The proverbial twenty-four hour director, Richard Linklater has made masterpieces out of seemingly clichéd material: strolls through Paris (Before Sunset), raucous end-of-school festivities (Dazed and Confused), and generation definition (Slacker). He turns his light hand to remakes with Bad News Bears, a terrifically entertaining flick that spans a season, not a day. It also boasts hilarious performances from a pitch-perfect ensemble including Billy Bob Thorton, Greg Kinnear, Marcia Gay Harden, and a bevy of non-actor kids- proof that Linklater’s brave as he is bold.
The improbably young-looking director (on press day morning, he looked like a grad student) took time to discuss remaking a classic and fashioning films out of surprising material like Fast Food Nation.
Q: I’m not too sure who to ask about this, so I’ll ask you. Jack Davis did the original artwork in the–
Linklater: It’s a total knockoff of a Jack Davis.
Q: Is there any reason that Jack Davis couldn’t have done it? Or is he too old now?
Linklater: I don’t know. I didn’t really–but Jack Davis didn’t do the original film. I mean, he did like, I have a lot of posters. He did, like, Long Goodbye. A lot of 70’s posters that I liked a lot.
Q: So it was your idea?
Linklater: I picked it. It’s rare when you have a poster for a movie that you like. Because it’s usually like, Here’s what I thought about the poster and they go, You make the films, we sell them. They go, “we have what they call meaningful consultations, which means kind of screw off.” So, I’m happy with the poster. I’m glad I know more than about three thirty three on posters, of liking of the posters of my own movies, which is sad. This is the frustrating part. You have so much control of the film, godly control. And then you–it starts floating away from you somewhere in this phase.
Q: How did you work with Billy Bob?
Linklater: Billy is really easy to work with because he’s totally, he’s really smart and he has this gift of retention of dialogue. He can just look at this and then just (snaps) you know? So he’s really easy to work with. He’s very natural, my kind of actor. He’s just kind of like, we work on the dialogue or something and he’ll look up and go, Yeah, that didn’t sound right . No, that didn’t sound right either. Let’s cut that. It was always toward a realism. And that’s kind of how I work with actors too. I just want it to seem real. And he’s so natural that way. And he was so perfectly cast. It was sort of like, I wasn’t manipulating some big thing.
Q: Can you talk about the casting of the kids?
Linklater: The casting of the kids? Okay. Well, just looking for the unique characters out there. Two of them had to be ball players, Kelly and Amanda. But the other kids, you’re just looking for, they didn’t have to be good players, but just looking for distinct personalities. You kind of know them when you see them, when you meet them. I know a character when I meet one. (laughs) So they were kind of a crazy group of kids. But they were a lot of fun. Amanda and Kelly were different. They had to play, so–especially Amanda, that was tough. But they both were. Actually, I met a lot of–I knew there would be a talent level of boys because there are so many more players. But I had trouble finding it in southern California. They were just too laid back, too cool, too surfer, everything’s great. I was like, I need a punk. I need a kid who’s just like, a pissed off little kid. And Jeff, he’s from Orlando. All the other kids, they’re all nice and everything and he has his headphones on and he’s like, You know (said in a murmur). You know, he had that kind of look. Kind of like okay, that’s more of the Kelly lead guy and not just some ingratiating kid. So, he was right. A damn good ball player. Take two pitches, the next one in the trees and he did it. I was like, Okay, moving on. He could play. Can’t fake that. And Amanda, looked all over the country and found her three miles from our production office. A look alike, twelve year old kid, bangs. She is a Heather. Older brothers, plays against the boys on the all star team. Kind of like there isn’t anything about Amanda that she couldn’t relate to. She’s got a lot of moxie, really confident.
Q: You have a sports background. So I just want to know, this is your first sports movie. I thought of a remake of one of the really iconic ones. Had you ever considered doing a sports movie before?
Linklater: Yeah, I was trying to get a football movie made a long time ago. I was attached to Friday Night Lights for a while because I played Texas high school football, so I thought I was going to do that. So yeah, I’ll probably have a football movie in between too somewhere.
Q: Why Bad News Bears?
Linklater: I remember talking to John Sayles a long time ago. I didn’t really know him. I was just some guy at a film festival asking him a question, but I asked–he was just about to start Eight Men Out, so I said, "Name a good baseball movie. What’s a good baseball movie?" Because you know, there’s bad baseball movies and one’s that aren’t really baseball movies. And he went "Bad News Bears". And I thought he was kind of kidding because I knew the film, I had seen it a couple of times, but I kind of laughed and I go, He’s right actually. It is a good baseball movie. And so, it’s good in that there’s such a high percentage of the movie takes place on the field. It’s baseball, they’re practicing. Just look at the production schedule. We’re on the field the whole damn time. So it’s a baseball movie through and through. As much a higher percentage than that say the natural or these baseball, these baseball kind of iconic movies, if you look at the percentage of baseball it’s not that much. It’s a bigger drama, there’s other things going on.
Q: How was the Oscar experience?
Linklater:It’s like, “Oh I guess you gotta go.” Whatever, it’s flattering.
Q: Was it rewarding getting nominated for such a personal film?
Linklater: Yeah, you know, the between the, those ten nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted, those are often kind of like a diverse body of the maybe the best ten, you know, in a way, those are ten of the most interesting films of the year. So, it’s a tribute. So that’s a kind of area. I mean, I was disappointed, I think that Julie Delpy deserves a nomination. You can pick it apart, but I liked that because I got to share it with Ethan and Julie. It was a good, I’d rather have it for that because it included them rather than just the director. You know what I mean? It was perfect for our collaboration, so you roll with it.
Q: You got a PG-13 rating, how did you-
Linklater: You accept the rules these days and how things have changed. Like for instance, you can’t show kids smoking in movies. You just can’t. I think the studios can be sued. You just don’t depict underage people smoking, in TV, movies, anything. It’s just part of our culture now. So, you know, I could have filmed Kelly Lee smoking and then I could be beating my chest here and saying, Oh they made me cut this and it’s all hypocritical. But why pick that fight? It’s just, that’s our culture. I’m realistic enough and I’m not so masochistic to take on these fights. But that said, there are a lot of things we did film, that we assumed we filmed alternates to thinking we wouldn’t get what’s in there. Like I heard–it’s this shadow kind of organization that you, you just, they don’t tell you but people at the studio that have dealt with them before said, Oh you can’t have kids touch alcohol and we have Lukas pouring the martinis. He’s not drinking them, but he’s touching them. So this kid–I didn’t know. We might have to cut that. Or Ingleberg says, You better shut up before I tell someone you touched my pecker. And it’s like, Ooh, you can’t have kids talking about genital blah blah blah. So it’s like, Oh okay. So we shoot an alternate line. But it all passed through, I think. My alternate line for that was that Johnny Glen, you know, I was like, What’s a good alternate line? And the comedy writing duo, they’ll be sitting in the office all day and throwing out lines and by the end of the day, I’d get a fax with twelve things. I’m like Bob Hope, Hey what have you got for me, kid? And the line, one of the line was like, “Hey you better shut up before I tell someone you got all Catholic on my privates.” So that exists, yeah. Now it’ll be on the DVD.
Q: Did they make you actually cut anything though?
Linklater: No, no. I had no beef with the MPAA.
Q: But that’s why the kids at the end, they are drinking beer. You could go there?
Linklater: Well, all we did was just add a line. Non-alcoholic. You know? It’s non-alcoholic. What is the deal with non-alcoholic?
Q: It’s got .51. It’s very little, but it does have alcohol.
Linklater: Yeah, when George Bush is drinking non-alcoholic beer. (laughs)
Q: There are kids who have never acted before and kids who have had a little more experience. Did you just let them go or did you just have to really reign them in?
Linklater: Well, it’s kind of like being the coach of a team. It’s like, Hey, you’ve never acted and you’re a ballplayer and never acted and you’ve been acting your whole life. We’re all equal now. We’re on this team, here’s what we gotta do. It’s like none of that matters. Here’s the thing we’re doing. And kids pick up on stuff pretty quick and kids are natural actors and I don’t mind it. Sometimes, it’s a little difficult technically. You have to explain to them why you have to drink at that point–you know, continuity and all the technical aspects. But if you’re not requiring them to do something so far outside of their own personality and if they’re willing to be in our arena–I’ve done it a bunch in my film life, worked with non actors.
Q: What about discipline?
Linklater: That’s a whole another issue.
Q: I think that would be difficult. They’re having too much fun.
Linklater: The hierarchy of a film production, there are all these PA’s, people whose job is to corral them. But even then, the attention span is pretty challenged. The fact that they’re on a field, in a kid’s mind, you’re twelve years old and it’s December, January and you’re outside. That means recess.
Q: Yeah, they’re having too much fun.
Linklater: Yeah, so, it was pretty crazy. But we had a lot of fun. I mean when we weren’t shooting or turning around or moving, changing lighting or something, you know, football. Everybody playing ball or playing catch. Very physically active, so it was fun. It was fun.
Q: Were there parallels making this movie and making School of Rock?
Linklater: Yeah, I would say obviously because they’re the same age. But this was, in a way, it was more difficult for this reason. I mean, we’re outside, they’re all boys and they’re playing little jerky kids. Whereas School of Rock, they’re these little prim and proper private school kids in a classroom and they’re kind of conditioned to seemingly listen. But even then, that was still a struggle too. And they just, kids start talking to the one next to them. No attention span.
Q: Sidney Lumet wrote in his book, two for the studio, one for me, in terms of making a movie. Do you subscribe to that at all?
Linklater: I look through Sidney Lumet’s career and I can’t pick out the ones that are for him. The guy’s made a lot of good films, but–
Q: But you have to be successful to get to be the personal–
Linklater: But where is the personal? Where is the personal one? Which one is personal, which one is a successful studio film? I can’t tell. Was Dog Day Afternoon, personal for him? Or was that, I mean it was successful. Or was it a studio hack job? I just, I don’t know if I buy that, that’s just what I’m saying. I do every film for me. Every film is your last film. I was compelled to do this because of baseball and trying to make a comedy and it was going to be fun. The more I do this, I don’t have any, there’s no career plan, there’s no–I mean, you want everything you do to be successful just because that means more people liked it or shared it or were more compelled to see it. But you can’t really control that. So I think the one time you do a film, Oh I just need to make a hit, so I can do–that’s going to be a bomb. That’s going to suck. I’m sure of it. I’ve never chased after that.
Q: How did you approach this remake? Obviously it’s very close to the original, it’s kind of referring to things in the original that were changed slightly.
Linklater: Yeah, with that precedent hanging over our movies so strongly, you have to play with that. Some of the iconic moments in that film, the elements, you have to confront like Lukas’s cat in the end. We had to tie that in. So you know it’s coming, but it’s a new twist. Or yeah, like Chico’s Bail Bonds, that’s where we’re different. With Billy Bob, it’s a gentleman’s club, it’s a strippers. You deal with the first film. We had nothing but a big reverence for the first film. And you just have to kind of deal with it. And hopefully, you’re just putting a new skin on everything.
Q: A lot of your films take place in 24 hours, is that a preference or a coincidence?
Linklater: No, it’s just storytelling. This movie has its own, its own whole story of a season. It’s whole, episodic in nature. Something that builds up to big championship game. But it’s kind of a classical structure too. So you work within that. Try to make it work.
Q: But you do, I mean, the first half of the movie builds time, but a lot of the move is that last game. The pacing or building within that time. I don’t know how much time it is.
Linklater: It’s pretty long.
Q: I mean, this is the last game. It’s really well developed. Did you enjoy–
Linklater: Yeah, I mean that was its own number. That was kind of a mini movie unto itself. Telling the story of the big championship game. Ultimately, our pacing of the movie gets judged on that game. Because we’re pretty long for a comedy with kids in it, we’re like a 115 minutes or something.
Q: You need time to develop the characters-
Linklater: Yeah. You’re paying off everything that’s come before it and it’s all playing out there, so yeah. It has to work or the whole movie would be a big drag. But it’s kind of long. But no one had a pacing problems with it. We tested, How many of you think it’s too long? And we’d have no hands up. Because sports movies are good for that, when you have a championship game when it all builds, and it’s like perfect narrative. Conflict, resolution, all that works out really nicely. Sort of in our primordial narrative minds here, it’s sort of satisfying. It’s kind of good for once to be in that structure because I’m rarely in it.
Q: Were the rats trained?
Linklater: The rats were trained. Yeah, they’re very good. They were like, three weeks, they were trained. Or two weeks. And the buzzer and up at the stairs, there would be food. So one day, there was a buzzer sound and when they got up there, there was a camera waiting for them. This is how you do it. When you work with animals, the actor has meat in his pocket so that the dog walks besides him. You know, whatever.
Q: Is there any good reason, you chose this to remake?
Linklater: Well it’s, again, a nod to the first film. It worked so well in the original that we considered this whole movie kind of a remix, not a remake, but a remix. And that’s truly what it was. The first practice, we were playing some of the music of the Houston rap singers where they slow it down. We’ve actually taken it and slowed it down. It’s a remix.
Q: What can you tell us about A Scanner Darkly?
Linklater: Shot it a year ago. We’re in a year-long animation process. So yeah, it’s in process.
Q: Is it a very different approach from Waking Life? In the fact that, that one was very free form and it would just kind of go off into–
Linklater: Yeah, yeah, this is that story. It’s very much the book, A Scanner Darkly. It kind of looks like a graphic novel. The design is very consistent this time. For Waking Life, we had different artists, different looks kind of for each character, each section. But this, it’s very different. But fundamentally, the same software. It’s just been updated.
Q: But not a graphic novel to the extent of “Sin City.” I mean, you’re not like copying frame for frame?
Linklater: No, no, because the origination is not a graphic novel. Like “Sin City” is a graphic novel that’s become a movie. We’re like a movie that’s becoming a graphic novel. So we’re, so Robert and I are crossing–
Q: Is there going to be wide release to it?
Linklater: I don’t know. It’s a weird ass movie. But it’s, I don’t know.
Q: It looks great.
Linklater: I don’t know. I have no idea how they’re going to release it. I mean, I think it should be. It’s weird in an intriguing way, not an incomprehensible way. It’s funny too, it’s very much a comedy. A dark comedy, but a comedy.
Q: And Fast Food Nation?
Linklater: It seems to be in the works. It’s a kind of character based thing where the kids work at the fast food thing. It’s very different than the book. The book would be a documentary. So, but it’s in that world. Eric and I have been working on it for a while.
Bad News Bears opens on July 22nd.
And look for more A Scanner Darkly interviews from San Diego Comic Con this week!