Austin Amelio, star of The Walking Dead, talks to us about working with Richard Linklater on Everybody Wants Some!!, the grueling wait to see if he'd won his role, audition advice, seeing himself on the big screen for the first time and the camaraderie between his fellow frat boys.
I'm at Film & Comic Con Birmingham when Austin Amelio has just finished a panel talk for The Walking Dead alongside fellow co-stars Emily Kinney and Chad L. Coleman. Despite some underage audience members, Amelio gives honest and expletive-peppered responses to questions posed - and let us be honest too; if the kids in the crowd are old enough to navigate the gruesome zombie apocalypse of the show, they can survive a bit of swearing.
It's largely fans of the hit show that are queuing to speak to the man behind the (almost literally) two-faced Dwight who's played such a big part in the latest season of The Walking Dead, but when I get the chance to pick his brain (rather than eat it), I'm immediately interested in his turn as Nesbit in Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!.
"Oh man, how did I get involved with Everybody Wants Some!!? Well, I'm from Austin and when a film comes through Austin everybody hears about it. This was one of the bigger films that was coming through that year. I called my agents and said, "I need to audition for this." Richard Linklater, he's a God among filmmakers. I auditioned for it, it took awhile, I think I had about five callbacks. Finally got the part and started working on it."
The film follows the trials and tribulations of a college baseball team in 1980. With many of the players previously accustomed to being stars in their home towns, they're now thrown into a mix of egos and testosterone, as each finds their place in the frat house, a new team and figuring out their impending adulthood. In a similar situation, with so many young actors thrown together, how much time did they have to create the films palpable camaraderie?
"We actually all lived together, me and the entire cast for a week and a half, or two weeks, out on Rick's [Linklater's] ranch in Texas. So by the time we started shooting the film we were all best friends on the first day. I think that's where you see the camaraderie and the relationships come through. I think every film, if they have the luxury, should be able to get their actors together for a couple of weeks because most of the time you just come in, you see a girl, a guy, the guy's best friend, the girl you're in love with, and that's the first time you guys have met. So to have that luxury and be able to actually live with each other and then start filming was amazing."
Everybody Wants Some!! is the spiritual sequel to Linklater's 1993 Dazed and Confused, which also followed an ensemble cast of talented young actors (including future Hollywood heavyweights Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich to name a few), going through their last day of high school in the 1970's. 25 years later the film is still a beloved cult favourite, and it's fair to say that Amelio was a big fan growing up.
"Big time, huge, it used to be playing in my living room non-stop. Just as background, I'd seen it I don't even know how many times, hundreds and hundreds of times. Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, the Sunset Trilogies, all of his films, man."
It's clear to see how much landing a role in the film means to him. All the more so considering the rather grueling wait during and after the aforementioned five audition callbacks. What, if anything, was able to help him get through that stressful process?
"[laughs] Was there anything helped me get through that? Luckily, me and my buddy Juston Street, who played Jay Niles (aka Raw Dog) were going through it at the same time, so we had each other just to talk shit about the whole thing. Let it all out because it was super frustrating. You go in, you give a performance and then you don't know if you've got it, then you go back and then you still don't know if you've got it. We're both going to the auditions everyday, and the call backs everyday going like, 'Fuck man, what is going on? This is my fourth time here, this is your fourth time here? Fuck.' Then we finally found out that we got it. We were over the moon, man. Over the moon."
I can't say I'm envious of how excruciating the wait must have been, and I'm especially glad neither friend had to experience one being cast over the other. So, after finally getting the good news they would both be working with Richard Linklater, how did expectation measure up to reality?
"Working with him is just the best, man, he's the most even keel director I've ever worked with. At the time, I just felt like everything was going to be downhill from there. He is such a cool guy to work for and just really let you take your choices and put them into your character. He gave you a template but also the range to really let you go with it, which was pretty incredible. I knew it was going to be awesome from the first page when I read in the script. Open up with 'My Sharona' and driving down the road. I was like, 'Oh man, this is going to be incredible.' But really it was so fun that we'd go to set even when we weren't working just to be around and see what our buddies were doing, just sitting in video village with the headphones on and just watch."
And on the subject of watching...
"The first time I saw it, it was the first time I'd ever seen myself on the big screen. I had a panic attack. I was really nervous, was just thrown off balance and walked out of the screen just like, "Oh man", because you weren't watching it for the whole symphony. First time you watch something, you're watching it knowing when your part is going to come up. I was anticipating. How did they edit me? What did they do? I don't know what they used. Second time I saw it, there was none of that. I was blown away. I was like, "Okay, that's it. Wow." I loved it, man. Then we premiered it all over the place and so I'd seen the film probably six or seven or eight times before it actually came out, and every single time I loved it. I still love it to this day."
It would be remiss of me not to bring at least some of the conversation back to The Walking Dead, not least of all as a fan of the show. Rather than what would be a misguided attempt to probe for plot tidbits, I ask how working on the show compared to working on Everybody Wants Some!!.
"I mean completely different. Just speed wise, with a film you get a couple of months, you get rehearsals, with the show you're lucky if you get it in a week in advance. You could get a five, four days advance of the script, and then eight days per episode, so it's quick. I love film but I also love the muscle that TV works out because you don't really have a lot of time to overthink and sometimes I like to do that and really dive into it. But it's nice to dive into it for just three or four days, and then see what you can come up with in that amount of time."
Going back to his testing audition experience, he has some advice to offer other actors in how to approach the auditioning process.
"The thing is you just don't have control over any of that stuff. Philip Seymour Hoffman said, 'You should look at auditioning as if it's a chance to perform and someone is paying for you, paying for the building, paying for those casting directors, paying for that space for ten minutes. You take that ten minutes as your chance to give it all you've got and then you have to forget about it as soon as you're done. Just be lucky enough to have that space performing for five to ten minutes, however long the audition is.'
Now that's how I look at it, it's a chance to perform and work my craft and after that you just got to give it up to the casting director gods and the film gods and hopefully it all works out. If not, then it's not meant to be."
Great advice from two very gifted actors; one gone too soon, and another with so much yet to come.
You can follow Austin on Twitter: @Austin_Amelio
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