In honor of Richard Linklater’s birthday next week (July 30), here is an excerpt from an interview with the director that was published in David T. Johnson’s new book Richard Linklater.
David Johnson: You’ve talked in the past [about college] being a time when you started getting interested in literature, in theater, in film, and so forth. Were there any particular experiences around that time that turned you on to that, or was it just a general disposition to being open to those sorts of things?
Richard Linklater: You know, I had always been a reader, but in the school system I grew up in, it felt like a small part of the big experience. In high school I wanted to grow up and be a novelist of some kind, that’s what I was thinking—I wanted to write or express myself, I knew that at an early age. But . . . the great thing about college for me was to have that go up a notch, where suddenly I’m in English classes, and there’s a professor, and he makes a living talking about that. And then all of the students, they don’t care about sports—that wasn’t the emphasis. The emphasis was these great books; we’re talking about Kafka, we’re talking about Dostoevsky. To have that kind of excitement, and to feel like that was sanctioned—it wasn’t just a little subdivision, a little asterisk of your life, it was like, wow, it can be front and center, you can be an English major. Then, through that, I took a playwriting class that was, while technically in the English Department—this is my sophomore year—a lot of drama majors, and I met a lot of people in the Drama Department. I think the summer before I had started dating a girl who was in the Drama Department, an actress, and I remember going to a couple of productions she was in, then meeting her friends, and that whole world opened up. It just seemed exciting.
Taking a playwriting class was very different than taking an acting or directing class. Playwriting was a good foot in the door for me, just to study playwrights. And that’s when I could feel my ambitions shifting from literature to drama; my new heroes were Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neill, and Sam Shepard. I thought, maybe I’m a playwright. I wrote
a few plays. I really enjoyed it, and that’s where I was going, just for a semester, but it has fueled my lifelong love of theater ever since—the romance of it, the atmosphere of it. But then, somewhere in there, right on the heels of that, was watching movies. That was the early days of the VCR—no one had them at home yet, this is like ’81—but in the English Department there was one. And I noticed there was this little film [group]. [I’d get] a couple of friends, and we’d go watch the movie. The professor—every English professor is a film critic, right?—was Ralph Pease, who was a real film buff. And so we sat there and would talk about the movie after. I really enjoyed that. And that was just enough to get me started with movies.
Shortly thereafter, I was done with school, and I was working offshore in Houston, but in my time off, I started looking up movies, and that was still the heyday of repertory cinema. That’s when I found myself in the theater all of the time; I would watch four movies a day. That’s where that started. And a few people I knew were doing theater in Houston, so I would go to a play or something. But for the most part, I just found myself at the movies. So all of that is a pretty quick little segue, from literature to theater to film, in six months.