Director Linklater quizzes audience after Ebertfest screening

Director Linklater quizzes audience after Ebertfest screening

CHAMPAIGN — A relaxed and animated Richard Linklater turned the tables on the Ebertfest audience on Friday, asking trivia questions related to his movie, "Me and Orson Welles."

The prizes: large posters and soundtracks from the 2008 release, which was shown midway through the 13th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival at the Virginia Theatre.

Ebertfest, which continues through Sunday, ended Friday night with director Norman Jewison's 1994 movie, "Only You," a light romantic comedy starring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. Jewison was to appear in person.

Festival emcee Chaz Ebert introduced Linklater to the festival audience and handed him her husband's Golden Thumb Award trophy, saying Roger was not feeling that great and had to return to the apartment where they were staying.

"But he told me this thumb is well-deserved," she told the director, who held the trophy made by the same company that manufactures the Oscar statuettes in one hand while holding up his other thumb as he grinned at the audience.

Chaz Ebert said she always thinks of Linklater as a fresh talent, but he had reminded her backstage that he made "Slackers," his first well-known feature, 20 years ago. He's now on his 16th movie.

"They're so different he's so talented and we are very pleased to have him here today," Chaz Ebert said. "Roger and I were talking the other day about the influence he's had on filmmakers and how he's helped so many."

The Austin Film Society that Linklater founded in 1985 has given $1 million so far to Texas filmmakers, and his Detour Productions offers unpaid internships to young people interested in filmmaking.

A Texas native, Linklater, now 50 years old, has made Austin his home base since he began his career. He shot "Me and Orson Welles," though, over 36 days in London and on the Isle of Man, which has a film fund that pays for half of any production shot on the isle.

Linklater and crew shot most of "Me and Orson Welles" in an old theater on the island that is remarkably similar to the now long-gone Mercury Theater in New York City.

Linklater's period drama centers on one week in November 1937, when a 22-year-old Welles was rehearsing and directing at the Mercury Theater a production of "Julius Caesar" set in then contemporary Italy.

Linklater, along with screenwriter colleagues in Austin, adapted the script from Robert Kaplow's novel "Me and Orson Welles," a coming-of-age story about a teen-age actor who becomes involved in the Welles production.

Linklater said he had decided he would not look for financing for the movie until he found the right actor to play Welles.

"Who could play Orson Welles? It's a losing proposition for actors," he said.

Six weeks after Linklater began theorizing that there might be a British actor who would be right, Kaplow called to tell him of a one-man show about Welles at a 50-seat theater in New York.

Linklater flew there and saw Christian MacKay as Welles in "Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles." He later took McKay, who strongly resembles Welles, to Austin for screen tests.

"He'd never done a movie; he was new to acting. He didn't know much about Orson Welles," Linklater said.

McKay had been a world-class pianist but somewhere along the line caught the acting bug and went to the Royal Academy of the Arts in England and started acting.

"I can't imagine the film without him," the director said.

Linklater said the most challenging aspect of making "Me and Orson Welles" was filming Welles's famed production of "Julius Caesar," which became a hit and was considered ground-breaking at the time because it was set in the 1930s. "Me and Orson Welles" is one of only a few movies, Linklater said, about actors rehearsing a good and not bad play.

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