Richard Linklater's Love-Hate-Love Relationship With The College Jock
"If you're good at sports — our culture's kind of fucked up in this way — we really elevate you," the director told BuzzFeed News about his new film Everybody Wants Some!!.
When Richard Linklater was just starting what would become the landmark achievement of his filmmaking career — the 12 year–spanning Boyhood, covering the life of the same child from first to twelfth grade — he also had an idea to make a movie about the moment that comes right after high school ends and college is about to begin.
Ironically, it took him the length of the Boyhood shoot to get the movie made.
"Even as I was shooting the end of Boyhood, I told my two young actors, who are [playing] new college students, 'You know, I have another movie — it begins, like, right here,'" Linklater told BuzzFeed News in his Austin, Texas, office in mid-March.
Everybody Wants Some!! — officially titled with two enthusiastic exclamation points — starts on Aug. 28, 1980, as incoming college freshman Jake (Glee's Blake Jenner) arrives at the off-campus house he will be sharing with his fellow teammates on his university's top-rated baseball team. Jake gets wrapped up in the camaraderie of a cadre of Linklaterian bros who most often go by only their last names, guys like McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), the cocksure senior; Finnegan (Glen Powell), the carefree philosopher; and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), the zen stoner. Jake does carve out some time to romance Beverly (Zoey Deutch) — a self-possessed theater major who represents the only female character of any consequence in the film — but the vast majority of Everybody Wants Some!! is spent chronicling Jake's introduction to the hard-partying, easygoing lifestyle of the college jock.
It's a life Linklater knows intimately well. Everybody Wants Some!! is one of the most directly autobiographical movies of his career, based on his own experiences as a college baseball player in the late 1970s, before an injury ended his athletic career and ultimately steered his life toward filmmaking. "You had all this freedom," he said. "That's what the movie's about: what to do with all the new adult freedom you have even though you're only 18."
Cinema has long since become the now 55-year-old director and screenwriter's abiding obsession. His office, a 10-minute drive from downtown Austin, sits on the grounds of the old airport that's been converted into a film production facility, a labor of love that he spent his entire professional career developing. "It's our little mini-studio," Linklater said with a grin. The double-wide trailer that houses his office is so packed with oversize, European editions of classic film posters — 8 ½, Straw Dogs, The Quiet Man, The 400 Blows — that there is no room for Everybody Wants Some!!'s modestly sized one sheet, so it leans instead against a nearby wall.
But talking with Linklater about his latest film, it’s clear that he still holds a firm grasp of the pleasures and problems of being young. It’s a topic he’s been exploring since his second film, 1993’s Dazed and Confused, earned a devoted following for its sprawling portrait of Texas high school students the last day before summer break. Linklater has been calling Everybody Wants Some!! a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed — one of Dazed’s central characters, the long-haired freshman Mitch (Wiley Wiggins), even plays on his school’s baseball team — but he said he never considered making a true sequel to Dazed with the same characters.
“I thought I would have similar mixed feelings about college. But it turned out, once I got into it, I really don't.”
“This [movie] is all about leaving it behind, separating yourself and being new, fresh, not knowing anyone,” he said. “To me, that's what college was. It was getting away from high school. I mean, you can always imagine four years later what all those characters are doing, but in truth, they're all off at different colleges.”
Also, Linklater added with a laugh, “Wiley's, like, 38 years old.”
Besides, Linklater sees some crucial differences between Dazed and Everybody Wants Some!!, starting with his own personal experiences. “Looking back, I think I had more conflicted feelings about high school,” he said. “I thought I would have similar mixed feelings about college. But it turned out, once I got into it, I really don't. That was a really great time.”
And instead of a vast ensemble cutting across the full spectrum of high school demographics — from nerds to mean girls to stoners — Everybody Wants Some!! focuses exclusively on Jake and the time he spends surrounded by like-minded, strapping young men obsessed with sex, sports, and having a good time.
“College is like that,” Linklater said. “I think it's a little better now; they have a lot of co-ed dorms and stuff. But [for me], college, the gender segregation was pronounced. Even when, say you're in a dining hall, you're still with your guys. To accurately depict that in Jake's world, I just had to realize early on that I was making very much a male movie. I told Zoey Deutch, ‘You have the weight of all young womanhood on your shoulders, through just you.’ But that's kind of how it felt that first weekend. That's just the way it was.”
Linklater wasn’t interested, however, in merely reveling in hedonistic swagger — he wants the audience to understand that that behavior does not happen in a vacuum. “There was something worth examining to me about the way young men who were athletes are treated,” he said. “You could be stupid, not a good student, not an interesting person, but if you're good at sports — our culture's kind of fucked up in this way — we really elevate you. The teacher giving you a C when you should get an F, 'cause they appreciate what you're good at. And no one treats you like a dork. You kind of can't be a dork. You don't get bullied. It enforces this kind of entitlement, and I really wanted to show that. Like, you could be a brilliant prodigy musician, and that doesn't mean you don't get bullied at school.”
Everybody Wants Some!! is not, however, meant to be an indictment of the male college athlete. For one, Linklater believes that most of them also suffer the consequences of living a consequence-free life. “It’s a dark area quite often for the athlete who gets passed over and discarded when they're hurt,” he said. “I thought it was interesting to depict young men before the real world has slapped them [like that]. … Jake's coming in with that [confidence], but he's on the bottom of the totem pole.” Linklater felt the same going into his freshman year. “My team, there were only three freshmen,” he said. “It was a tough year to kind of find your feet. It made for a very humbling, uneven experience.”
For another, while that entitlement and confidence can be problematic, as Linklater depicts it in the movie, it is also enormously appealing and seductive. “There's something pure about it,” he said. “It's beautiful. It's like watching, like, peacocks or something. Certain animals stroll the earth in a certain way.”
Perhaps because he used to do it himself, Linklater fundamentally does not see that kind of self-conscious preening as worthy of scorn. “I think still some of the funniest guys I was ever around came from that crowd,” he said. “They're business majors, and they're not that creative, they don't read that much. But they were just funny. And so I was trying to capture that. You start off going, These guys seem like jerks. Their first [interactions] are macho, are you going to be tough enough to be one of us tests. But I think you find out fairly soon, hopefully, that they're just kind of acting the role of asshole, but they're not really bad guys. They're not dark-hearted people. They're teammates. … If you ask Brett Favre today, ‘What do you miss?’ He will inevitably say, ‘The guys. Locker room.’ It's just being a part of something. Being on a team.”
That camaraderie takes on a compelling dimension when it comes to the character of Dale, played by newcomer J. Quinton Johnson. Dale is the only black player on the team, but his race never plays a factor in the film — pointedly so, like when the teammates go out to a disco together, and Dale dances with a white woman while some of his white teammates dance with black women.
For Linklater, the scene speaks to that profound feeling of fellowship he felt with his teammates in college. “Yeah — team first. No big deal,” he said. “We had black girlfriends, white girlfriends. I showed Quinton Johnson my team pictures. We had two brothers on the team. I just kind of explained this was the vibe. There's one point where McReynolds walks up to him and goes, ‘So, brother, what's going on?’ And Dale's free to say, ‘You white motherfucker.’ It was just nothing. We were beyond it. That's how it felt, to be young and idealistic.”
This isn’t just an issue of youthful optimism for Linklater, however. The movie also serves as a subtle generational signpost — a kind of exuberant elegy for a different way of looking at the world. “When people say, ‘Oh, it's an '80s movie’ — no, no, no. It's an '80 movie,” Linklater said. “It was the end of the '70s. Anything that smacked of racism felt so dumb, from a different era. It's pre-Reagan, pre-‘welfare queen.’ Reagan turned the clock back on racism. You know, when Reagan announces his presidential candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi — as we know, the home of the [Freedom Summer] murders — talking about states' rights, he's declaring: We're going backwards. And they did! Between that and the Moral Majority, there we are today.”
The topic animated the famously laid-back filmmaker like nothing else. “It's been depressing in my adult life to see things — things you would've thought, Oh well, this is minutes away from not being an issue anymore — get worse,” he said. “Pot was going to be legal any second. To see the ‘Just Say No’ drug war of the '80s was like, Whoa, just make it legal and chill out about that.”
“It's been depressing in my adult life to see things — things you would've thought, Oh well, this is minutes away from not being an issue anymore — get worse.”
To be clear, the politics in Everybody Wants Some!! are, at best, subtext — Linklater wanted his film to be about that blissful time before life becomes freighted with the pesky realities of adult life. (Linklater cut a scene in which Jake and Beverly agree they won’t be voting for Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. “It will be a good DVD extra,” he said.)
But he may not be quite done working out his feelings about the Reagan era either. “I think I have a mid-twenties, '80s underground movie, you know, what that was like to be so anti-establishment,” he said. That would likely come after a kids movie he’s currently writing “about being about 8 or 9 years old during the Space Age — specific to the moon landing.”
It’s all part of Linklater’s enduring project to track the small-yet-meaningful progression of life in its different stages. “I've checked a lot of boxes by now,” he said with a chuckle. “High school, college. Boyhood. The Before movies. I've covered a lot of personal ground. I've been so lucky to be able to do that.”