If things had worked out differently, Richard Linklater might have been a pro baseball player or a novelist. Or both. “My goal was to be a novelist and a Major League baseball player.”
Nestled in a bar of a Glasgow hotel ahead of a preview screening of his new film Everybody Wants Some!!, the Boyhood director isn’t ruminating on some never-close-to-being-realised childhood dream. On the contrary, he was two years into a baseball scholarship at Sam Houston State University in Texas when a heart condition abruptly halted a potentially very real athletic career. “I had atrial fibrillation,” he elaborates. “The heart sort of goes out of rhythm: you can live your life, but you can’t run.”
The symbolism is almost too perfect. In Slacker, Linklater’s rambling, zeitgeist-defining breakthrough movie, he zeroed in on a cast of freaks and geeks in Austin who shuffled through life according to their own peculiar rhythms. And in Before Sunrise, a sudden rupture of the heart – figurative this time – altered the trajectory of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s Euro-railing twentysomethings, deepening and complicating their lives as the sequels (Before Sunset and Before Midnight) revisited them in real time over the ensuing years.
Still, Linklater reckons there was some providence involved in his early exit from baseball.
Subsequently dropping out and moving to Austin, Linklater discovered cinema, taught himself to make movies and ended up launching one the most creatively successful, esoteric and above all independent American filmmaking careers of the last 30 years. His literary ambitions segued naturally into screenwriting (not for nothing did Hawke’s character in the Before… trilogy become a novelist), and his love of baseball started filtering into the films as well: in Dazed and Confused, in his remake of Bad News Bears, in his coaching documentary Inning by Inning, and now in Everybody Wants Some!!, a raucous but sweet-natured campus comedy about a group of college ball players counting down the hours to the first day of term.
“If I had some kind of autobiographical chain of movies, this does fill a gap,” says Linklater of the film’s self-styled status as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused (the film is set in 1980 and takes its name – exclamation points and all – from a Van Halen song the way Dazed and Confused borrowed its moniker from Led Zeppelin). “That was my high school, this is my college. I don’t have any other college movies.”
Condensing the most fun times of his own two-year stint into a single weekend, Everybody Wants Some!! stands out thanks to the breezy way it presents a more fluid picture of college life, one where you can try on different identities and one where frathouse jocks are as just as likely to be caught reading books or having philosophical debates about The Twilight Zone as hazing each other or chasing women.
“People think athletes are bullies or dangerous characters, but they’re not,” says Linklater. “Especially in the sport of baseball. It’s a bit more cerebral.”
Like Dazed and Confused, the attention to period detail is meticulous. Linklater says his memories of the time were very specific, which is just as well. A couple of years before production he lost his entire archive in a fire. Things he’d written, things he’d filmed, vinyl he’d collected – all gone. “It was a total erasure of the record of however many decades of my life,” he shrugs. “It was weird, but you get philosophical really fast. It’s just stuff; it kind of confirmed my view of life.’”
Everybody Wants Some!! is not an exercise in nostalgia, then. Linklater says he never wanted college to be “the highlight of his life”, but he did have a good time and the film’s joie de vivre philosophy is casually articulated by Tyler Hoechlin’s pro-baseball prospect McReynolds: “Best day of my life … until tomorrow”.
That reflects Linklater’s own view of his career, shrugging off the Oscar attention Boyhood received last year the way he shrugged off the voice-of-a-generation tag he picked up 25 years ago when Slacker’s release coincided with Nirvana’s Nevermind and Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X.
“These are just little moments in time,” he says. “You move on.”
Indeed, he likes acknowledging the “over-ness” of things; using his characters to explore their transitory nature. “But it’s good to be around at the beginning of things too,” he adds. “It’s good to bask in the newness.”
• Everybody Wants Some!! is on general release