Richard Linklater's Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood Touches the Animated Stars
Glen Powell talks life on set of the Austin director's latest
When Richard Linklater was doing press for his semi-autobiographical college baseball movie, Everybody Wants Some!!, he mentioned to me that he had a dream project. That he wanted to make a great movie about Houston. Not set in Houston, or filmed there, but about the city that he grew up in, at the peak of the space race.
“He said the exact same thing to me,” said Glenn Powell. The Austin native recalled conversations with Linklater when he was on set for Everybody Wants Some!! playing the rambunctious upperclassman Finnegan, about “capturing the magic of Houston, that nobody’s been able to do that in the movies. Which is crazy – it’s one of the biggest cities in the world, with every color and creed and socioeconomic background. There’s people moving in and through all the time, and in addition to that there’s NASA.”
The Manned Spacecraft Center towers over the film that fulfills Linklater’s wish, Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood, in which adult Stanley (Jack Black) narrates his childhood as a kid (Milo Coy) in the Houston suburb of El Lago. It’s spring of 1969, and the moon landings are about to expand his world in most unexpected ways.
Powell might have known Linklater would make his movie, but he didn’t think those conversations would mean he’d be in it. They were just relaxed, on-set chats. “Rick is the most approachable person,” Powell said. “He’s such an open book and loves to talk with people around his ideas.” Still, he was surprised when he got a call from the filmmaker in early 2020. “He just said, ‘Hey man, I know you’ve played John Glen [in Hidden Figures] and you’ve been to space before, but I don’t know if you’d want to return to NASA and play this guy who’s one of the heads of the space program.’ I was like, ‘Dude, absolutely.’”
That’s how he and Zachary Levi ended up on a green screen set with Coy, laying down the performances for Linklater’s return to character animation for the first time since 2006’s A Scanner Darkly. It’s a long way from the dugout hangout mood of Everybody Wants Some!! but Powell said, “It’s just a different sandbox. ... You just get to play all the same.”
What was a constant was working with Linklater. “His energy really brings out the best in people,” said Powell, who said the director always put performance first. “Yes, he likes playing with new technology, yes, he likes pushing the boundaries, but the only time you saw him thinking something outside of the performance for a second was when somebody goes, ‘Hey, by the way, if you do this shot you’re going to have to paint over all this which means you won’t have the shot in the turnaround,’ and he’d go, ‘Cool, that’s great.’”
Moreover, Powell said that Linklater has pulled off what he wanted to make. “He’s done a really Houston movie.”
Sunday, March 13, 8pm, Paramount Theatre
Saturday, March 19, noon, AFS Cinema