An interview with the director of “Slacker,” “Boyhood,” “Dazed and Confused” and the new comedy “Everybody Wants Some!!” Set in the early 1980s, “Everybody” was inspired by Richard Linklater’s memories of an exhilarating time just before starting college.
“If I have one gift, it’s very exacting, specific memories of what I’ve experienced,” said Richard Linklater.
And he’s poured those memories into many of his movies, particularly “Everybody Wants Some!!,” which opens in theaters Friday (April 8). And also into “Slacker,” an amiably disjointed, shaggy-dog voyage through his hometown of Austin, Texas, which announced the arrival on the world stage of a distinctive new filmmaking talent when it was released in 1991.
Linklater brought “Slacker” to the Seattle International Film Festival in 1990 and wound up putting a quote from then-Seattle Times critic John Hartl on the movie’s poster when it went into commercial release. “ ‘Twin Peaks’ has nothing on this place,” Hartl opined, pithily encapsulating the weirdness of the Austin shown in the picture.
“Dazed and Confused,” which came out in 1993, was, like “Everybody Wants Some!!,” highly autobiographical in content and perspective. Linklater has called “Everybody” the “spiritual sequel” to “Dazed.” Both, he said in a phone interview, were “sculpted out of my own experience.”
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Set in 1976 in a Texas suburb, “Dazed” chronicles an eventful 24 hours of the last day of high-school classes and a long night of beer- and drug-fueled partying that follows. Linklater graduated from high school in a Houston suburb that year, and the events on screen reflect what that wild time was like.
Where “Dazed” is all about the ’70s, “Everybody” is all about the early ’80s, and it tracks Linklater’s experiences in that era even more closely that its predecessor.
He acknowledges that the two movies are quite different in tone. There’s a harshness threaded through “Dazed and Confused,” particularly in scenes showing the vicious way a senior, played by Ben Affleck, mocks and brutalizes incoming freshmen.
“That behavior comes out of frustration, of being confined and oppressed and you’re stuck at home, you’re stuck at school,” Linklater said.
“Everybody” is more cheerful.
“You’re there by choice. You’re being treated like an adult, even though you’re still a kid. You’re given freedom in the world for the first time.
“I remember being kind of overwhelmed. Being exhilarated by it. ‘Hey, I can drink. I can stay out all night. I can have Little Debbie cakes under my bed.’ ”
And most important: “No one is going to tell you to turn down your stereo.
“College is just more fun.”
“Everybody’s” main character, Jake, is an incoming member of a Texas college baseball team. He’s one of 18 teammates living off-campus in two funky houses. The mood, the attitude, the crowding: All of it is drawn from Linklater’s life.
“I went off to college on a baseball scholarship,” said Linklater, who arrived as a freshman in 1979.
But he developed a heart arrhythmia at the beginning of sophomore year. “I couldn’t run anymore. And that was it. Career over.”
He left school in the spring of 1981 and went to work on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
Back on land, he started seeing a lot of movies and decided he wanted to become a filmmaker. He moved to Austin, enrolled in community college to study film, and founded the Austin Film Society. He started making short films. In 1989, he shot “Slacker.”
The specificity of his college memories is reflected in the look of the house where lead-character Jake lives with seven roommates — as did Linklater.
With discouraged-looking furniture and stained wallpaper, there’s a generally seedy, yet comfortable-looking, ambience to the place. If you’ve been to college and lived off-campus at some point, chances are it was in a house like that.
And then there is the music. Jake lugs his precious record collection into the house in a plastic milk crate (a very specific detail that evokes the times), and his roommates judgmentally look it over to learn what kind of guy he is. By your music will you be defined.
Those records form the movie’s soundtrack, which opens with the Knack’s “My Sharona.” Devo’s “Whip It” is in there. So is Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.”
“I had a very personal relationship with every song,” Linklater said, remembering the era as a time when “96 percent of my entire net worth was in my stereo.”
He got the idea for making “Everybody Wants Some!!” in 2002, around the same time he began working on “Boyhood.” During the 12 years it took to shoot “Boyhood,” he was also making notes and later working on the screenplay for “Everybody.” And the two are conceptually joined at least as tightly as “Everybody” and “Dazed.”
“This one begins where ‘Boyhood’ ends,” Linklater said. “Boyhood” concludes with the main character on the brink of attending college. And “Everybody” is all about the start of college, although the two movies have no characters in common.
Linklater was in the final stages of production with “Everybody” at the height of the Oscar campaign for “Boyhood,” which snared six nominations including best director and best picture in 2015. He said working on “Everybody” was a welcome distraction from all the “Boyhood”-related hoopla. “I was finishing shooting, and psychologically it was really nice.”
Even today, the success of “Boyhood” surprises him.
“I thought ‘Boyhood’ was pretty off the beaten path, a weird movie that no one would watch … But you never know.”