With classics like Slacker, Dazed and Confused and Boyhood, writer-director Richard Linklater has put Austin on the map, both onscreen and as his dedicated headquarters for more than 30 years. Linklater’s latest, Last Flag Flying, is an intimate chamber drama about a trio of Vietnam War veterans—played by Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and a totally transformed Steve Carell—that comes from a 2005 novel by Darryl Ponicsan. We talked to the filmmaker about the specialness of Austin and his need to go political.
What is it about Austin that keeps you faithful?
It’s always worked for me. I’ve felt an instinct toward it, even when I was visiting older friends in college when I was in high school. You know how people fall in love with Austin—you go to Barton Springs or the Continental Club to see some music. You run into a subculture that makes sense to you. You become a part of that vibe.
Your Austin Film Society has become a crucial element of the local film scene. How would you describe the response to AFS Cinema?
Very supportive. I think we have a pretty unique film culture. Last night I showed John Carpenter’s They Live to a sold-out audience, and that was during a World Series game. I don’t think there are many towns in the country that could say that.
Last Flag Flying dives deep into some thorny political issues. What was on your mind?
I found myself tweaked out about the war. You just feel helpless. Making a movie about that was a great way to explore those complex feelings one has toward the military: notions of patriotism, sacrifice, truth.
Could you ever have imagined a story about military grieving would become so timely?
[Laughs] We have such an insensitive person running things who has no finesse or empathy in this area. But that’s what we signed on for with this guy. He insulted a Gold Star family during the run-up to the election. So I can’t believe anyone’s surprised that he hasn’t gotten better at this.
Among your trio of central actors, Steve Carell is the real surprise. How did you know he could go quiet and deep like that?
Steve is my kind of actor. Really smart and funny—like the best kind of people to work with—but he has this stoic quality. I think his dad had been a WWII vet. Steve is hilarious, but there’s a thoughtful side of him that’s very contemplative. It was great to see him feel his way through the emotions of the character.
Your films feel like conversations. Was anyone shocked that you wanted to do a war movie?
I roll my eyes at most war movies. I don’t believe in them—ultimately, I don’t think they’re antiwar. I like things that reveal themselves slowly and organically through human behavior. Early on, there was a feeling about this book, that it wasn’t quite a movie. I was like, It’s my kind of movie. This is my war movie.
Last Flag Flying is now playing at AFS Cinema.