Transcribe your podcast

From the New York Times. This is the interview. I'm David Marchese. If I ask you to think of a Richard Linklater movie, what do you think of? Maybe it's the cult favorite days to confused. That's the movie that launched Matthew McConaughey's career. Or maybe it's before sunrise, the first installment of his beloved trilogy about big ideas, love and fate. Or maybe you'd think about the low key coming of age epic boyhood, which Linklater famously filmed over a dozen years. And of course, you can't forget school of rock, his biggest hit, which exists in a category all of its own. And to me, that's the fun of Linklater's work. You never quite know what he's gonna make next. So I wasn't surprised to see him getting into romantic crime thrillers with his new movie, Hitman. It stars the great Glenn Powell, who also co wrote it. It's excellent, but I would argue that it's excellent because it's actually not so far off from his other work as it might seem. Between all the thrills, the crimes and the sex, Hitman sneaks in a pretty provocative exploration of one of Linklater's favorite themes, the changing nature of identity, basically what it means to be a person.


It's also a movie, as so many of Linklater's films are, that understands just how much fun it is to watch smart characters talk to each other, exploring ideas, making each other laugh, and even testing each other a little bit. It's the talking that made me fall in love with Linklater's films because those are the kinds of conversations that are most meaningful to me. I don't want to make too much of all this, but I can see a pretty clear line from teenage me sitting around watching waking life and slacker over and over again. To me here now, talking with those films director Richard Linklater, who, as it turns out, sounds a lot like a character from one of his movies. Here's our conversation. I think it's fair to say that a lot of your films are asking questions about identity and formation of identity. And given that that's a recurring theme in your work, I'm curious how you think about your identity at 63 years old. Do you feel like it's fixed? Do you feel like you still have formative experiences?


Yeah. Isn't that the question of self? It's the kind of thing I thought a lot about my entire life, you know, just like, what could transform me, what could make me feel different than how I feel, how I see the world. So I've always kind of monitored that, you know, like, what's going to change me? And I was probably more in the camp of, we're fixed, give or take whatever little percentage around the edges, and we sort of accept ourselves. So I was more interested in this notion lately that, oh, you really can change. You know, you really. The personality isn't fixed, but that seems sort of current, you know, in a way, this notion of self and identity, you know, gender, anything. I sort of like that it's all on the table that everybody's thinking, like, well, you kind of are who you say you are, you know, to me. That's interesting.


Do you have a lot of different identities?


Yeah, probably as many as anybody else.


What are the different ones?


Well, you know, if you get me on a ping pong table, like an area where, like, my third rail is athletics, you know, I cross into this realm where I was acculturated and just good enough to, like, figure I should be good and achieve. And I have this bar for myself. So I feel this little rush of competitiveness, which I really don't have in the world of art at all or my life even. I don't see it anywhere, but it's in certain areas and I try to avoid them because it's not the best me. But every now and then it can be fun to kind of push yourself. But, you know, I'm the guy looking at the world through glass. You know, I was always the guy in the corner thinking about everything. I'm not an extrovert. I'm an introvert who gets put in extroverted situations occasionally. And I could play that role, but roles I currently play, I don't know. It's nice to care less about it as you get older.


About what?


Like consistency maybe. But my pure self is on the set making a movie. I'm pretty convinced the self that I've worked for and the pinnacle of my time and effort, I realize, is rehearsing and shooting the movie and whatever writing before. That's the pure me. But it's manufactured me. Catch me at dinner later and you get the same guy who's processing the shit of the day and, you know, having his lectures about what I know and whatever lunatic political ideas that are flowing through my system in real time like everybody else. But I process the world through art and in particular cinema. And that's the space that I've been lucky enough to live in.


What's a lunatic political idea that's in your system right now.


Oh, you're really gonna. Well, you notice I don't really. If you're unfortunate enough to be sitting next to me at dinner or around me, I often just spout off. But I don't have a need to share that publicly so much because I know it's not a long term thought. I guess the meticulous, long term nature of making a film is a certain kind of personality and someone who has to be on Twitter or whatever, spouting off their moment to moment, taking in and spitting out of the world. I have those ideas, but I know they have no value. I know I'm not going to enlighten anyone, but I really do draw a line. I'm like, yeah, I could mouth off. Like, I could share my brain snot with the whole world the way everybody else did, but I don't see any value in it for me personally, you know, because I've been privileged, gifted, whatever you want to say, to make the greatest, most expressive storytelling art form ever invented. So I'm one of the few who get to do that. So why would I put any effort into these transitory, weird little reactive areas?


I think you should file away brain snot as a possible fictional band name in a film. The name of a punk ep, maybe a seven inch brain snot. That's pretty good.


Well, that's what so much of the world feels like, doesn't it?


Brain snot?


Yeah, overactive. Like conspiracy. You know, it's like it's activated brains, but just unfiltered, unaccredited. What was kind of fun a long time ago. Oh, let's just say conspiracy or alternative thinking and all that, just to see it metastasize into something so lethal and harmful. So it's kind of like, wow, I don't want to participate in that at all.


I want to ask you a question that connects a little bit more to Glenn Powell and Hitman, where in the film, Glenn Powell plays a half dozen or so different hit men. He's assuming his character is assuming these different roles within the film. And it's really sort of a. I think, I hate to use a corny term, but kind of like a star making performance, you know? And I think he's someone who, people have a sense that, you know, this guy's a big star in the making, and you've done movies with a bunch of big stars. You know, you did, obviously, Matthew McConaughey's in the Newton boys and dazed and confused and in Bernie, you know, Keanu Reeves in a scanner darkly, Ben Affleck, dazed. I mean, the list goes on. Shirley McClain, Jack Black, both in Bernie. And I always wondered, do you feel like as a director, you understand what makes someone a star?


Every actor I work with, like, oh, this is a star to me. I love them. I think my camera loves them. I love the character. So it's always been a mystery to me what happens with people's, you know, futures. You just don't know. I think there's luck. There's a lot of elements involved that no one person's in control of. You know, I don't think anyone's ever surprised me. Like, I'm not surprised when Matthew becomes a star or Ben Affleck or, you know, you look back and it all makes sense. It's like, yeah, of course they were great. They had this. I'm probably more surprised others didn't get that opportunity or aren't seen as that or Hollywood doesn't know what to do with. But there's kind of an eternal mystery of opportunities and cultural moments that you get and, you know, so I think Glenn's having one of those right now, perhaps, you know, it seems. But I think anyone who knows Glenn, who's worked with him in the last ten years would say, oh, that could have come ten years ago. You know, Glenn is Glenn. He's got that star quality. I've known that for a long time.


Do you think actors can see in themselves the qualities that you as the director can see? And I'm thinking of an example that, you know, a few years ago, I interviewed Brad Pitt around the time of Once upon a time in Hollywood, and I was asking him about this one specific scene where he just sort of turns towards the camera a little and he's got this smile on his face. It's just a perfect example of how star quality can make a scene. And I was asking about it. It was clear he had no idea. He didn't really remember the scene, had no idea what I was talking about. And then, of course, after the interview was over, I realized, oh, that was actually a question for Quentin Tarantino. He understood something in that actor, in that moment. It's not about whether the actor knows him. But do you think you see things in these personalities that they aren't aware of or don't?


Not the kind of thing you talk about consciously. There's nothing to be gained for telling the actor, well, you're such a star in this, you don't need to, you know, you can just turn and look that you know, you just say, hey, look over here and look that way. You know what you're dealing with. You know, they're a star. And cinema rides on this kind of star charisma. Brad Pitt knows he's a fucking star. That's been drilled into his head every day for the last 30 years. But maybe how it's used and, you know, whatever. You know what I'm saying?


You know, I read, I think it was the New Yorker profile of you probably around the time of boyhood. And in there it said that there was some point in your life as a young man where you were watching something like 600 movies a year. You would go to a theater and watch three or four movies in a row. And I think a lot of us can relate to that feeling, especially in sort of early adulthood or late adolescence of really, like, falling in love with an art form. You almost get kind of drunk on it. And I'm curious what the feeling you get from movies now is and how it's different from what it used to be.


Yeah, I don't think you can ever replace that initial just passion and fury when you've discovered your art form and you just take it in with your entire being. In my case, you know, six. I'd write down every movie. I saw 650 films a year. I mean, that was really nothing. And a lot of it, you know, looking back, it's like, oh, that's what you had to do, kind of. You're transitioning from the real world to your world and your world. In my case, it was. It was just cinema. The arts are, or this other world you want to live in, not the world you live in. But it's different now. You know, I don't have the need to see that many movies. I still love movies and still life dedicated to it. But, you know, you feed yourself in different ways.


Do you still get, like, the electricity or the jolt from seeing a film that you used to like, what's a recent movie that kind of blew the top of your head off?


Yeah, that's a good question. You know, no, I can't get the same jolt. I just. You can't. You can't get the same jolt? I can get a jolt, but it's a different kind of jolt. I know too much. I'm behind the camera. I know what they're doing, but I can still, you know, I judge films on, like, oh, what got my cinematic blood circulating? What really kind of got me like, oh, that was cinema. You know? So maybe I kind of put zone of interest in that category. I was looking at that going bold, boom, that's a movie.


I think there's a sense currently that we're sort of in a weird moment for cinema. And I've even read interviews with you where you've wondered about whether the current generation of audiences values cinema and whether you came up during kind of like the last, I think the way you put it was the last good era of filmmaking. What makes you wonder those things? Like, why are those questions in your mind?


Well, I don't think I said good era of filmmaking. I would say maybe the culture was different. And it's always the last question. You know, you're talking about your new movie. It's always, what do you think about the state of cinema today? And it's like, oh, be careful, because it's, I don't know. We're all prone to these overarching, big, important statements about the state of things. And if you know anything about the history of cinema, that's all it's ever been. It's always been the end of cinema. Something was wiping it out, you know, even sound, color, technicolor, you know, Cinemascope, tv. It's always been under threat. It's always been very volatile feeling. The industry's always threatened, I think, because it's an industry that's prone to technological change. You know, things can come along and just wipe it out or change it pretty significantly. So it's different than painting or literature or other art forms. It's sort of technology and commerce are really nearby, kind of codependent within the art form. So I think everyone's always on alert, and everyone's always a little paranoid that the system that they've known is coming to an end.


Well, you're working currently on an adaptation of the Sondheim musical merrily we roll along, which the musical takes place over the course of 20 or so years. And your plan, sort of like what you did with boyhood, where you filmed it over a period of years and years, is that you're filming your adaptation of merrily we roll along over 20 years or so. At least that's the plan. And so when you finish this movie, I guess with the caveat, if you finish this movie.


Yeah, yeah, throw that in there, please.


You're gonna be over 80 years old.


I'll be about 80.


And so it's going to be kind of a life and career capstone, I would think. So tell me, why that project, given how, like, the place, you know, it's going to occupy in your life and your career.


You want to hear something that's technically insane? And I admit it.




You said Capstone to a career at age 80. I've never thought that, because I see myself making a film when I'm like 94. I really do. So I don't, I think it's like, oh, yeah, you know, those years will go along. I'll try to stay in shape, try to be healthy, hope to get lucky. And, you know, I just, I mean, I'm not an idiot. I know, you know, but it's all at the behest of we're telling a story that takes place over 20 years, and it's really important for this story to work that you feel those years go by. So it's the same reason that, you know, boyhood put its, you know, that was boyhood. You had to feel life going by. And this movie's about long term friendship and the way life treats people and how that shifts around over 20 years. But I just think in the arts you can will things into existence and if people are passionate about it, you make it happen. Everybody involved in that is clearly doing it because they care. So we just have to assume they'll keep caring and they'll care. Ten years, 1517 more years.


But you judge people on that. You go before I cast someone and go, you're a lifer. You know you're going to be doing this. I did that on boyhood. I asked Patricia Arquette, like, what are you going to be doing twelve years from now? And she's like, I'm going to be probably looking for a part to play. I said, yeah, and I'm going to be trying to make a film. So let's just start now and we'll be who we are now and in the future. And that's all it was. It's not some huge leap of faith.


Yeah, it's blowing my mind that you could say this movie that I'm going to spend 20 years making, that I'm going to finish when I'm 83, I'll be 80.


Don't add any more. I mean, they're going to be, but.


That'S solely because that's sort of what you think the film itself is demanding and not because it's like a meaningful, overarching statement of some sort. If anybody spent 20 years working on something, you'd say, well, that says something about who they are and what's important to them.


Telling a well told story the right way is what means the most to me. You know, finding the form that meets the content. That's what a director does, you feel not just a story, but how to tell it, what it should look and feel like. And I don't know. I like long. So many art forms are fairly quick. I think cinema has the ability to be, you know, I love that it's at the Whitney, that. That Jay DeFeo painting, the rose that. Have you ever seen it? It's. That. It's.


It's huge, right? It's huge.


It's thick. It's. It's like a foot thick, because she spent so many years painting layers of paint on it. I just love it. I find it so moving, just knowing the effort at first, it's a stunning work, but how to get so thick and just, you know, whatever. I mean, most artists, we have found the right therapy for our conditions or whatever neurological. Whatever neurological conditions we're dealing with. But, you know, we're just. Everyone's just wired a little different. So I admit that about myself and just go with it. It's like, okay, well, it's the way my brain works.


Do you have some sort of contingency plan? If, I don't know, if your vision starts to go ten years from now, what happens to the film?


Oh, good thought. Hmm. Well, if I had everything else and the vision went, I would probably get. I don't know. That's a good question.


I can make you a list.


I would. I don't know, I would adapt somehow. Just turn the whole thing over to someone. I don't know. I'll deal with that when it happens. It's funny. Funny to think that way. But, I mean, what's the alternative? Most people live their life like there's no tomorrow, but I'm kind of the opposite. I think of death regularly, and I kind of see life as very fleeting, and we're all grateful to be here, but then I have this other side that just expect to play it out, I guess.


You think of death regularly?


Sure, yeah. Not in a bad way. Just, you know, I just see life as kind of fleeting. Is that bad?


It sounds like a question that could be posed by a character in one of your films.


Well, it comes from somewhere. I mean, you know, it's kind of poetic to know I'm not going to be here forever. No one is. You know, I like, I walk through graveyards and I read obits, but I'm not morbid about it. I just kind of acknowledge life passing and all of us being here for a little while. And it's kind of beautiful that we're all here crossing paths at the same moment. I saw that as a kid.


Saw what as a kid?


Just. I knew it from the earliest of ages. I liked astronomy and I liked science and just knowing how old everything was and how brief humans lifespans and like, oh, we really are insignificant. See, that scares some people. But I love that feeling. I love that feeling of just how random and small we are in the universe.


I'm maybe going to put this question in slightly pretentious terms, but I think given that I'm talking to Richard Link later, and certainly there are conversations in your films that some other people might say are slightly pretentious, I'm going to give myself permission to do it.


Yeah, I'm fine with that.


But I was just reading about this poet, Delmore Schwartz, and he has this poem called, like, the painter Georges Seiraz, Sunday afternoon. And it's all about the artist is someone who observes life but doesn't fully participate in it. So I read that, and I was then thinking about you and your films, because I think of your films as really having all these very closely and intimately observed moments of what, on the surface, just seem like normal life. It could be two people walking and talking, you know, or just throughout boyhood, there's countless scenes of just normal life.


That's all it is.


And then I thought, well, what does your interest in that have to do with, or how does it affect your sense of observation of your real life when it's happening? Like, are you always sort of sitting back and observing life kind of from a distance?


Always, yeah, that's the curse. I'm in the moment. I'm out of the moment. It kind of robs you of the in the moment experience. But then there's also kind of a mentality, I think, not uncommon to writers and film people, is like, this will only be real when I process it through my art form. Like something terrible is happening right in front of you, you know, your loved one's dying or relationships ending, and you're like, oh, you're just processing it. Not in the moment, but like, I'm gonna have a character in a movie someday experience this, and I'm gonna try to capture this. What I just felt very, very deeply. But you're robbing yourself and the person you're with or whatever, of that moment. But maybe it's a self preservation way of just taking something and storing it away or processing it through. So I share that, you know, like, oh, nothing's really real until I make it work in a movie in some way.


Maybe we'll get into it when we talk again. But I really have questions about the last 15 minutes of hitman. But for this time, thank you very much for taking all the time, and I'll talk to you in a few days, okay?


Yeah. We'll continue.


After the break. More reflections from Richard Linklater on art, life and why mellowing out isn't something to be afraid of.


I've had this conversation over the years with filmmaker friends. Am I as passionate as I was in my twenties? Would I risk my whole life if it was my best friend or my negative drowning? Which do I save? The 20 something self goes, I'm saving my film.


What's my subscription to the New York Times have me doing this week? Preparing a strawberry pretzel, pie solving spelling bee with no hints, planning a trip to one of the 52 best places to go, getting to the bottom of the big pants trend. And I'm finally replacing my vacuum with a recommendation I can trust. What will your subscription to the Times have you do? Why not find out with generous, welcome offers that include a seven day free trial, go to freetrial.


Hello, Richard. How are you?


Oh, hey.


You know, there was something that I realized was totally on the tip of my tongue the whole time we spoke, and I just didn't know if it was okay to bring up. And that was the ending of hitman, which I found kind of threw me for a loop. And I think there's probably a way to talk about it without giving too much away.


Oh, I'm not a spoiler person. I don't care. Most people forget by the time they get there. I don't believe things anyway, so I don't mind spoilers.


All right, well, so Glenn Powell's character, Gary, commits a morally problematic act, to say the least. And one of the ideas of the film is that sort of we, and this is something we talked about earlier, is that we all have the power to create our own identity. And the film then suggests that that includes the identity of someone capable of murder and then living seemingly happily after having committed murder. That's pretty dark.


Yes. But I don't know. I think most people kind of think they could probably handle that, the people who have flirted with this. I mean, everybody wants someone dead. Probably. I've, I asked this around. It's like, could you murder someone? I said, I've been in the film business over 30 years. Of course I could murder somebody.


Who do you want dead?


No, I don't want anyone dead. I don't want anyone. Neither do I. Spread that out. I don't want anything dead. Yeah, but I think there's a surprising number of people in the world who, to whatever degree, voluntary or involuntary, who have done something that's ended alive and can compartmentalize it away. I don't know if you saw my documentary.


You know, I was going to say, what you're talking about now directly reminds me of the doc you did for God Save Texas, the HBO series. Do you want to tell people what that documentary was about if they haven't seen it yet?


Well, it's an exploration of my hometown and the world I sort of grew up in and around. It does kind of take on the death penalty, mainly from the people who are involved in the killing machine of it, the state sanctioned murder part of it.


You grew up in Huntsville, Texas, which is the town where Texas carries out its state executions.


That's where the prison system is based, and they do the executions there.


Yeah, but the questions posed by your documentary about how people basically find a way to coexist with what's really a moral abomination, which is the death penalty, and the state sanctioned killing of other people also reminded me of how you mentioned Jonathan Glaser's zone of interest, was a film that you'd sort of admired that came out recently, which in sort of an even more extreme way, asks similar questions about how people go about their lives. Right, besides something awful happening. And I wonder, do you feel like you have an understanding of how people are able to compartmentalize in that way? Like, did you learn anything about people from making your documentary?


I've always been fascinated by that. You know, how we can compartmentalize, you know, and if you spread around the horror of abomination, you know, just think of the way we treat animals. If you eat meat, you are supporting a really super cruel, horrible system that creates incredible pain and suffering.


And you've been a vegetarian for a long time, right?


Yeah, you know, but I'm just saying the human psyche has no problem or what is done by your government in the name of this or that. I mean, you can't make it through the modern world without, you know, pushing out the horror show. That is a lot of life, right? So you pick your spots and what you can participate in affect change. But, you know, we're all doing this little psychic dance to let ourselves think we're not horrible people. And, you know, I have this whole, you know, I'm. We're suing the state of Texas. Right now, I have this, like, political.


Wait, what? I didn't know that. What are you suing Texas for?


For heat conditions in prison. My friend Bernie Teeta, we just.


Oh, the real life inspiration for your movie, Bernie.


Yeah. He's the lead plaintiff in a seat. We're going to hopefully change. They have a. Just an unbelievably cruel system where they don't have to air condition state prison cells. They do federal, they do local jails, they do for animal facilities, but somehow you don't have to for state. And it's just horror. I mention it in my documentary, the heat conditions, not only for corrections officers, but for the inmates. So we've just. There's this big lawsuit that we really think will. Will change a lot of people's lives for the. So I don't know. You go into political realms and you can. That's a whole nother. You could dedicate your entire life to trying to make the world a better place. But I picked my spots, you know? You know, can I bring up something? Yeah. It was only after the thing, for the next hours, I process and just all the thoughts I did not articulate very well. Go for it. Which is everything. Most of what I say, when you were asking if I felt. And it was a poignant, important question, I think. I just don't think I raised to the question. It was, what's your relation now to the work back then?


Are you as passionate? Are you still seeing 600 moves a year different?




And, you know, I really had to think about that. And my analysis of that is you're a different person with different needs. And a lot of that is based on just confidence. When you're starting out in an art form or anything in life, you can't have confidence because you don't have experience, but you have to be pretty confident to, say, make a film. So the only way you counterbalance that lack of experience and confidence is just absolute passion, full on dedication, kind of fanatical spirit. And I've had this conversation over the years with, you know, filmmaker friends. Am I as passionate as I was in my twenties? Would I risk my whole life if it was my best friend or my negative drowning? Which do I save? The 20 something self goes, I'm saving my film. Good luck, fucker. And now it's not that answer. And I'm not ashamed to say that, you know, because all that passion doesn't just go away. It disperses a little healthfully. I'm much more passionate in this world about a lot of things, you know, that the most fascinating relation we all have is obviously to ourselves at different times in our lives.


And you look back and it's like, God, I'm not as passionate as I was at, you know, 25. It's like, thank God that was a crazy fuck, that person. Very insecure, very uncon. You know, you're better than that now. And your chiller may be a better person, less selfish. And it's. You look back at it as kind of heroic or something necessary, and it is. It absolutely is. It makes total sense. But I don't think you can do that forever. If that's the only way you can work, you're not in it. Maybe for the long haul.


Well, you know, probably 23 or however many years ago, I was just laying on the floor, high out of my mind, watching waking life, thinking, how can I get inside that movie? I'm much happier to be talking to you today than to be laying stoned on my floor watching waking life. And I still love waking life.


Oh, thank you.


Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me. I appreciate it. I really gotten a lot out of your movies over the years, so thank you for that, too.


Really nice talking to you, too. We'll do it again, I'm sure, sometime and have the first merrily interview 17 years from now.


All right, let's do it. Put in the calendar.


It's on.


That's Richard Linklater. Hitman is in select theaters now and will be available on Netflix starting June 7. This conversation was produced by Seth Kelly. It was edited by Annabelle Bacon, mixing by Efim Shapiro. Original music by Dan Powell and Marian Lozano. Photography by Devin Yalkin. Our senior Booker is Priya Matthew, and our producer is Wyatt Orme. Our executive producer is Allison Benedict. Special thanks to Rory Walsh, Renan Borelli, Jake Silverstein, Paula Schumann, and Sam Dolnick. If you like what you're hearing, follow or subscribe to the interview wherever you get your podcasts. And to read or listen to any of our conversations, you can always go to the interview next week. Lulu Garcia Navarro speaks with Julia Louis Dreyfus.


Those few days that we shot the pivotal scenes in the movie, I had to call home a lot. I really was a tad unhinged.


I'm David Marchese, and this is the interview from the New York Times.