Michael O'Sullivan: Male bonding under the microscope

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Brotherly spirit at core of Linklater’s ’80s comedy.
Blake Jenner and Glen Powell were encouraged to put ego aside and share the limelight in Everybody Wants Some!!
Blake Jenner and Glen Powell were encouraged to put ego aside and share the limelight in Everybody Wants Some!!

The three 20-something dudes sitting across from me on a couch in a D.C. hotel room don't look like movie stars. Although the guy in the middle, Wyatt Russell, actually is Hollywood royalty, he radiates little of the still-undimmed wattage of his parents, Kurt Russell of The Hateful Eight and Goldie Hawn of - well, Goldie Hawn.

With his long, blond hair, beard scruff and half-lidded gaze, the 29-year-old co-star of Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! resembles nothing so much as the genial stoner he plays in the 1980-set ensemble comedy.

For the purposes of this interview, Russell is accompanied by 27-year-old Glen Powell and 21-year-old J. Quinton Johnson (known as "Q"). We've been talking for only five minutes and I can't help but notice that the line between their on-screen characters and their real selves seems to be a blurry one.

"Oh, really, am I talking too much?" Powell jokes, to an eruption of knowing laughter from his companions. The voluble actor, known for a recurring role on Scream Queens, plays the silver-tongued, hyper-verbal upperclassman Finnegan in Everybody. As for Johnson, a small-town Texan who is making his feature debut as the earnest, level-headed Dale, the actor offers a succinctly jocklike philosophy - cribbed from his co-star - about maintaining perspective when you're part of a winning team (or a hit movie): "Finnegan says it in the movie: 'You think too much, it's going to f*** you up'." According to all three actors, the thought of becoming as famous as the stars of Linklater's 1993 break-out Dazed and Confused - to which the director has called his latest film a "spiritual sequel" - has never crossed their minds. To be sure, that film's ensemble cast include then-unheard-of actors Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Parker Posey. Then again, says Russell, "there was also an entire cast of people you never saw again."

At auditions, each of the three actors had to demonstrate serious athletic chops, along with acting ability. Russell is a former professional hockey player who took up the family business after five concussions. ("The last time [I got hurt], they found a black spot at the back of my brain," he says. "My mother wasn't too happy about that.") Powell played high school football and lacrosse until he was sidelined by an injury. For Johnson, it was a more gradual transition, from high school basketball to choir and theatre.

Although the main cast also includes Zoey Deutch, the movie, with its randy title taken from a Van Halen song, is an almost anthropological study of male behaviour. Its sweet-natured celebration of goofball jock culture and masculine competition/camaraderie is based loosely on Linklater's experience as a baseball player at Sam Houston State University.

To foster team spirit, Linklater invited the cast to his ranch outside Austin for three weeks of rehearsals and rewrites, tailoring the screenplay to the quirks of his actors, who were encouraged to improvise. Although cellphones were discouraged, Russell managed to secretly videotape the cast playing a nutty Quidditch-like game around the swimming pool.

"You could call this movie bromantic," Powell says. Among the many movie screenings the director held for his cast was Il Posto, the 1961 film about a young Italian man being tutored by an older mentor in what Powell calls "swagger". For the cast of Everybody, that mentor was Linklater, whose knowledge of period style led Powell to christen him "Rickipedia".

Along with cultivating a sense of swagger, Linklater made sure to tamp down any ego flare-ups that might have disrupted the bonds he was trying to forge. "Rick would come up to me every couple of days," Powell says, "making sure we were all getting along. He was sniffing, he was looking for that one guy who was going to poison the well."

After the first few days - when, as Powell puts it, each of the actors were still angling for screen time - it became less about "How can I get the spotlight?" and more about "How can I share the spotlight?"

Despite their relative youth, Powell and Russell have more experience in the business than Johnson. For them, the spirit of collaboration is something both say they haven't seen since their sports-playing days. As two of the cast's elders, they made sure to let Johnson and some of his fresh-faced cohort know that no matter what happens with the rest of their budding careers, the luxury of starting out in a Richard Linklater film is something to be savoured.

"We were very aware to tell the younger guys, who had never done movies, 'Just so you know, this is as good as it gets,"' Powell says, adding, with a twinkle in his eye, "You're going to have a long career in the film business, but it's all downhill from here."

- Washington Post

- Washington Post

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