Richard Linklater: interview

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Both the 49-year-old, Houston-born filmmaker Richard Linklater and the subject of his new film, ‘Me and Orson Welles’ were self-taught at an early age, but the similarities between the two don’t go much further. The film is based on a Robert Kaplow novel and dramatises Welles’s seat-of-his-pants staging of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ in 1937, when the future director of ‘Citizen Kane’ was just 22 years old.

Was Welles important to you as a filmmaker before you made this film?
‘Well, I’d seen “Citizen Kane” probably 20 times over 28 years…’

That’s quite a lot…
‘…but not obsessive! If it’s on, I’ll always watch it. It’s like going to a museum and seeing that painting you like so much. It seems different each time. It depends where you’re at. Charles Foster Kane is a different guy every time I see the movie. I’ve felt different about Welles at different times. First it was awe. Other times I was more critical and felt that he could have fought more for a particular film. After doing this film, my feelings for him as an artist and a man are even bigger. Some people don’t last, they’re of their generation, but he’ll be around forever, like Tolstoy or Shakespeare.’

Did you go back to his films?
‘No, not at all. My comfort zone was to be doing Welles before he made the films, before the radio play of “War of the Worlds”. I felt I could bite that off. This was a pretty obscure moment. It shouldn’t be. It’s an incredible moment that says everything about him at this young age, but it’s so early and this isn’t such a documented part of his life. I like that approach to the biopic. One of my favourites is John Ford’s “Young Mr Lincoln”, and it just shows Lincoln as a young small-town lawyer.’

You have to remind yourself that Welles is just 22.
‘Yeah. Because he never seemed young. He didn’t want to be young. He acted older. He presented himself as much older. You think: Twenty-two, holy shit, and look what he’s doing!’

He was already a darling of the New York theatre scene.
‘And he had been for a year. He’d achieved a lot and this was a highly anticipated production. He’d done the voodoo version of “Macbeth” in Harlem with an all-black cast. His musical production of “The Cradle Will Rock” had notoriously been shut down [reportedly for budget reasons, but arguably because it was politically sensitive]. He was already a trailblazer at 21. There’s no equivalent.’

I like the sense of putting on a show in your film. It’s an ensemble piece, even if Welles lords over it.
‘The supporting characters are the core of it. That was the joy of doing it, that ensemble vibe. But, of course, Welles was going to tower over it all. I’m not sure I’m a filmmaker who’s ever going to make a film about making a film, something as charming as Truffaut’s “Day for Night”. But I felt good making a film about putting on a play. You still get all those director-actor dynamics. It was a safer way for me to deal with that whole thing. It’s a Valentine to actors and to putting on a show.’

And you shot a lot of it in a real theatre on the Isle of Man. What did that lend to the making of the film?
‘It meant we were the Mercury Theater. We recreated it to the exact drawings. On top of that, we were in the theatre all day, then we were together at night. We did all bond and become this troupe. We replicated it beautifully.’

Not as far as there being a touch of the domineering Orson Welles in you?
‘No, no, it was a tough shoot and we had a lot to do in a short time, but it was all fun. I managed to sublimate Welles enough within me.’

Read our review of ‘Me and Orson Welles’.

Author: Interview: Dave Calhoun



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