Me and Orson Welles - Richard Linklater interview
Richard Linklater’s new film uncovers the ambition and talent of young Orson Welles. Kaleem Aftab meets a director with nothing left to prove.
It’s a common assumption that when a director makes a biopic about another auteur, they are trying to draw a line between themselves and their subject. Did Tim Burton see something of himself in Ed Wood? Austin born Richard Linklater argues that he couldn’t be any more different from Orson Welles if he tried, ‘It was fun doing Welles because I think I’m probably about 170 odd degrees opposite from him. I would think things that he said, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it out loud. “You are all adjuncts to my vision!” stuff like that.’
The 49-year old has just adapted Robert Kaplow’s novel Me and Orson Welles for the big screen. It features a mélange of real and imaginary characters that were part of Orson’s Mercury Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1937. Welles is depicted as a ladies man, strong-headed and confident. British actor Christian McKay, who was spotted impersonating Orson Welles in a one-man production at the Edinburgh festival, plays the Citizen Kane legend and Linklater, who bought the rights to the book himself, says that it was when he saw McKay that he knew the film would finally be made.
‘It certainly wouldn’t be the same film without him,’ posits the School of Rock director. ‘This is when you know you’re in rare territory when you cannot imagine there is another actor, let alone another person, who can do the role. He’s so extroverted and bought so much of himself to it. That’s what kind of makes the performance.’
McKay is the revelation of the film, but in the true manner of modern celebrity culture, nobody wants to talk much about him. The big news is that playing the young man seduced by Welles’ charm and then cast out with impunity is Zac Efron. At the London premier in Leicester Square the decibel count went off the scale when the High School Musical star stepped onto the red carpet. Linklater seems pretty enamoured too: ‘In the book we find out the character is maybe not really an actor but a novelist, but once I cast Zac, we couldn’t do that because it’s so obvious that Zac is born to be a performer. He’s obviously a gifted performer, amazing at song and dance and he should be performing.’
The director does note his uncertainty on whether Efron’s tween fan base are going to like the movie, which is heavy on emotions and dialogue.
This is the director’s 14th feature film since he ambled onto the scene with Slacker in 1991. His back catalogue, which includes the Before Sunrise/Sunset romantic diptych and sci-fi A Scanner Darkly, is an eclectic mix and one that the filmmaker hopes means that there is no such think as a Linklater signature movie.
‘Ten year’s ago, people would say to me, “you do this kind of film, that kind of film.” Now whatever superficial category I’m in, I’m glad not to be so categorised.’ Such an attitude suggests he’s trying to live by the famous Welles quote, ‘I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time.’
Me and Orson Welles is on general release from Fri 4 Dec.