A/V Room









Bad News Bears - Richard Linklater interview

Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. After School of Rock, this is the second film you’ve made where your cast is primarily made up of kids. Any hesitation about that?
Well, that’s one of those the mantras of filmmaking, isn’t it? Stay away from animals and kids. But I took that on in School of Rock and it was fun. I like kids that age. I have an 11-year-old daughter and it felt very natural to me to work with kids that age.
Having said that, School of Rock was a different deal. Half of the children were girls and they were mostly in a classroom, where they’re conditioned to listen to adult authorities. Bad News Bears is almost all boys. We’re outside on a baseball field most of the movie and they’re playing a bunch of little jerks. So it’s kind of out of control [laughs].

Q. The original Bad News Bears is a much-loved movie. How did you feel about a remake?
I never really thought I’d be making a remake, but these things just sort of come up. When I got the initial call and they said 'Bad News Bears', I thought, 'oh, bad idea', until they told me Billy Bob Thornton was going to play the coach and I thought, 'that’s pretty interesting'.
I really love the place Billy’s kind of taken up in American culture. He’s one of our true anti-hero, outlaw, lovable, rascal kind of guys. He’s one of the very few out there.

Q. The original Bad News Bears with Walter Matthau came out in 1976. Did you see the film?
Strangely enough, I didn’t see the movie at the time. I was just old enough that the kids in the movie were younger than me. I was, like, 15 I think and the kids were about 12, and as a 15-year-old, I’m not going to go to a movie with a bunch of little kids. I didn’t see it till much later on cable at some point and a lot of times since then and I think it’s great.

Q. Is there any easy way of summing up the story of your version of the film?
To me, movies always have two stories. You know, on one hand, it’s the story of these kind of ne’er-do-well kids who eventually coalesce as a team and on the other hand it’s Billy Bob’s story.
He plays Buttermaker, who’s a former pro baseball player for whom things have never really worked out. And he’s a flawed guy, clearly, but he has a certain life to him and his story is how these kids affect his life.

Q. You talked about admiring Billy Bob Thornton. How has the experience of working with him been?
Billy makes this movie so easy because he’s so clearly the right guy. I think John Huston said, “Ninety per cent of directing is casting.” And you can’t imagine anybody else but Billy here.
That said, it’s still a lot of work to take these words on a page and make them real. So what I admire most about Billy is his ability to just make things believable. He has a gift for language, it just rolls out of his mouth very coherent and believable. He can take kind of ridiculous stuff and ground it in reality.

Q. How about casting the kids? Was that a challenge?
The dilemma in casting the kids is that in a few major instances, you have kids who really have to be able to play baseball. The other kids, it’s not really a story point how good they are.
I mean, basically, they’re pretty bad. So I cast actors in most of those parts. But there are still several kids who have never acted before. The other thing is you’re trying to get distinct personalities, like in any ensemble movie, so they don’t just fade into some kind of undifferentiated mass.

Q. So do you sometimes feel more like a coach than a director on this film?
It’s funny you should say that, because I suddenly see that coaching and directing are very similar. I mean, you’re in charge, and you set the tone for your team or your actors and crew, and you kind of have that responsibility.
This film set is a very professional environment. It’s very coddling and safe for the kids. But every now and then, I’ve found myself being a little jerky with them. I’m, like, “You know guys, that last take was lame.” And I just hear my coach: “You know, that sucked. Get it together.”
And I would never talk to actors like that in a dramatic situation. But, you know, they’re little baseball players on a field, so it kind of works here.

Q. And what about the rest of your cast?
Well, we have Greg Kinnear, who is amazing. I just love working with him and he just keeps coming up with stuff. I almost want to never quit, because, like every new take, he’ll have just a new little something. And the part, which is basically a coach and a rival to Billy Bob Thornton, is against type. But I thought it would be interesting to get a guy who seems like a clean-cut all-American dad, who seems like a good guy, and just let’s see it turn.

Q. And how about Marcia Gay Harden?
Part of the updating of the whole concept is that in the first movie, three decades ago, of course it’s a male lawyer. It seemed like a good idea now to have a strong female lawyer, a single mom, very driven and pretty demanding. And it just seemed like an interesting twist on that whole character. And I think Marcia is really gifted. Also, it kind of allows Billy to be a much more sexualized being. He’s kind of a hound and a scallywag in this movie.

Q. How else have you updated things from the first movie?
When I describe this movie to people, they say, “Well, is it exactly the same or is it different?” And the answer is both. I mean, it’s the same story. It’s just sort of adapted to modern sensibilities a little bit and to fit Billy Bob’s character.
For example, in the first movie, when the kids win a big game, they go have hot dogs at the hot dog stand. In this movie, when they win a big game, Billy Bob takes them to Hooters.

Q. So do you see this film as something parents can enjoy as well as kids?
Yes, because I think the younger audience won’t have seen the first one. And adults, who maybe have seen the first one, will enjoy kind of revisiting it and seeing it reinterpreted for the times. But, you know, basically, it’s just a big comedy and you want everyone to have some laughs.

Q. You have such an eclectic career. Doesn’t it seem surprising to follow an intimate, art-house movie like Before Sunset with Bad News Bears?
Well, I don’t have a career plan. I take it one movie at a time and my only criteria are whether I feel challenged and whether I can have a good time creatively. And I never really have an idea of what I’ll do next.
I’ve always got a jillion films swimming around in my head, but one has to hit the launch pad if you know what I mean. Every movie is subject to financing, getting the right cast and, you know, the planets line up on certain films, like they did on this one. I mean, the studio was ready to do it. Billy Bob was up for it. So it just kind of happened and that’s great.

Related stories: Read the Bad News Bears review

An interview with Billy Bob Thornton (with video)

School of Rock review

School of Rock feature

Before Sunset review

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