alice Hicks (MM): I was talking to a friend recently about how real people think the characters in your movies are. I’ve heard that crazy fanatics have called some of the actors in Slacker and talked to them as if they were just like their characters.
Richard Linklater: Yeah, that’s always my goal-for people to think that my characters are real. Slacker is like a documentary. We just shot it. Same with Dazed and Confused.
MM: How much of both the films are based on your real life experience?
RL: Oh, well … I wouldn’t say all, but both of them were pretty personal. Dazed was more so. Slacker was a world I lived in. It seemed natural for me to make a film that took place in that world. I wouldn’t call it autobiographical as much as I would personal. Dazed was very autobiographical.
MM: Were any of the characters in Dazed and Confused directly based on you? Or was it a compilation?
RL: Oh, I could say this about a lot of the characters in Slacker, too, but when you’re a director, a little bit of you is in everything. Dazed probably more so. I don’t know. They’re probably different. There’s no one-to-one characters. Probably the closest in Dazed would be Mitch, the young guy. In ’76 I was going into high school, too.
MM: What’s going on with your new project? I heard it’s set in Europe.
RL: Yeah, it’s about two people who meet on a train in Europe. He’s an American and she’s French. They get off in Vienna one night. He talks her into getting off the train with him because he’s leaving the next day. They just walk around Vienna all night. It stars Ethan Hawke and French actress Julie Delpy.
MM: What was your inspiration for this film?
RL: It’s once again fairly autobiographical. Meeting people traveling—I always knew there was a movie in that. It’s really kind of a romance, just two people—so it’s different for me. it’s only two characters instead of a big ensemble.
MM: Had you been to Austria before ?
RL: Yeah, I had been there over a year ago. We shot it this summer, but I had been there in November ’93.
MM: What did you think of it?
RL: I liked it a lot. I had been to the festival there. I’ve been to a lot of other European cities,
and they didn’t feel quite right, but Vienna had a lot of people who were just hanging out. It kind of reminded me of Austin in a certain way. They were cafe people, really smart people.
It felt like a big college town, very laid-back. Almost too laid-back. The service is bad.
MM: What was it like to work with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy?
RL: Julie is very intense, and Ethan is cool. I had a good time working on the film.
Linklater goes over a scene with Delpy and Hawke on Before Sunrise
MM: Since Ethan is in your movie, I was wondering what you thought of Reality Bites?
RL: Oh, I liked it.
MM: Some people have compared the cultures in Reality Bites and Slacker. What do you think of that? Do you think Houston’s culture is that much like Austin’s?
RL: Well, Houston has that culture. Everywhere has that kind of culture. I mean, it’s such a big city. I lived in there for a while. I think the writer, Helen Childress, is from Houston.
MM: Yes, she is. Have you been meeting a lot of young filmmakers like her?
RL: You get to know a lot of them along the way. You meet them at festivals or around. Quentin Tarrantino was in town a while back. I gave him a premiere for Pulp Fiction here in Austin. That was fun. You pick up friends along the way.
MM: With all the publicity that Tarantino is getting lately, how do you feel your more laidback style can contend with the popular action-packed, violence-filled movies? Are there definitely different audiences for these types of films, or do you think the styles are competing for the same audience?
RL: I don’t think that the audiences are that different. I definitely think people like a good movie, regardless of the subject matter, I think quite a bit of the content of my films is different than the subject matter in Tarantino’s movies, but there are more similarities than differences—they’re both very dialogue-intensive, there are strange digressions and there’s a lot more bucking with the narrative than in most people’s films.
MM: What effect do you think the marijuana laden promotional materials for Dazed and Confused had on the visibility of marijuana as a drug and on its legalization campaign? How do you feel about legalization?
RL: Oh, I don’t know. It seems like such a dumb issue. I mean, for me the whole movie wasn’t about drugs, although I’m pro-legalization. I guess it probably gave marijuana a little visibility, though. I thought it [the drug issue] was pretty stupid.
MM: So, was the use of pot in the promotional material more of a ploy to draw people into the ’70s culture of the film? What was the idea behind that promotion scheme?
RL: I don’t know. Call Gramercy Pictures, my distributors, and ask them. To me, Dazed and Confused was a teenage rock ‘n roll comedy. Unfortunately, I don’t get much say in how they promote it. I can tell them I don’t like what they’re doing, and they’ll say [in Butthead’s voice] “Trust us, we know what we’re doing.” [Butthead “huh-huh”] That’s how much say you get.
MM: Is that frustrating to you?
RL: It was on Dazed and Confused because they made what I thought were bad decisions all along the line. But, what can you do? Dazed and Confused found its audience if not at the theater, because they didn’t release it as wide as they could have, it definitely has on video.
MM: Where I live, Dazed and Confused got a lot of play in the theater. It played once, and then came back months later.
RL: Yeah, Slacker and Dazed both seem to come back. But, what the hell, they’re both kind of cult films, I guess.
RL: That’s flattering to me.
MM: Do you think your cult status will change with the release of your new picture?
RL: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It’s kind of the same kind of film, except with two people—it’s still a lot of talking. What the new one has going for it is that it’s a romance, so there’s probably more of what people would consider a satisfying story, which is what audiences really want.
MM: You seem to be moving up in your “actor profile.” What made you make the change from no-names to big names?
RL: John Slate [the J.F.K. assassination conspiracy fanatic in Slacker] to Parker Posey [Darla in Dazed] to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. For Before Sunrise I could have cast anyone I wanted. I just thought Ethan was perfect for it. But I had to talk him into doing it.
MM: So, your casting decisions were made solely on the basis of who you thought were right for the roles?
RL: Yes. I cast the [new] movie for nine months. Everyone in the world wanted to be in it. It was just getting the right people [that took so long].
MM: I was wondering, since you’ve had both Anthony Rapp [Tony in Dazed and Confused] and Ethan Hawke in your films now, if you’d seen the play Sophistry?
RL: Yeah, I did.
MM: I did too.
RL: I went because Anthony was in it. I was in New York, so he said, “Hey, come to my play, it’s really good.” So I went and saw him. I thought he was great. I met Ethan backstage. I thought he was great in it, too. I think Jonathan [Marc Sherman], the playwright, is really good. I saw a play Ethan directed called Veins and Thumbtacks by Jonathan Marc Sherman. It was really, really good. Sherman.
MM: I didn’t know that Ethan directed.
RL: Oh, yeah, he’s directed a couple plays and written a novel. He’s really smart. I was really impressed with his creativity and work ethic. He’s not out doing the “star thing” like everyone in L.A. He’s really just doing work. He’s doing three plays in ten weeks, that kind of thing.
MM: So, he definitely wouldn’t fit the “slacker” label?
RL: Who does? Well, actually, he may be what people consider a “Slacker.” Since he’s more well known, and his films are “above ground,” it’s probably seen as socially acceptable. But I know some people who are doing the exact same thing as Ethan Hawke who are considered “Slackers” because they haven’t made anybody a lot of money yet.
MM: So, how much does the “slacker” label annoy you? It’s become huge.
RL: Oh, it seems kind of abstract now. So many people have used the term and don’t have any idea about the movie, or never saw the movie, and don’t know its usage. It’s really not even my term anymore. It’s just out there. President Clinton’s using it, for God’s sakes. And I guarantee you he hasn’t seen the movie.
MM: No. [laughs] I would not think President Clinton has seen Slacker.
RL: I don’t think he’d like it, although Ann Richards saw it, and she liked it.
MM: Has it become hard for you to be as popular as you and your films have become? How much has your life changed?
RL: Not that much. It’s gotten easier. It’s easier to make films. It’s kind of the same, though, I’m just working. I mean, I still live in Austin. It’s about the same. Same friends, same everything. It’s kind of nice. My career goal has always been to be able to stay up late, get up late, and never have to wear a tie. I think I’ve done pretty good go far.
MM: You must be a lot busier, though.
RL: Busier, but in a good way. I used to be busy just trying to get things started whereas now I can get things finished. But, it took me a long time to build up to that.
MM: You have a family, though. Is it hard to fit in time for them, or do you schedule around them in order to make time? Is it easier to make your own schedule now?
RL: Yeah. I have a 20-month-old daughter, but I see them [wife and daughter] when I can.
MM: Do you have any other new projects in the works?
RL: Yeah, I’m writing right now when I get time—a film I want to do next. I hope to be in production by next summer on something.
MM: What is the film you want to do about? Do you have any other ideas floating around?
RL: Yeah, I got a couple of ideas. I got a backlog of scripts that are in the ground waiting to be done someday, and some things I’m writing right now. One’s kind of a big piece, a little different for me. It’s a true story about bank robbers. It takes place in Texas in the ’20s.
MM: So, what’s your angle on this robbery story?
RL: Crime is good [laughs]. I like people who live outside the legal restraints of society or of what society expects from people. Outsiders.
MM: Is that a theme in Before Sunrise?
RL: Yeah, in their own way they’re outsiders. I’ve always been attracted to the margins (of society]. That seems to be where it’s really happening in anything.