‘Dazed and Confused’

‘Dazed and Confused’ Director Richard Linklater on Its 20th Anniversary

On September 24, 1993, a little movie about a group of pot-smokin’, slow-ridin’ high-schoolers hit theaters to little fanfare. Today ‘Dazed and Confused’ is considered a classic. From would-be castings to Affleck and McConaughey memories and getting stoned on set, director Richard Linklater reminisces. Plus, 20 facts about the movie.

Michael Buckner/Getty for SXSW

All right, all right, all right.

Twenty years ago today, the ensemble coming-of-age film Dazed and Confused was released in theaters.

Written and directed by Richard Linklater, the film is set on May 28, 1976, during the last day of high school at Lee High School in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) and his football teammates Don Dawson (Sasha Jenson) and Benny O’Donnell (Cole Hauser) are asked to sign a pledge not to drink or do drugs all summer, much to their chagrin. The freshman boys, including Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), are worried about being chased down and paddled by the rising seniors, including notorious a-hole Fred O’Bannion (Ben Affleck), while the freshman girls are busy being hazed with ketchup and whipped cream by the cheerleading squad, led by Darla Marks (Parker Posey) and pals Simone Kerr (Joey Lauren Adams) and Jodi Kramer (Michelle Burke).

There’s also Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey), a postgrad who still loves them high school girls; Slater (Rory Cochrane), the school’s biggest weed lover; Kevin (Shawn Pickford) and Michelle (Milla Jovovich), a pair of stoner space cadets; and more. The entire group eventually congregates at the Moon Tower for an epic keg party.

Though the movie wasn’t a huge financial success upon its release, grossing just $8 million against a $6.9 million budget, it’s now considered a cult classic.

In honor of Dazed and Confused’s 20th anniversary, writer-director Richard Linklater spoke with The Daily Beast at length about the making of the film.

This film was based on your own high school experiences, right?

I think I felt enough distance on that part of my life and kind of put that out of my mind. When I was working on Slacker in the later ’80s, I felt like I wanted to do a teenage movie and started thinking about those years. At that point, there were some good teen movies, the John Hughes movies, but for the most part, there are a lot of bad teen movies. And you always have your own stories, so I wanted to do a teen movie to fill some gaps of things I hadn’t seen in teen movies, and my experience was never so dramatic. So I wanted to capture the feeling of driving around, trying to be cool. It was tone and atmosphere. That’s what was churning around inside me. The mooood.

Did the paddling actually happen at your school?

Very specifically, that was from a school I went to, so once I started thinking about the film, I started thinking about my own high school. I was like, “What the hell was that? What did that mean, the initiation?” It was so weird, and very sadistic, the bonding.

Did you ever get busted on?

Oh, sure. Unlike Mitch in the movie, I had two older sisters. They were looking for me. They had my number. And I was a baseball player and got promoted to the varsity, so in eighth grade, I was promoted to the summer-league team, and I got licked bad after the first practice. You see it a lot in fraternities and sororities, but it’s so weird on a high school level to see it.

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I heard that Texas native Renée Zellweger was almost cast in a bigger role.

Renée is an interesting case. She’s technically a featured extra, and we met her really late and had cast most of the movie, and it was between her and Parker Posey for that part. We went with Parker, but [Renée] would’ve been good. And Renée got along with everybody, and she was treated like a cast member. She was still very positive around the set, not one of those divas who goes, “Fuck them!”

I love stories about now famous actors who almost were cast in certain roles. Everyone knows about Vince Vaughn and Zellweger, but who else tried out for Dazed and Confused?

Every young actor of that generation. I’m serious. Elizabeth Berkley, Ashley Judd ... everybody. At that very moment, there weren’t a lot of big-name teen actors. One of the only ones was Brendan Fraser, and we talked to him, but I think he was 22 or 23, and he didn’t want to do any more teen movies.

What is the deal with Mitch Kramer grabbing his nose? My friends and I always wondered what was going on there.

What’s that about? We imagined a future drinking game! No, I’m kidding. I just thought it was kind of an awkward gesture. I’m the director, so it’s on me! That’s a thing people only notice if it’s the third time you watch it. I just thought it was that young, awkward man kind of thing. Maybe it was one or two too many. [Laughs]

Was the cast really high during a lot of the film?

No, no ... They shouldn’t have been. There was definitely a prohibition against alcohol and drugs. It’s a ’70s movie, but we didn’t shoot in the ’70s, so you can’t be stoned while we shoot. I’m pretty straight edge in that regard. But later Joey Lauren Adams told me that in the last scene, when they’re driving off in the car, “Oh, we were totally stoned in that scene!” I was like, “Really? You were?” On their days off, they were like, “We did mushrooms and floated the river!” but not while we were shooting.

We know about Shawn Andrews and Milla Jovovich running off and eloping, but was a lot of the cast hooking up during filming?

A lot of that was kind of behind my back! I heard some things later, but they didn’t really broadcast that to me. But yeah, of course! Young people, all living in a hotel together during the summer? Of course. They had just enough down time and nights. I heard some things ...

Any crazy Matthew McConaughey stories?

Not really crazy! I was just getting to know Matthew. The first time he came in on the audition we bonded because he was from East Texas, like me. He said, “I’m not like this guy, but I know this guy.” I thought he was too clean-cut and good-looking for the character I had in mind, but I realized he was just perfect for the part and could rock and roll with this guy. I was like, “Can you grow a mustache? Don’t cut your hair!” He had to look as creepy as possible. And he put that tattoo on his forearm. He definitely didn’t get cast for his looks. But he’s a great guy. He came in on rehearsals, and I could tell everybody liked him. We’d start doing a scene, and I’ll never forget, once Matthew said a line, Jason just threw me a look with a fun little smile on his face, like, “Who’s this guy?” He really kicked the movie up a certain notch. Everybody’s energy was kicked up. Here was this guy saying lines that I’d hear the crew repeating: “All right, all right, all right” and “New fiesta in the making.” Wooderson wasn’t in the script at the end, but we kept working up stuff. On the football field, that wasn’t scripted either, but I just liked his vibe and how it was going. Matthew’s father passed away while we were shooting, which was very sad, and the way he put that into that scene—“just keep livin’”—really moved me. It was born that night.

What about Ben Affleck? How did you arrive at him for the bad guy?

There were other guys up for it, but they weren’t as smart, so to have a formidable bad guy, you had to feel like he could be the good guy, too. And Ben was so smart, but he’s big and imposing. I just liked him. And the same with Parker Posey. They were the only people who were bad, but you had to like them—the joy they’re getting from being a little too bad.

What was the toughest thing about making Dazed and Confused?

It was actually a tough film to make. The film was much more ambitious than its budget and schedule allowed. We’d sneak out at lunch and film an extra scene. The scene where Nicky Katt and Matthew are talking about cars—we shot that at lunch because there wasn’t room in the schedule. We were just trying to get stuff in the movie. It was my first studio film, too. I had the authority with the $6 million budget and Universal over my head, so it was kind of a pressure situation for me, but I didn’t want to share that with the actors at the time. There was a lot of pressure on me. It was a big challenge.

What about the hazing scene with the freshman girls? This may sound strange, but they actually copied that ritual at my high school—the rising senior girls would take the rising freshman girls to the woods and spray them with ketchup and whipped cream and other crap.

That wasn’t the intention! I’m sorry to spread that little virus around [laughs]. It was 102 degrees, and was really hot and started to smell bad. In my hometown, the smell of that was so strong! All that mixture of the ingredients and crap—they’d crack eggs on people. It was so strange to observe that. And they really did run them through a car wash. Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams, and Renée really enjoyed shooting that scene, I must say. I felt bad, though, because a lot of the movie was re-creating moments from my past. I felt a certain badness, even though the movie’s supposed to be fun, because it was my own self reexperiencing some of this. I had such mixed feelings about some of this. It was a unique chance to re-create it on film.

Was the film always going to end with a big party at the Moon Tower?

In my town, it was a fire tower—Fire Watch Tower. The Moon Tower is unique in Austin, but the movie is set more suburban, probably 50 miles from the center of the city at least. But yeah, you’ve got to have a party. Teenagers, especially back then, always have a unique way of creating their own space, whether it’s an underdeveloped suburban tract of land or a unique spot where everyone goes. Some cul-de-sac somewhere. We always had these parties at someplace obscure, like out in the woods. I also liked the Moon Tower because it gave an excuse for the lighting, from a practical standpoint. Otherwise, we’d have to come up with an excuse for why we had all these floodlights on them.

All my friends owned the soundtrack growing up. It’s really become almost as celebrated as the film.

It’s only partial. You have to get both volumes, and even then, there’s quite a few songs left off. I wanted it to be a double album, but by ’93, when the movie came out, nobody was doing double albums. I always felt the soundtrack was an underachievement, and the first one just scratched the surface. [Aerosmith] wouldn’t let us use “Sweet Emotion” on the soundtrack. It doesn’t have [Bob Dylan’s] “Hurricane.” I made a volume three of music that I had the actors listen to while we were shooting the movie, but that didn’t make it in the final movie—a Rolling Stones song, more ZZ Top, a lot of really cool stuff. That was a fun thing I gave to everybody a couple of years after. They were like, “Volume three?” The soundtrack is more than double platinum now, but at the time, every record company passed on it. Nobody thought it would sell. They thought we needed new groups playing old songs. The music thing just about killed me on it. Not to complain, but the music industry was really tough. Universal passed on the album—they didn’t believe it would do anything—and I was like, “I’m a potential consumer of this album! It’s a pretty good compilation here!” But no one could fuckin’ wrap their head around it.

How much of a pain in the ass was it to deal with Led Zeppelin? I read that they refused to give you rights to their song “Rock and Roll.”

It was then, but it’s not now. I had a wonderful moment with Led Zeppelin 10 years later with School of Rock, where we actually got the Led Zeppelin song. I think in ’92, ’93, when we approached them, they weren’t really talking much and not getting along. And they notoriously weren’t letting their songs in movies. The only time they ever had was with Cameron Crowe, because they knew him, so we knew it would be an uphill struggle. It was just a communication-timing thing with them. But 10 years later, it felt like we came full circle.

I read that Jason London had a huge problem with Shawn Andrews during filming.

I think Shawn had a communication problem with almost everybody. They weren’t getting along, but Shawn was kind of on his own trip at that time and was being pretty aloof with everybody. It was the wrong movie to be aloof. I sometimes had to get them together and go, “Hey, I don’t care what you guys are doing, we have to do this scene ... We have a job to do.” But I’m a better director now as far as working with people who are [difficult]. What can you do when you can tell actors don’t really like each other? But it wasn’t just them. There were a lot of irritations flying around. But that’s high school! There’s always someone everyone is pissed at.

So I hear there’s a proposed sequel of sorts to Dazed and Confused in the works?

Well, not a true “sequel.” I had thought of this movie I’m trying to do, but it wouldn’t have the same characters. It would be like Mitch and Sabrina’s age—their freshman year of college, in ’80. I call it my “spiritual sequel.” I think I’m going to do it in the next year or so. How times change! ’76 was a good time because I felt it was this monoculture of FM radio, hard rock, and a Southern/Midwestern rock-and-roll feel, but shortly thereafter, you had a much more disco, punk thing, and by ’80, I’m dealing with punk, disco, country, and stuff like Van Halen. So, musically, it’s a bigger palette. It’s all about identity and going to clubs, and it’s a fun moment culturally—even early hip-hop is going on. It has a much broader range, in a fun way.