Modestly, in the relaxed posture of the college left fielder he once was, Richard Linklater tells me his theory of directing. “Working with the actors—the crew, too—there’s a little ‘head coach’ to it,” he explains in Tribeca’s Greenwich Hotel. “A good coach has a thing going with each player. Just like actors, they all have different needs. Sometimes you need to be motivating this guy all the time. But that person you leave alone. And that one, they can win the game, but they can’t tie it.”
Linklater, more than any other filmmaker working today, is comfortable playing the long game. He’s made 19 features, including his now-classic breakthrough Slacker (1991). And four of them have had a gestation that no other American moviemaker has ever attempted, let alone nailed. His ambitious romantic trilogy, Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), represents a periodic every-nine-years collaboration with actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, growing in subject matter from college-aged impulsiveness to middle-aged regrets to rekindled passion. And Boyhood (2014), famously, is the Oscar-nominated film Linklater shot over 12 years in dribs and drabs, resulting in a hard-earned masterpiece of intimate domesticity and gentle rebellion.
Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater’s latest—set in 1980 on a partycentric Texas college campus prowled by hypercompetitive athletes, self-possessed drama kids and a spirit of opening doors—may be his biggest stretch to date. It’s the first movie named after a Van Halen song. (“First and last,” the director jokes, though he’s insistent on keeping David Lee Roth’s yowling double exclamation points.) It’s suffused with the best pop music ever made: bouncy hits from 35 years ago that turn the experience of watching the film into an ear-to-ear grin. And improbably, after so many triumphs, it’s the warmest effort of his career.
“Trust me, it’s a lot easier to think about making a movie for 12 years than to actually make one for 12 years,” says Linklater, the mind-boggling Boyhood still in his rearview mirror. “But that said, I’ve been trying to get this one made for, I guess, this century. About the time that Boyhood was starting, I was starting on this. It’s a memory film, as personal as anything else I’ve done—which is, you know, quite a bit.” Yet despite these ambitious, drawn-out projects, Linklater somehow maintains a relaxed demeanor. (Perversely, I want to know what makes the guy furious. “Hey, to you New Yorkers: Ted Cruz is much more scary than Donald Trump,” he zings under his breath.“Believe me, he’s from my state. He’s much more dangerous. He’ll take the whole country off the cliff.”)