Linklater's Boys of Summer

In his latest, the Boyhood director continues to eschew the "A-ha!" in favor of the real.

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Linklater's Boys of Summer

There’s a weird “chicken or the egg” thing that seems to happen with Richard Linklater’s movies, a sort of hyper-realism he manages to achieve that makes us question the line between art and actuality. When Matthew McConaughey grins and drops an “alright, alright, alright” into his Oscar acceptance speech (or his Golden Globes speech, or his Critic’s Choice Awards speech, or his Independent Spirit Awards speech), is he doing it to come full-circle, re-uttering the first words he ever spoke on film, or is he doing it because he kind of is Wooderson from Dazed and Confused? Does the McConaughey we know and love—the one who managed to turn a three-word catchphrase into an entire persona—exist entirely because of Dazed and Confused, or does Wooderson exist because Matthew McConaughey is that guy and Linklater managed to find him and put him in front of a camera? Or when we watch Mason literally grow up onscreen in Boyhood, which Linklater famously spent 12 years shooting, how much of that is really the actor Ellar Coltrane coming into his own and getting more comfortable with his performance the closer he gets to adulthood?

Boyhood didn’t technically get him an Oscar of his own (he lost Best Director to Birdman’s Alejandro G. Iñárritu), but in some ways, Linklater is making an “alright alright alright” acceptance speech of his own this year with Everybody Wants Some!!, a movie he’s calling a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused. Set in Texas in 1980—four years after O’Bannion and the seniors paddle incoming freshman pitcher Mitch after a game in Dazed—and following the exploits of a college baseball team over the first weekend of school, it feels like a natural continuation (though the characters are original). What ties Everybody Wants Some!! to Dazed and Confused is what ties all of Linklater’s movies together—that feeling that what you’re watching is real.

To achieve that this time around, he had his cast bunk together at his ranch for three weeks, bringing to life among his actors the type of bonds that existed between the characters in his script.

“It was I think the most crucial part of making this movie for sure,” says Tyler Hoechlin, who plays the ultra-competitive team captain, Glen McReynolds. “Because not only did we establish things that we liked in the script that were working and things we wanted to try, but kind of even just in the personal relationships that were forming, like different dynamics would come out and all of a sudden you’d find that ‘oh, that’d be interesting with the characters actually,’ and we’d kind of try to play with it and everything. We found out so much in those three weeks that, as someone who has directing aspirations, that is something I’m taking out of Rick’s playbook and will be absolutely applying to anything I end up doing because I just think that we made the movie in those three weeks and then we got to actually go and shoot it.”

Blake Jenner, who plays protagonist Jake, a freshman who must go from being his high school’s ace to being college meat, agrees. “It was important I think as actors,” he says. “You know, you’re auditioning for something and once you get it, you’re like ‘oh, damn, I actually have to do this now. This is a thing.’ And then coming out there you have this excitement and anxiety because you want to be good, you want to service Rick and everything, so those first two weeks were really important in the way of also stripping away the façade or the fear of either getting fired or not being good or not being good at baseball or something. It kind of brought us together, and Rick really taught us from just that whole experience that we’re not there to act but to behave. To really get to know each other and just portray that on the screen.”

That authenticity applied to their baseball, too. Before they were cast, actors had to submit skills tapes to prove they could play, and despite there only being a handful of practice scenes in the movie (most of the action is centered around a weekend’s worth of parties before the season even starts), Linklater had them out on the field practicing every day.

“For me as an actor, I was sort of looking at that whole thing as it was happening and realizing that the act of practicing baseball created a persona within myself and all of us, sort of a swagger that we all began to form with each other and a mutual respect that we all had for each other,” says Will Brittain, who plays closer Billy Autrey. “So it wasn’t so much like we needed to work on baseball that much, but the act of going to baseball practice and being with each other made us a team.”

Team-building was important, but so was believability. “I mean all these guys are athletes,” Brittain says. “That’s what Rick sort of drove home right at the beginning and we all sort of embodied. No matter what, every guy is good, even the guy who gets made fun of the most.”

Hoechlin in particular was able to draw on his past experiences to bring that to the screen; he played baseball for Arizona State University and UC Irvine before ultimately pursuing acting. “I will say as someone who played ball in college and all through growing up, there’s something that kind of forms between the guys,” he says. “You’re all physically investing your energy in something and it’s a common goal and so definitely there’s a respect factor that comes in. You see how hard the guys work and you go ‘okay, good, that guy’s working hard.’ You can respect that, you connect with guys with certain things, and there’s also a humility that comes with it—guys asking for help with certain things. It was important for the guys [on the cast] who hadn’t played as much to learn the physical, actual acts of playing baseball—I think more than anything it brings out a dynamic between the guys, just having that social setting.”

That sense of teamwork carried through to nearly every aspect of the production, making for an extremely collaborative environment—one where the actors even contributed to the casting process.

“It was a very collaborative process from the very beginning to the very end, just because of the fact that they would give you certain characters to look at and be like ‘Of these six characters, pick three,’” Hoechlin says. “Then you would go and you’d pick three, and so you’re already kind of having input as far as where you think you’d fit into the script as opposed to ‘This is the character they want you to read.’”

“We would go back to the bunkhouse, and we had a table that we’d all sit around and have a drink and just kind of sit and talk. All our time hanging out was either BS-ing each other or as the characters and talking about the script,” he continues. “I think that’s why [the dialogue] seems so natural because we really never stopped … I wanna say working, but even working’s not the right word because we just always would be creating something, even outside of set. If we were going back home or in the vans or whatever it was, it just was always flowing. No one ever wanted the day to end, and so you never had people who were phoning it in, you never had anyone say, ‘Eh, it’s good enough.’ It was always, always trying to find that next little thing, and I think that’s what ended up coming off so naturally.”

Some characters evolved based on the performances of the actors who played them. As Brittain notes, his castmates Austin Amelio and Tanner Kalina, who play Nesbit and Brumley respectively, were originally only supposed to have a handful of lines but wound up in nearly every scene.

“They had two, three lines tops, and those guys brought so much life to those characters that they became part of and essential to every scene,” he says. “But I think Rick probably knew that going into it—it’s just he hadn’t figured out how he was gonna work it in yet. That’s something he would say to us on an everyday basis: ‘Okay guys, pay attention here. Even if you’re not in this scene, pay attention and make sure that you shouldn’t be in this scene, because if you think you should, we need to make sure we find a way to work that in.’”

Of course, Linklater also managed to work in plenty of his own experiences playing college ball during that era, and he made sure every detail—down to the music his characters were into—was accurate.

“There were about 50 songs on a couple CDs that he gave us to listen to, and then once we got there he gave us this little iPod nano that had all the music on it,” Hoechlin says. “It was really cool, too, because he kinda told us you know, as baseball guys back then, what you would have actually been into. He said you didn’t actually like disco, but you would go because there were drink specials and there were girls and that’s why you would go, so you kind of put up with it or maybe secretly you liked a song. So he kinda gave us those things and said ‘with that in mind, go through here and see what kind of music your character would like, what they’d be into’ and things like that. And it does kind of give you a nice creative space to operate within just knowing that you’re kind of picking up things that might inform you about something not completely specific, but just a feel or a vibe.”

The film’s soundtrack does contribute to its overall vibe in a surprisingly deep way. The characters spend time trying on different identities throughout the movie, hanging out at a disco club, a honky-tonk and a punk show, and yes, they’re there for the drink specials, but they’re also opening themselves up to everything college life has to offer—a point driven home in a speech that feels like the successor to Dazed and Confused’s “all I’m saying is that I want to look back and say that I did I the best I could while I was stuck in this place…” moment.

“It was really cool to be in an era playing a student when like, experiences are for the taking,” Jenner says. “During that time all those things were coming to life, so we’re living in that spot kind of getting a taste of everything as actors and as the characters too.”

And that’s what gives Everybody Wants Some!! its quiet meaning. These are bros who are mainly about getting drunk and getting laid, sure, but they’re also perfectly willing to go to a weird theater-kid party and role-play just for the experience. This is a movie where the loudmouth, mustache-and-aviators guy (played by Scream Queens’ Glen Powell, who steals every scene he’s in) also can be found on the couch reading Kerouac before classes have even started. No one’s a clean stereotype; everyone’s opening themselves up to time in their lives they know deep down is fleeting.

“It’s like a stone underneath the water. You might not notice it right away, but it’s always there, and it’s moving the water in whatever direction it’s going, and that’s sort of the beauty that Rick has with his writing and also his characters—he finds way to put these ideas in through these different characters in the subtlest ways,” Brittain says, getting a little surprisingly poetic himself.

“You have Finnegan talking about hitters and superstition in baseball and sort of the psychology about sports, and you have Willoughby talking about telepathy in his room over a bong, but there’s also something beautiful about what Willoughby’s saying in that moment, which is to sort of look in between those moments in life and try to see where you fit in. Relax and let it happen. I just think that’s throughout the film. Rick doesn’t make a big deal out of it, and I think not making a big deal out of it allows it to land more than if you did, and it allows you to notice it rather than screaming at you to pay attention.”

And that’s ultimately what makes Linklater’s best movies feel so much like real life: the lessons are there, but there’s no grand “a-ha!” moment, no climax or conclusion to wrap things up into a nice, neat bow for viewers. That’s not his style; he’d rather present us life and then, as Wooderson would say (or as Matthew McConaughey has said himself many, many times—again, the two kind of bleed together), just keep livin’.