Richard Linklater on Zac Efron, Child Actors, and His Mysterious 12-Year Drama

Though Miramax scuttled his next project, Liars (A to E), it's not hard to imagine Richard Linklater will bounce back -- the tricky part is picturing just what he'll do next. Over his career, the Austin-based filmmaker has thrown his audience a few laid-back curveballs, moving from low-budget films like Slacker and Dazed and Confused to studio comedies like School of Rock and Bad News Bears. Linklater's newest film is Me and Orson Welles, and it may be his most unlikely yet: a period comedy starring Zac Efron, Claire Danes, and new find Christian McKay as Welles.

Still, despite Efron's star wattage, Linklater admits that getting the film into theaters was no easy task. In an interview Movieline conducted with the director last week, he opened up about those difficulties and talked extensively about an even more challenging project: the secretive drama he's been filming every year for the last eight years.

A little over ten years ago, you made The Newton Boys, which starred a lot of young male actors who were just about the hottest thing going back then...

Oh yeah: Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Skeet Ulrich...

...and the reason I bring it up is that Me and Orson Welles stars one of the hottest actors from his generation, Zac Efron. I'm curious about how things have changed. I would imagine that when you did The Newton Boys, there wasn't a lot of paparazzi hanging out outside the set.

No! Totally different era. I told Zac that he's in the wrong era, man -- everyone can take a picture of him. It used to be that you could go to a bar and your every move wasn't on the internet. Like wow, what a small fishbowl that must feel like to be him right now. It's really tough. Having been around names like that in previous years, it's a whole different culture.

Back in the day, with that cast, there was no question that Newton Boys would get released. However, Me and Orson Welles had to wait a long time after first screening to find a distributor, even though it stars one of the biggest names going. Did that freak you out?

Well, what's happened in the eleven years since Newton Boys is that this film would have been a studio film back then. Hollywood quit making this movie -- they just din't make films like this anymore. It doesn't fit into the business model of $200 million films that make $800 million. Shareholder responsibility and all that. This has become an endangered species of a movie, and in my heart, I have to think there's an audience who would appreciate it.

You've made a lot of nonstudio films, and I would think that you might believe, "OK, I've got this process licked." Does it feel like suddenly the rug has been pulled out from under you?

Oh, I know. The second you feel a comfort zone, the ground shifts. My own experience told me, "Just when you think you know something, everything changes." But it's the arts, and it keeps you on your feet. That's what makes it such a fascinating industry, people on the inside care about all that. Like in the computer industry, who cares where the software comes from? But in film, it's such a fascinating world.

Do you think that taking a film like this is strategic from Zac's point of view?

I don't know. I would hope that in Zac's career, it means something. I thought he was the best guy for this movie -- I needed a leading man, and Zac is one. He's got a lot of charisma, the camera loves him, he's really gifted and a triple threat. Each generation has a group of actors that you keep up with -- they do different things and have these long careers -- and I really think he's one of those guys. It's weird, though: If you're starting out at his age and no one knows you, you're at the 50-yard line, but starting out having had his early success, it's like he's almost penalized. He's starting from the end zone, he's pushed back a bit. He just has to work his way out.

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  • Mia says:

    After seeing a screening of this movie, I really think Linklater is too optimistic about Zac Efron. He's not exactly bad, just overwhelmingly bland.
    It's a drag to watch his part of the story without the great Welles impersonation. Especially in scenes with Danes, I even tried to substitute a young Ethan Hawke for his role in my own mind just to get more fun.

  • Mona says:

    I'm looking forward to seeing the movie if and when it comes to Australia. I first saw a clip of the movie at least a year ago. It seems like quite a departure from Zac's other movies. But I know he can act; I saw him in a little known movie called Miracle Run, in which he played a functioning autistic child. He was nominated for some kind of youth award for his role. I think it speaks for his commitment to acting that he is willing to get out of his comfort zone and try something different, something risky, which may not always appeal to his current fan base. Best of luck for the movie to all cast and crew!

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