There’s always the risk of misusing 15 tightly mandated minutes on a director’s junket day. One imagines it increases twofold when the subject’s been of interest nearly your entire film-watching life, with whom you’d sooner exchange questions about a 2019 short produced for the Pompidou Centre than, say, what it’s like working with Glen Powell.

It was under these circumstances I had the fortune to interview Richard Linklater, who’s been on a major press jag for Hit Man, his biggest crowdpleaser in several years that arrives on Netflix this Friday, June 7. In a tight frame we managed to cover the strange connections it bears with his other recent premiere, and––an issue about which he clearly feels passionate––why the culture is asking us to remain 13 years old forever.

The Film Stage: I watched Gabe Klinger’s Double Play, and I loved seeing the many, many posters in your editing room. Have you updated your roster of late?

Richard Linklater: Oh, that’s a couple editing rooms ago at this point. I have a poster collection that’s dispersed over many locations. If you come to Austin and go to the Austin Film Society theater, you’ll see large posters there; I’ve got my house; I’ve got the editing room. I think the editing room is third-tier posters. But I’m a big poster collector.

What was in that movie? I had… didn’t I have a Welles Othello?

I think there was one for early Kubrick––maybe Killer’s Kiss.


And something by Samuel Fuller.

Yeah, I think I had a Forty Guns.

Sounds about right!

The little whirlwind, Barbara Stanwyck on the horse.

I’ve been watching your films most of my life. Having been born in 1993, School of Rock was a major moment for ten-year-old representation.

You’re making me feel old, but go ahead.

Oh. Sorry.

No. It’s inevitable!

Well, true. I wanted to start by asking about your 2019 short “Another Day at the Office.”

Wow. You’ve seen that.

I’m quite fond of it. Fascinating not only for having you in a leading role, but––even acknowledging the narrative construction and performance that goes into it––the film’s quite honest about fears and frustrations an artist can face. We’re talking at a very verdant moment: Hit Man is coming out; Hometown Prison is on Max; Nouvelle Vague just shot. Other times it’s perhaps “slower”: you make Me and Orson Welles and Bernie, which are fantastic films, if not huge hits; but a few years later it’s Before Midnight into Boyhood into Everybody Wants Some!!, which almost any filmmaker would kill to have. All this in mind: have you learned how to ride an ebb and flow, to––basically––chill out?

Yeah. It doesn’t really afford you the ability to… you chill out on one level, but you have to kind of grind and grind to get to that next one. Particularly in these periods where it’s really hard to get financing. You know? It’s never really come easy, but I speak as privileged to have been able to make these movies. But yeah: there’s no boost when you get really kind of sketchy distribution or… I’ve made a lot of films with uncertain futures. I don’t have a studio; I don’t have a distributor in advance. It’s truly indie. But I’ll do that just to get the film made, for sure, but you don’t know the future and sometimes you just draw a short straw there in the culture or the distribution world. So you can’t totally predict that, but I try not to think about that too much. I really just go from one project to the next trying to make what I want to make, but you do hit these little… you hit a wall every now and then where you’re trying to get something made and it’s just not lining up for you. You’re having to pivot and stuff.

That short: thanks for watching that. I was really trying to be honest at that very moment I was writing this historical thing––that I think I will make someday; it was just not then––and, yeah, hitting some resistance, so I just kind of did a send-up of what some of those feedback sessions and meetings felt like. And I’ve had some filmmakers tell me, who saw it, “Oh, that’s exactly what it’s like.” They’re not being mean. They’re just kind of beating you to death with marshmallow bats of mediocre and bad ideas that you just kind of have to fend off. I try to avoid those kinds of situations, and I’ve never had a bad creative experience; I’ve just had a lot of things not go.

Of course.

Once I go, it’s always good and rewarding. But getting things off the ground… yeah, if you see a year or two out, don’t think I’m out on vacation or doing something else. I’m just not getting films financed that I want to, probably.

Photos by Godlis at the 61st New York Film Festival. Courtesy of Film at Lincoln Center.

It was funny rewatching Hit Man back-to-back with Hometown Prison. Around the time of Hit Man’s premiere you acknowledged the darkness that undergirds the film, which stood out a second time––like Gary getting his first guy, who’ll be going to prison for quite a long while, and saying, “It feels good. It feels really good.” You also have the suicidal client who takes this desperate measure, then gets jailed.


Hometown Prison makes clear the Texas prison culture has been “with you” for quite a long time. There’s quite a darkness to it.

No place darker than prison. I assure you.

I have to wonder if one film about a funny, charming southern cop being made somewhat concurrent with a sobering documentary about Texas prisons led to one informing the other––or at least informing your own feelings.

Yeah, they do blend into each other in a couple areas. Even when he’s giving his lecture where the young woman asks––he’s kind of the dynamic teacher all of a sudden––and what he’s talking about is the death penalty: the subject of my documentary. Which I had already shot at that point; it hadn’t come out. It’s something I think about a lot. I leave in a lot of the legal; I find myself fascinated with legal and criminal situations. My film Bernie becomes… yeah, it’s a dark comedy, but it’s also a really interesting legal case. I’m the kind of guy who goes to trials and really reads up and finds our legal system very fascinating. And frustrating, too. I leave that in Hit Man: there’s those court sequences where the defense attorney is kind of pointing the finger at Gary and saying, “You’re an entrapper.” So we can parse the ethics of entrapment, which I’m against as a citizen. I have really mixed feelings. Gary was this great guy, and I just don’t know.

In my ideal world, when someone––a housewife or desperate person––is talking about killing someone, what they really do need is, like, mental-health attention. [Laughs] A counselor, counseling, but they’re usually from a class––it’s just not on their mind to get help. Like, they’re desperately reaching out and our society doesn’t know a way to deal with that except punishing them. And a lot do kind of get off, as we show. Juries can be kind of lenient in the right situation––particularly if the subject of [Laughs] who they’re taking out a hit on, they’re back together. These couples that are volatile. Again: it was dark-comedy stuff. But yeah: solicitation of murder is dark, and not everyone has the personal resources to go, “Hey, I’m in a really dark place.” Maybe they don’t have any support. It’s a sad area for sure. I’ve made a comedy about it, but it’s sprinkled into the movie just enough that you can have a little bit of a critique also, I think.

The other auteurist connection I’ll make is that Hit Man ends with Glen Powell giving a Waking Life monologue.

Right out of Waking Life. You’re right. You’re always ready for a Waking Life digressive monologue, yeah.

But the film also feels unique in your corpus for its eroticism. Is there something fresh in your toolkit you’re using to get that right? It becomes an altogether new tone.

It’s rare that that becomes a subject that is necessary. Offscreen I would think Jesse and Céline have that same kind of carnal lust; it’s just not when we’re dropping in on them those times. But before and after, it’s definitely going on. So it’s an element. I’m not that interested in showing it explicitly, but in this case the story––I really had to show that carnal desire. If you see Gary’s story going from a dispassionate introvert––an all-in-his-head guy––to a passionate, sexual being, he’s put himself in a very vulnerable spot. That is how you commit. When you jump to that it’s like, ooh. People do crazy things because of sex. People kill people. People kill themselves. It gets volatile. They do illegal shit. That’s the one thing that can drive you crazy in the world: when you’re in that kind of white-heat passion. That’s what a lot of film noirs are based on: the guy who goes down that path. So we’re our own version of that for both those characters, for sure.

But I think we had to show it, too. It felt like an old-fashioned––in a genre sense––movie. As in: ‘80s. There’s an adult movie. They’re fucking. It’s real. These are real things. It’s just not a part of cinema, by and large, right now. The infantilization is complete. The culture that wants us to… you know, when I was a kid––when I was 13––I was watching a lot of adult movies, very intrigued with that world. “Ahh.” I looked forward to it but it was a little scary because it had all these things I hadn’t experienced yet. But I couldn’t wait to be an adult. They seemed smart. They seemed passionate. There was all kinds of fun things awaiting me. And it was through adult movies.

Now, I think [Laughs] the message society’s sending is, “Just stay a 13-year-old forever.” Maybe a 12-year-old. When I was a kid we were neglected. They didn’t make movies for us. You watch whatever’s out there and good luck. Every now and then there was a kid’s movie, but the whole culture wasn’t bending to kids—any more than the parents were bending to kids. They had an ad at 10 o’clock: “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?” [Laughs] That was a real thing all over our country because, “Oh, yeah. The kids. I don’t know where they are.” So they didn’t care. They didn’t cater to kids. Now it’s all about the kids. We’re going to overprotect them, and we’re going to make movies. We’re just going to reduce the entire culture conversation and mentality to their level. And guess what? You don’t have to grow up, either. Just stay a kid forever. Play with toys. Read comic books. Never mature. Don’t even have sex while you’re at it. And good luck.

I said it’s great seeing a studio movie where two attractive people have sex. And I’m glad to have Richard Linklater on the record about wanting more sex in movies.

I think people don’t mind watching sex in movies. I think they just have to be attractive, young-ish people. No one wants to see old people.

No, I don’t. I also know I’m about 15 years early to this, but I hope Merrily We Roll Along is going well.

It is. I think you’re technically seventeen years too early, but 16, 17. It’s chugging along. We’ll see. You’re young enough. Hopefully, if I stick around we can talk about it.

They’re giving me the wrap-up. I could ask more questions about The Newton Boys or Inning By Inning, but I won’t.

Oh, my God. We should. Let’s make time, man.

It would be my pleasure.

You bring up Me and Orson Welles. Bernie. Yeah, I do have these movies in my past that people go, “You did this, this, and this” and they just skip. I say, “You just skipped over some movies that really mean a lot to me. [Laughs] That I gave no less effort than the ones you’re talking about.”

Of course.

I’ve made enough movies. There’s gonna be some that fall through the cracks, but––you know. I kind of feel sorry for those movies that didn’t get their moment.

Hit Man arrives on Netflix on June 7.

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