For director Richard Linklater, his projects range from the artsy (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly) to more mainstream (School of Rock, Bad News Bears.) However when the screenwriter visited DC he was here to present a more independent production. But indie doesn’t mean small, in making Me And Orson Welles, he traveled all the way to the Isle of Man in order to shoot in one of the only theatres in the world that could double for the famous Mercury Theatre.
Despite picking up an American distributor, the film was picked up all along the festival circuit with screenings at Cannes, Toronto, and and South by Southwest. Now the film arrives in Washington, DC for a run at the E-Street cinema.
I had the chance to sit down with Richard Linklater to talk about making this film and his time here in The District.
Linklater took some creative steps to making Me And Orson Welles, when he struggled to find funding for the film he took the production abroad and filmed in Europe, “when you can’t get money in the U.S. you go to Europe,” he told me as we sat down in his Georgetown hotel suite. Even though the film takes in the New York City, he shot all of the New York scenes on a backlot at the UK-based Pinewood Studios. “We took some photos but we never shot a single frame of film in New York- a lot of that was filmed with CGI,” explained Linklater, “we used a muddy backlot and built 42nd street, the theatre, a couple of shops on it.”
When it came to casting Linklater was equally as creative, visualizing where his lead actor would be instead of holding auditions or pouring through lists. “I think our Orson is probably British, is probably doing Shakespeare right now- and a month later I got an e-mail from the Novelist, there was a guy doing a one man show in New York.” That guy was Christian McKay, a former concert pianist who was acting in a one-man show about Orson Welles. After flying him to Austin for three days of screen tests Linklater knew he had his man, “the key is that he’s Wellisan himself- he’s a child prodigy, a genius.”
Visiting Washington, DC always eventually leads to talk about politics, and with Orson Welles know for his iconic film Citizen Kane, Linklater offered some thoughts on Welles chances as a politician if it ever happened, “Um no- I think he’d be a great orator… he’s just too gifted an entertainer, too gifted a showman, he had too many artistic gifts… I mean come on he’s the ultimate control freak- politics is about compromise.”
Besides screening his film he also got to visit The White House where he met a fellow actor, turned Obama administration official: Kal Penn. Linklater was really impressed meeting Penn and said if he didn’t know about his acting past he would of thought he studied political science at an Ivy League school, “I was like- wow what a story-he’s called a liaison but he’s more than that. I do different kinds of films and people go, ‘that’s really different.’ Well that’s not really different, different would be working at the White House for a year or two. Making a different film about something different isn’t different.”
Linklater’s film Me and Orson Welles is screening at the E-Street theatre, check out my previous post for details.